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Kerry brush Cork aside to reach another Munster final

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Adam Moynihan reports from Páirc Uí Rinn

Munster Championship Semi-Final

Cork 0-11 Kerry 0-23

A run of eight straight points between the 51st and 64th minutes lifted Kerry to what was ultimately a comprehensive victory over Cork at Páirc Uí Rinn.

Cork had frustrated their fiercest rivals up until then and some excellent kicking by Stephen Sherlock and Cathail O’Mahony had them trailing by the minimum.

With David Clifford being well marshalled by a combination of Kevin Flahive and Seán Powter, Kerry had struggled to find their rhythm but that string of unanswered scores finally put the contest to bed.

PERFECT

This match was played in front of a virtually full Páirc Uí Rinn in perfect conditions but, save for a Cork run around the 26-minute mark, it failed to really burst into life in the first half.

Kerry boast arguably the best forward division in the country but Cork’s Stephen Sherlock was the stand-out marksman of the opening period. He kicked the hosts first six points (the fifth was his first from play and also the score of the half).

David Clifford (two), Paudie Clifford, Stephen O’Brien and Séan O’Shea (two) had given The Kingdom a 7-3 lead with 20 minutes on the clock before Sherlock (three) and Cathail O’Mahony roused the home crowd by making it a draw game.

The visitors finished the half in the ascendancy, however, and a great point (as he was being fouled) by the excellent Diarmuid O’Connor and a Tony Brosnan score gave them a two-point half-time lead.

O’Mahony’s kicking kept the Rebels within striking distance at the beginning of the second half but the introduction of David Moran at midfield coincided with Kerry’s best spell of the match. With Gavin White also exploding into the game, Jack O’Connor’s side eased into fourth gear and left Cork in their wake.

Seán O’Shea accounted for a good portion of Kerry’s match-sealing points and subs Micheál Burns and Paul Geaney also got in on the act late on.

Cork’s second-half performance can perhaps be summed up by the fact that they scored just one point in the last 20 minutes. Kerry’s backs deserve credit here; corner back Graham O’Sullivan in particular caught the eye.

Speaking to the media after the match, Kerry manager Jack O’Connor said the game had “more or less” gone the way Kerry would have predicted.

“We expected a big battle from Cork. With all the controversy over the game being played here, they had no option but to battle and they did. And fair play to them. They gave us a great battle for 50 minutes.

“We needed all our experience off the bench to see out that game.”

KERRY: S Ryan; G O’Sullivan, J Foley, T O'Sullivan; B Ó Beaglaoich, G White, T Morley; D O’Connor (0-1), J Barry; S O’Brien (0-2), Seán O’Shea (0-10, 8f), A Spillane; T Brosnan (0-1), D Clifford (0-4, 3f), P Clifford (0-2).

Subs: P Geaney (0-2) for Brosnan, D Moran for Spillane, P Murphy for Ó Beaglaoich, M Burns (0-1), J O’Connor for D O’Connor.

CORK: M Martin; K O’Donovan (0-1), M Shanley, K Flahive; J Cooper, R Maguire, M Taylor; I Maguire, C O’Callaghan; D Dineen, S Powter, J O’Rourke; S Sherlock (0-6, 5f), B Hurley, C O’Mahony (0-3).

Subs: D Foley for Martin, D Gore for Hurley, T Corkery for Powter, E McSweeney (0-1) for Dineen, D Hayes for O’Rourke.

Attendance: 10,743

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Kerry will need more intensity, more physicality and more collaboration to bounce back from Dub drubbing

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by Adam Moynihan

In the 22nd minute of last Saturday night’s league match in Croke Park, Lee Gannon collected a pass on his own 65 and carried the ball unchallenged right into the heart of Kerry’s defence. Brian Fenton took over and a tackle by Diarmuid O’Connor slowed the attack.

Then Fenton looked up and saw that Niall Scully was standing at the top of the D, completely unmarked. It was a simple five-metre handpass to the centre, and Scully had all the time in the world to steady himself and shoot. His point made it Dublin 2-8 Kerry 0-5. Ten shots for Dublin. Ten scores. One-way traffic.

The Dubs deserve credit for their accuracy in front of the posts – Con O’Callaghan was particularly excellent – but the ease with which they were creating their openings was startling from a Kerry perspective. For Scully’s score, the resistance was non-existent. If the same thing happened in a training match, the manager would be well within his rights to call off the session and send everyone home.

The cameras may have been trained on Kerry’s full back line and, yes, Jason Foley and Dylan Casey were struggling against O’Callaghan and Paddy Small, but Kerry were found wanting all over the pitch. You could have sailed the Titanic down the centre of their defence and O’Callaghan exploited that space to great effect for his third goal. Foley got hoodwinked by a lovely piece of movement by the Dublin full forward, but where was the help?

