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Kerry's clinical attack, Cork's positive showing and Kingdom defensive issues

The champions won out by three points in last night’s decider in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Cork's Ruairi Deane and Kerry's Gavin White in action.
Cork's Ruairi Deane and Kerry's Gavin White in action.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

1. Kerry’s clinical attacking helps them survive

Kerry stitched another Munster title on to their record, the seventh on the bounce, but this belonged in the close shave rather than cakewalk category. Since this modern supremacy began six years ago, the 2013 decider and 2015 draw had been their most severe tests yet last night proved a quite rigorous examination.

Paul Geaney’s dismissal and James Loughrey’s point moments later left Kerry clinging to a 1-14 to 3-7 advantage in the 56th minute. It was impressive how they closed out the game from there, outscoring Cork 0-5 to 0-3, and getting big contributions from big names.

Stephen O’Brien made relentless breaks in attack and hit a pair of points. David Clifford showed as a primary possession winner, laying off a pass for one point and claiming another free. Sean O’Shea’s efficiency in converting those placed balls was critical as well. Kerry’s forward line held their nerve at a time when their grasp on the crown was wavering and it proved so crucial.

2. Regret for Cork as scoring chances fall their way

When Cork departed Killarney in 2015, it was gut-wrenching for them in not getting over the line as Kerry pegged them back to draw. Genuine chances to land provincial silverware have been thin on the ground since then, the 2017 and 2018 deciders proving grim affairs for their camp to endure. Last night they turned the Munster final into a contest once more yet there was a different sense of disappointment after a game where a bunch of chances fell their way.

Crunch the numbers and Cork converted 13/26 opportunities with Kerry nailing 20/25. Kerry didn’t post a wide in the first half, Cork didn’t register a point from play in that period and struck three wides in the opening ten minutes when points were on offer. Cork’s goal tally was a credit to the power, pace and resilience they brought to the table but they could easily have doubled that number. The game was a contrast in clinical showings up front.

Sean White and Mattie Taylor dejected after the game A dejected Sean White and Matthew Taylor after the game.

3. Kerry’s defensive issue highlighted by Cork’s running game

If Kerry’s attack looked on their game, Peter Keane’s outfit needed them to bail the team out of trouble due to problems elsewhere. In the semi-final against Clare, there were second-half signs of Kerry being perturbed when a team powered at their defence, this game magnified that issue more. It’s true that no rearguard is comfortable facing a team with an array of runners and that there is an onus to stop the movements at source out the field, but Cork’s ball-carrying ability had Kerry in notable discomfort last night.

Killian O’Hanlon charged through to win a penalty that was converted, Ruairi Deane punched holes constantly in Kerry’s defensive barrier and the frees Mark Collins popped over early on were of the tap over variety after a Cork player had been stopped when approaching the goal.

The third green flag Cork raised was redolent of Diarmuid O’Connor’s for Mayo in the league decider, Brian Hurley capitalising with a deft flick after Shane Ryan decided to emerge from the Kerry goalmouth. An area for Kerry to ponder.

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Gavin White lifts the trophy Gavin White lifts the Munster senior football trophy. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

4. Kerry move on to the Super 8s with question floating around

After Roscommon’s progression last Sunday, Kerry booked their berth in the Super 8s last night and can start to plot for a Group 1 campaign. With provincial business taken care of, they can begin to look at the more considerable challenges ahead. It was not an environment that they prospered in last year, is there a sense of improvement twelve months on?

The positives are the smooth nature in which their attack continues to operate and the game management they displayed when things got nervy. Surviving that battle should aid a bunch of young, developing players. But ultimately Kerry will be judged on their capacity to challenge for bigger prizes with Cork last night and Mayo previously highlighting a vulnerability in their defensive structure. Doubts persist as they move onto the All-Ireland stage.

5. Cork’s task to build on positive display

A three-point loss and that familiar sense of a silver medal finish in Munster but the vast improvement in Cork’s showing was striking. For a team hammered twice last summer in swift succession by Kerry and Tyrone, while enduring a wretched run of league form at the outset this year, there has been a noticeable revival.

Last night was the third competitive game in a row that they struck three goals. Munster final newcomers Liam O’Donovan, Mattie Taylor and Killian O’Hanlon were excellent. Ruairi Deane was close to the game’s leading player. There was promise in the attacking combination of Mark Collins and Brian Hurley. 

Cork’s shot selection, execution and decision making in the finale cost them but facing Kerry was always going to elevate the challenge they faced. The aim now for Cork must be to get exposed more often to that top tier combat. Negotiating the round four qualifier hurdle would have a transformative effect with the promise of three marquee matches to follow. To achieve that they need to maintain the standards of last night and ensure the game was a springboard.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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