In the end, tradition and that touch of added class gave Kerry the verdict, however, their four-point winning margin looked a lot wider on the scoreboard than it had on the pitch. Now, Pat O’Shea and his charges move on to do battle with Tyrone on 21 September with the scent of another three-in-a-row in their nostrils, and with Darragh O Se and Paul Galvin available once again following their respective suspensions.
Perhaps, Tyrone were the real winners last weekend, as apart from impressively seeing off the challenge of Wexford, they would have been quick to notice that seam of frailty that has run through Kerry all summer. How could the champions engineer a nine-point lead with some joyous football and then let it slip in such an alarming fashion?
This time, when Donnacha O’Connor lobbed over a point to leave the scores level at 2-12 apiece with just five minutes remaining – in a period of just over a quarter of an hour, a rampant Cork had run up an answered 1-6 – Kerry had the perfect response. Unlike in the drawn game when they had been caught on the buzzer, they well and truly pierced their opponents’ momentum bubble.
Substitute David Moran, a son of eight-time All Ireland winner, Denis “Ogie” Moran, made an immediate impact on his championship debut by grabbing Diarmuid Murphy’s kick-out and linking with another sub, Darren O’Sullivan, who knifed through the Cork defense before offloading astutely to Colm Cooper on the edge of square. Lesser mortals might have panicked under pressure from ‘keeper, Alan Quirke, but Cooper showed his customary calmness to stroke the ball home for the contest’s crucial goal.
“We were looking for a few leaders to stand up in the last five minutes and they did that. They showed composure,” said O’Shea. “It would be great to keep a team scoreless, but unfortunately that’s not the reality. It’s a source of concern that we lost the lead, a source of concern that we conceded so much, but everyone of our panel performed heroically out there. There’s just elation that we’re in an All Ireland final.”
There’s no doubt that Kerry deserved to win, but if once again, Cork hadn’t left themselves with so much to do, the verdict could so easily have swung their way. The first half was a demonstration by the Kingdom as a superb Tommy Walsh goal, some accurate freetaking by Cooper as well as a centerfield tour de force from Seamus Scanlon made it 1-8 to 0-3 coming up to the break when Daniel Goulding gave Cork some hope with a well-taken goal.
But instead of Goulding’s strike inspiring Cork to greater things, Kerry struck immediately at the start of the second half as Kieran Donaghy paved the way for Declan O’Sullivan’s finish, and the lead was soon out to nine when Copper added a point from play. A humiliation for Cork? Not a chance, not this summer.
Suddenly, Nicholas Murphy began to hoover up some ball around midfield, and with Graham Canty putting himself about, Cork at last responded with five points in succession. Then another Murphy catch opened the door for Pearse O’Neill who surged through to finish impressively at the near post, and with O’Connor’s equalizjing point, Cork were riding a wave.
“Having come from nine points down, you imagine the momentum is behind you,” offered manager, Conor Counihan. “The other team will always get a chance, and fair play to Kerry, they took theirs when it came. I think we’ve only ourselves to blame, we left ourselves with a lot to do. I don’t know what is missing, I’ll have to away and analyse that for a while. We’re getting closer, but listen, second is no place.”
No arguments there.