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Sunday 11 December 2016

No mistake for Kerry this ti me

Kingdom unlikely to be so naive against Rebels

KERRY V CORK

KILLARNEY (TODAY 7.0) LIVE RTE2

IT'S probably a bit easier to be humble about your managerial performance when you've got the Sam Maguire to point to as testimony for your general acumen but there was something admirable about Eamonn Fitzmaurice's declaration after the drawn match with Cork that 'it doesn't take a genius to know we didn't have a great day on the line.'

So, what did he get wrong?

Not starting Anthony Maher was, in hindsight, a big mistake.

Cork's midfield hasn't been a particularly comforting source of strength over these rough past two years but that's where most of the good of their performance emanated from.

And Kerry, having bitten down hard on the defensive bullet last year, particularly in the All-Ireland final against Donegal, reverted to traditional type in Killarney and were carved open more often and more severely than anyone - perhaps even Cork - could have expected.

By way of example, Cork's first goal came from three kick passes, the first of which came from their half-back line.

Donncha O'Connor got past Peter Crowley and with others ball-watching, Colm O'Neill tapped into the Kerry net.

And as it happened, Kerry's subs made very little impact.

Colm Cooper scored something of a ceremonial point but didn't contribute directly thereafter.

Neither Darran O'Sullivan or Paul Geaney improved output from their positions upon their arrival either.

Perhaps Fitzmaurice felt that a deep-lying half-forward line of Johnny Buckley, Donnchadh Walsh and Stephen O'Brien would protect their back and aid their midfield but none of the above's efforts could be said to have reflected their best work.

blame

You could, in that instance, point a finger at the players.

But, as perhaps Fitzmaurice was suggesting, you could also blame the manager that picked them, given he made five changes to the team that overwhelmed Tipperary in the round previous.

Conversely, Cork's day was going so swimmingly that Brian Cuthbert - himself a close acquaintance of criticism this year - made just one change until the final throes, an enforced replacement for Paul Kerrigan and his black card.

Whilst Fitzmaurice was conducting corrective surgery, Cuthbert was simply freshing his team in the last hectic 10 minutes, fuelling the theory that Kerry have far more scope to improve than Cork.

Not that the Cork performance was perfect.

Firstly - and most obviously - they failed to close out the game.

They gave away far too many frees and while Michael Sheilds was made look a little silly for the goal he was stripped of possession for, the pass to him should never have come.

veracity

Brian Hurley had no great impact, again adding to the thesis that to stop Colm O'Neill - as Kerry will surely do with great veracity tonight - is to vastly limited Cork's scoring options.

There were other bright sparks though for the Rebels.

He wasn't nominated for Man of the Match, but Barry O'Driscoll scored 1-1 and set up another 1-1 from wing-back and whatever about O'Neill, limiting his options and those of Alan O'Connor will probably form pillars of Kerry's reworked game plan.

Because once David Moran went to a b lack card after 43 minutes, O'Connor grew and Darragh Ó Sé was right in his assessment that Cork's renaissance man 'bullied' the home team physically thereafter.

Yet the feeling that Cork let Kerry off the hook hasn't lessened in the time lapsed since the draw.

Whatever about Fionn Fitzgerald's intentions with the equalising kick, Cork would probably have won had O'Neill put that last '45 dead, rather than short, enabling Kerry to build one last attack from deep.

And it's true, Kerry were a pale shadow of themselves while Cork produced their best performance in years, given credence to the idea that the Kingdom can't but improve while the Rebels will do well to find that level again.

The consequences have crystallised too.

Win, and it's Fermanagh or Westmeath in an All-Ireland quarter-final.

Lose and it's Kildare a week later and the Dubs eight days after that.

All of which suggests Kerry as winners by a nose.

ODDS: Kerry 8/15, Draw 8/1, Cork 2/1

VERDICT: Kerry

MUNSTER SFC FINAL REPLAY

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