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A Melbourne return for Cork, Kerry's shock exit and Munster title up for grabs

A dramatic win for Cork over Kerry yesterday.

Cork's Mark Collins and Tipperary's Gavin White
Cork's Mark Collins and Tipperary's Gavin White
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

1. Mark Keane’s Melbourne return

Any analysis of this game cannot start anywhere other than the finish. It was incredible drama not least because of the protagonist involved. Mark Keane started midfield for Cork in July 2018 in the Munster U20 final against Kerry in Tralee, he didn’t play for any county team again until yesterday against the same opponents.

In the interim he has been busy carving out a career for himself in Melbourne. The last few months alone have featured an AFL debut and a new two-year contract to sign. But with Collingwood giving it the green light, Cork capitalised to avail of his services as Ronan McCarthy explained afterwards.

It’s a remarkable twist. The Irish AFL crew typically return home at this time of year yet it is only the Covid interruptions that shunted the championship back to winter which mean there was a campaign with Cork to link up for.

And Keane made his mark in the most decisive way possible with that composed match-winning finish to the net.

2. A milestone win for this Cork squad

This was no routine Munster semi-final success, this held a far deeper meaning for this group of Cork footballers. Ronan McCarthy easily reeled off the recent low points after, thinking back to the routs they suffered against Kerry (by 17 points) and Tyrone (by 15 points) in the space of a fornight in the 2018 championship.

If last year did demonstrate progress, it was not reflected in a major scalp. But that record was redressed in 2020 as they landed a seismic victory. The end of an eight-year barren spell against Kerry in the senior championship arena and arguably the county’s biggest football win since they lifted Sam in 2010.

On an individual level this result is a major moment for their long-serving figures, only Paul Kerrigan and Mark Collins have prior experience, while it is a reward for the persistence of players like Sean Powter and Brian Hurley whose careers have been marred by injuries. Ronan McCarthy and his sideline crew deserve credit for overseeing such an upturn in fortunes, along with their injection of youth in handing out eight championship debuts, four starting (Shanley, Meehan, Walsh and O’Callaghan) and four more brought on (Ring, Corkery, Keane and Gore).

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3. Kerry head for the exit door

The ramifications of Mark Keane’s goal were not just in propelling Cork forward, it was the effect it has on those in the opposing camp. In 2020 there is no safety net or qualifiers to rehabilitate. Kerry have lost to Cork in the province before but not since 1999 has it knocked them out. Not since Martin Daly for Clare in 1997 has there been as dramatic a goal registered in Munster.

It’s a loss of deep disappointment after all the optimism generated by their 2019 summer run and their recent collection of the league title hinted they entered this one in good form. Peter Keane looked crestfallen afterwards as did his players dotted around the pitch with no dressing-room to retreat to, dazed by that sensational finale.

This will prompt a winter of introspection and is going to hurt given the pathway as they only needed to win three matches this season to book an All-Ireland final place again.

4. A tough day in front of goal

Factor in the injury time packed in, the extra-time required and there was over 95 minutes of action in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. If hurling has been decried for their scorefests of late, this football game was a different spectacle with only 26 scores posted on the board. . Kerry grabbed 0-11 from play, Cork only registered 1-4 with that Keane their first score in open play since Luke Connolly’s 68th minute effort.

It was a tough day for those faced with the task of splitting the posts. Kerry’s set of forwards bristle with menace but they had a real mixed bag consisting of 13 points, 11 wides and six shots dropped short. The tone was set in the five point chance spurned early on between the usually reliable Sean O’Shea and Tony Brosnan. Even the sublime talents of David Clifford was not immune to the squandering of chances as he missed two frees that looked straightforward while their midfield general David Moran hoofed away two point attempts late on.

In that context the displays of substitutes stood out. Killian Spillane emerged as Kerry’s best forward in snapping over four points when sprinting in from the bench. Aside from the late ‘assist’, Connolly shot over three points with his two marvellous pressure kicks from dead balls and a lovely shot fired over in normal time.

5. Munster race and All-Ireland draw blown open

With the last eight stage removed from the 2020 football equation, it felt like a big weekend as provincial final pairings were confirmed. In Connacht Galway got a bye and will now meet Mayo. In Munster Tipperary qualified on Saturday with Cork now pitted against them. One of that quartet are set to contest the All-Ireland final on Saturday 19 December.

But before that the Munster final assumes huge importance. Only Kerrigan and Collins from the Cork squad have those senior medals with Tipperary’s setup chasing that breakthrough. There should be no shortage of motivation on either side.

And while Cork achieved the standout result, there is an upshot for Tipperary as well in putting them against a team they will not be daunted by. The pair are familiar foes between league and championship, both will relish the chance for silverware.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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