Kerry – Team of the century
All eyes were transfixed on Croke Park on Sunday afternoon as the highlight of the GAA’s 125th year in business drew to a close.
At lunch time in Croker, the Armagh minors left it late to overcome the future footballing stars of Mayo, but it was clear which piece of silverware the vast majority of the 82,286 spectators were here to see dished out.
In a replay of the 2007 All-Ireland football final, Kerry pipped their neighbours Cork by four points in an enthralling contest. Kerry featured in their sixth All-Ireland final appearance in succession, and were looking to slay the ghosts of their All-Ireland defeat to the hands of Tyrone last year.
Cork had visions of Sam Maguire returning to the Rebel County for first time since 1990. Ten minutes into the game and these visions looked increasingly like becoming reality.
Cork had the best of the opening exchanges, racking up 1-3 inside the first 10 minutes to a solitary score from the Kingdom. Tommy Griffin had a nightmare start for Kerry at full-back, failing to come to terms with Cork’s Colm O’Neill who helped himself to 1-1, including a fine top corner finish to beat Kerry goalkeeper Diarmuid Murphy at the near post.
Cork looked set to be catapulted to seventh heaven as ambitions of a seventh All-Ireland title looked only an hour away, but Kerry soon steadied the ship with a pair of frees from Gooch Cooper, and two excellent scores from full-forward Tommy Walsh.
Tommy Griffin was instructed to mark the lethal Colm O’Neill from the front, and the An Daingean back looked much more assured in his adapted role. Declan O’Sullivan was the orchestrator of Kerry’s first half; every opportunity went through the integral Droimid Pearses clubman.
O’Sullivan then added a point on 27 minutes with a fine score to level affairs, before Gooch tapped over another, and Tadhg Kennelly pushed Kerry into a two point lead with another excellent point.
Kerry were ruthless in front of goal, taking maximum benefit from their time within the opposition half, while Cork were struggling to build on their early advantage by wasting scoreable chances.
Goulding split the posts with a couple of frees, but Gooch added another, and aided by a Marc O’Shea point, Kerry headed to the dressing room at half time with a two point lead. Seconds after the restart, Cork had an excellent chance kicked wide through Paul Kerrigan, and this was to be thepattern for the following fifteen minutes as Alan O’Connor et al. missed chance after chance much to the disgruntlement of a concerned and frustrated Conor Counihan on the Cork bench.
As Cork were still in search of their kicking boots, Kerry added another two scores with Gooch and skipper Darren O’Sullivan doing the business. Diarmuid Murphy did well in the Kerry goal on 47 minutes to deny a snapshot from Cork corner forward Daniel Goulding, his smart reaction save keeping Kerry’s four point advantage intact.
At 50 minutes, Cork’s first score of the second half was long overdue, it came through Alan O’Connor, and Cork showed that they were beginning to grab a foothold on this up to now very open game of football.
Moments later, we got our first surprise of the day as Tadhg Kennelly made way for Donnacha Walsh on the Kerry half-forward line. Tadhg had clearly “spent all his money” and had nothing left in the tank.
His efforts in combating Cork’s star studded half back link of John Miskella, Graham Canty and Noel O’Leary looked even more awesome as the Cork stars were allowed to carry more ball in his absence, and subsequently found themselves in more threatening positions.
Cork marked their sudden surge with a brace of points from Daniel Goulding in quick succession, first when there was a sniff of a goal chance, followed by a classy 35 yard left foot kick.
With the margin between the teams being the meanest, Kerry seemed anxious, especially as they hadn’t scored for 10 minutes and Cork beginning to boss affairs.
What do you do now Jacko?
Few teams possess the luxury of being able to call upon the likes of Kieran Donaghy when the going gets tough and the waters appear a little bit murkier.
In Star came, and Kerry were going in for the kill.
Tommy Walsh picked off a pair of class scores to give Kerry a three point advantage before Tomas O’Se was allowed to burst forward from wing-back as Kerry moved four clear.
The Kerry corner and wing-backs were immense, constantly out in front of the Cork forwards to hunt out danger, right on top of the opposition when in possession, and went forward in search of scores throughout the game.
The O’Se brothers worked tirelessly on the left hand side and chipped in with vital scores, while man of the match Tom O’Sullivan and Killian Young foiled Daniel Goulding and Paul Kerrigan throughout the course of the afternoon.
Kerry’s four point advantage was enough for them to hold out. Though Cork had numerous chances to score, their accuracy was abysmal, notching up 14 wides in total. One feels that had the Rebels showed more composure under the posts, then the bonfires would be Leeside instead of in Killarney.
As Kerry captain Darran O’Sullivan proudly lifted the enormous Sam Maguire in Croke Park, I could only imagine the humble pie that so many sport commentators will have to eat over the next couple of days.
Completely written off after their Munster semi-final defeat to Cork last May, and repeatedly questioned as they stumbled over minnows Longford, Sligo and Antrim, Kerry have defied the critics in lavishing it up in Championship success number 36.
Kerry have again proven themselves in the hottest of fires. The Kerry Class of 2009 took a battering from us all year, and they have had the last laugh.
Jacko’s surgery of 2009 has proved another incontestable success.
Cork: 1 Alan Quirke; 17 Ciaran O’Connor, 3 Michael Shields, 4 Anthony Lynch; 5 John Miskella, 6 Graham Canty (capt), 7 Noel O’Leary; 8 Alan O’Connor, 9 Nicholas Murphy; 10 Paul Kerrigan, 11 Pearse O’Neill, 12 Paddy Kelly; 13 Daniel Goulding, 14 Colm O’Neill, 15 Donnacha O’Connor.
Kerry: 1 Diarmuid Murphy; 2 Marc Ãƒ” Se, 3 Tommy Griffin, 4 Tom O’Sullivan; 5 TomÃƒÂ¡s Ãƒ” Se, 6 Mike McCarthy, 7 Killian Young; 8 Darragh Ãƒ” Se, 9 Seamus Scanlon; 10 Paul Galvin, 11 Declan O’Sullivan, 12 Tadhg Kennelly; 13 Colm Cooper, 14 Tommy Walsh, 15 Darran O’Sullivan (capt).