Centre back Tadhg Morley was pushing up on Dublin dangerman Seán Bugler but that’s the thing with Dublin: all their forwards are dangerous in one way or another. Maybe Tadhg was following instructions but you wonder if he could have cheated off Bugler when the all-action centre forward was outside the 45.

Whether it’s Morley or someone else, that gap in front of the goal needs to be filled – especially against teams of Dublin’s calibre.

What we saw in Croke Park last Saturday was a far cry from the solid defensive structure that won Kerry an All-Ireland in 2022, that’s for sure. You can be certain that Jack O’Connor will be demanding a far more intense, more physical and more collaborative performance against Tyrone on Sunday (1.15pm).

KICKOUTS

Speaking after the Dublin game, O’Connor said that his side “malfunctioned” on the kickouts. While Dublin keeper David O’Hanlon was firing out his kicks like a machine gun, Shane Ryan was far more measured with his. Dublin’s press was brilliant in fairness to them but you’d have to question Kerry’s appetite for making honest, hard runs and receiving the ball in potentially tight areas.

Graham O’Sullivan and Brian Ó Beaglaoich (who is currently injured) are outstanding when it comes to breaking free and accepting that responsibility. You’d like to see one or two more backs getting in on the act.

As for Ryan himself, could he be a bit quicker and a bit more adventurous with his distribution? Look, if there’s nothing on, there’s nothing on, but I think at times he could back himself more resolutely. He has the range and the accuracy.

Of course, if he takes a risk and it gets intercepted he’ll be in line for even sharper criticism, so you can understand him being cautious when the kick isn’t 100% on.

Whatever the solution, on the evidence of the Dublin and Derry games, Kerry do need to try something a bit different to beat the press. Tyrone are unlikely to be as aggressive as Dublin were but when they do push up, it will be fascinating to see how Kerry deal with it.

Kerry’s midfielders also need to compete aerially against whoever they’re up against when it goes long – even if that’s Brian Fenton or Conor Glass or Brendan Rogers. It’s not easy to get the better of these guys in the air (or to break even, which would do) but that’s the level required.

Joe O’Connor showed that his ball skills have improved markedly by taking his goal and his point so cleanly, and he is doing well in general, but he and his namesake Diarmuid will have to be more impactful both from kickouts and without the ball if Kerry want to be a real force this season.

Personally, I would like to see Seán O’Brien getting some more game time. He has only played six minutes since being taken off early on his debut against Derry five weeks ago. Kerry will need back-up at midfield as the season goes on and O’Brien has a lot of potential.

FORWARDS

Up front, the main positive is that Cillian Burke continues to make his presence felt. Even when his more experienced teammates were faltering the last night, Burke stood tall and played his usual game. And he swung over a great score for good measure.

David Clifford will be disappointed that he didn’t convert one of his goal chances – the first one was definitely there for the taking – but you know that over the course of the season he’ll finish more of those than he misses. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if he comes out and strokes one in on Sunday.

It’s nice to see Tony Brosnan back on the pitch as well. He deserves some kind fortune following a tough spell with illness and injury.

Tyrone coming to Killarney gives the players the perfect opportunity to bounce back quickly and show supporters – and themselves – that the Dublin game was a glitch and nothing more. Improvements are needed all over the pitch but the sight of the Red Hand should bring focus and resolve.

A good performance, a win and two points would put a lot of minds at ease.

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Killarney girls will answer Ireland’s call

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A trio of talented young Killarney rugby players have been called up to the Ireland U18 squad for the upcoming Six Nations festival in Wales.

Ava O’Malley, Fia Whelan and Emma Dunican have all been included in Matt Gill’s panel for the tournament, which will take place between March 29 and April 6. They will link up with their new teammates for three weekend training camps at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre on the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin during the month of March.

Gill, the current Women’s Provincial Talent Coach for Leinster, will be assisted by Sana Govender, who has previously coached Munster Women’s teams.

“I’m really looking forward to continuing our Irish U18 Women’s Six Nations preparations and getting our camps underway,” the head coach said. “I’m excited to work with Sana and our management team, and to work with this incredibly talented group of players.”

O’Malley, Whelan and Dunican are products of Killarney RFC’s blossoming youth set-up and all three were on the U18.5 team that recently won the Munster League.

Including the Killarney girls, there are seven Munster-based players on the 35-woman squad with 15 hailing from Leinster, eight from Connacht and five from Ulster.

“It’s a very proud day for the girls, their families, teammates and coaches, and for Killarney RFC,” the club commented. “Best of luck, girls!”

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