Slippery Kerry find way to escape in thrilling Munster final

Brian Cuthbert left disappointed after Cork are denied at the death in Killarney

Kerry won last year's All-Ireland title with a late and audacious high-wire act and there was more trapeze artistry to be seen in Killarney as they held on to their Munster title – for another fortnight at least. Cork entered Dick Fitzgerald's amphitheatre under a cloud of hostile reviews and came cruelly close to answering with a famous win in this ongoing rivalry.

It finished 3-12 to 2-15, a thriller of a match which made the hellish morning traffic jams into Killarney worth the punishment. "We were 10 seconds away," sighed Brian Cuthbert after the replay had been announced for July 18th, a Saturday. And it was that close.

The All-Ireland champions were rocked here but the familiar summer iciness did not desert them and with all manner of sharpshooters showing for the ball, corner back Fionn Fitzgerald took it upon himself to launch a 72nd-minute reprieve from the 45-metre line. It looked good from the second it struck his boot.

“He’s similar to Marc Ó Sé in that he can kick those scores,” said Éamonn Fitzmaurice, who couldn’t have looked more relaxed if he had spent the afternoon lounging on a deck chair.


“He definitely kicked one against Mayo in the semi-final last year in Croke Park, if not another one in the replay. He showed great courage, to be fair to Fionn. I think the lads showed good composure as well, keeping the ball in hand and rotating it. Cork were really making it difficult for us to get inside. Fionn put it up in the breeze and thankfully it went between the posts.”

The late escape will serve to deepen the theory that Fitzmaurice is a lucky general. Whatever about that, he is certainly fearless. The mild outrage provoked by his team selection before this game was neutralised after a commanding first half period when Kerry worked up a 1-9 to 1-05 lead.

Facing that deficit and against the breeze in the second half, Cork looked to be in another tough spot.


But they took ownership of the day after the break, filleting the All-Ireland champions for 1-6 in a glorious 20-minute spell and then finding the wherewithal to manufacture a third goal through wing-back Barry O’Driscoll after Kerry were gifted a 52nd minute penalty. They lacked no courage in Killarney.

Cuthbert, though, batted away the consolations of mere performance.

“That’s not good enough for Cork. Cork aren’t just happy to come to places and perform. Cork want to win things. Over the years we’ve won seven All-Irelands, lots of people say that’s not enough, but we’re not going out of the dressing-room clapping ourselves on the back saying we’ve performed.

“That’s a basic requirement of coming here. We’ve had some disappointing days in the last two years. I hold up my hand and say we’ve been disappointing on two or three occasions but, at the same time, this Cork is a new team and doing its very best to show what it can do.

“You judge everyone day by day and today this Cork team performed. We’ve to come back for the replay and go again. They showed tremendous heart and spirit but we need to come back and win the game. That’s the bottom line.”

If it was stern valedictory, it was also appropriate. Cork need to build on this. As it was, they gifted Kieran Donaghy a goal chance in the first half which the big man gratefully converted and had their momentum stalled when Mark Collins was whistled for fouling James O'Donoghue in the square.

“I didn’t really see it but everyone seems to be saying they saw it on TV and it was soft,” said Fitzmaurice with typical candour.

“But over the course of a game these things tend to even out.”

Chief rivals

Up in Croke Park, the All-Ireland hurling champions needed no late heroics.


secured their 70th Leinster title with a 1-25 to 2-15 win over


, who have become their chief provincial rivals. A true marvel of a goal by Joe Canning illuminated a relentlessly physical first half but Kilkenny produced five points on the trot in the second half to take control of the day.

No, the hurling champions are marching through the season with customary authority. Kerry are a less readable proposition just now. Fitzmaurice nodded at the suggestion that his defence had been opened up by the Cork men and pointed out that but for two fine saves by Brendan Kealy, it could have been worse.

Agile and swift problem-solving has been a key quality of Fitzmaurice's managerial style. Local interest will be acute when he names his team for the replay. The Finuge man cracked a grin when it was put to him that Colm Cooper, for instance, could make a difference. "Oh he could, he could! That will be for the selection meeting this time next week.

“But of course, that was a marginal call. He could have easily started today. It was a call we made and of course he’ll be in the mix like everybody else for Saturday week.”

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times