GAA Championship, Week Two: Corkness Conquers Kerry

by | Nov 13, 2020

The pundits called it the “shock” the All-Ireland football championship needed, forgetting that we’ve already had one…just ask Monaghan. But Cork’s last-kick-of-the-game victory over Kerry in Munster’s Football championship on Sunday was a MAJOR shock. Not least to Cork themselves, judging by the looks of some players’ faces at the final whistle.

Cork/Kerry is a near-annual football rivalry, as they are Munster football’s top two by some distance. Kerry, though, have been the top one by some distance for some time. Nevertheless, Sunday was history repeating itself. Kerry were oven-hot favourites, and generally viewed as the biggest threat to Dublin’s sixth All-Ireland title in-a-row, especially after Tyrone’s championship exit last week. In 1983, Kerry were also Gas Mark 6 on the favouritism scale. And THEY would have been chasing “six-in-a-row” if they hadn’t lost 1982’s All-Ireland Final to a late, LATE Offaly goal.

But Cork’s Tadhg Murphy scored a last-kick goal in the ’83 Munster decider, from the same part of Cork as Mark Keane did on Sunday. In the same manner too, catching a high ball in front of goal and thumping it home right-footed. And, rather than being the “shock it needed,” this might end the championship as a meaningful contest. Dublin won 1983’s All-Ireland title, and are now unbackable favourites to win 2020’s. And when RTE co-commentator Kevin McStay laughed at/after Keane’s goal, he was probably echoing the thoughts of TWO counties.

The match had only been over for four hours when RTE’s Sunday Game highlights programme began, which wasn’t enough time for pundit Tomas O Se’s visible fury to subside. And Sunday Game presenter Des Cahill’s inappropriately jolly “try to smile, Tomas” could have cost him his own front teeth.

O Se’s analysis was as brutal as his expression. Kerry got it “totally and utterly wrong.” They “set up with pure fear.” They were “shambolic from the word go.” It was “as poor a display” as he’d “seen from Kerry” for 20 years. “On the sideline and on the field, it was shocking.” He is the only person I’ve ever heard use the stereotypical Irish sentence suffix “at all, at all.” He says it when he’s really angry. He said it twice here. And I couldn’t even spell the noise with which he ended one piece of analysis.

He was right that it was “a terrible game.” There were 57 fouls in 70 minutes’ normal time, mostly cynical and destructive. “The amount of fouling has been biblical,” noted McStay, perhaps confused by the biblical proportions of rainfall drenching the players, for the second consecutive Sunday (commentator Ger Canning had to assure viewers that it wasn’t raining like that in Cork all week). There could have been “ten more of them,” McStay noted, correctly, after a 54th-minute booking.

Kerry’s mercurial forward David Clifford was what McStay labelled a “microcosm” of Kerry’s struggles. He scored a booming extra-time point which Canning called a “real hit-and-hope” shot but which had McStay drooling about never seeing “a better point than that.” Yet Clifford also missed two frees he could have scored with his kn…ee. “You’d put your housekeeping money on him to put that over,” Canning said after the first miss, evidently not keen on risking a whole house.

Kerry led for much of the first half and would have led by more had Brian O Beaglaioch’s 13th-minute shot not been “at the right height for the keeper,” Michael Martin, to save. Cork ended the half strongly to lead by a point at half-time. Clifford struck the outside of the post with a 25-yard, 38th-minute fizzer. And Kerry led by two points with three minutes’ normal time left, after some super subbing by Killian Spillane.

Cork’s soon-to-be-supersub, Luke Connolly, nailed a long-range point (“he doesn’t even think about it, he just lets fly,” noted a slightly awestruck Canning). With two minutes’ normal time left, Kerry’s mountainous midfielder David Moran was ‘sin-binned’ for 10 minutes. And Cork kept possession for…AGES, before engineering a close-in free which Mark Collins kicked millimetres inside the post. The foul was 90 seconds before full-time. But considerable faffing around made the free the last kick of normal time.

Clifford’s wonder point helped Kerry go two-up in extra-time. Connolly let fly from a free with the last kick of extra-time’s first half, and let fly again from near the touchline, brilliantly bisecting the posts to leave one in it with four minutes left. Cork spent another age trying to engineer an impossibly dramatic equaliser, before Connolly let fly yet again.

This shot drifted away from but, crucially, just short of the posts, where current Aussie Rules player Keane was marked by ex-Aussie Rules player Tommy Walsh. And Keane, at the key moment, was the best Rules player, Walsh letting Keane catch the ball at chest height without leaving the ground. Keane was brought on after 43 minutes, specifically to catch high balls. And Cork only let two into him. But one was enough.

In January 2019, with Cork football at a low ebb, Cork’s GAA were ridiculed for publishing a psychobabble-heavy “Five-Year Plan for Gaelic Football;” in the county. It said Cork had to “re-engage” with fans by restoring their sense of “Corkness” and added that “Brand Cork needs urgent work.” Outspoken pundit Joe Brolly called this “waxy nonsense” on RTE. Other cynics noted that “re-engaging” with opposing forwards would be a start. But from almost that day to this, Cork have greatly improved. They “re-engaged” with Kerry alright. And “Brand Cork” worked very urgently indeed.

PS: The GAA re-drew the semi-finals to keep Dublin and Kerry apart. “Corkness” would have saved them the bother, if only they’d read the plan.

There was attritional extra-time drama in Munster’s other semi-final too. Limerick/Tipperary is a fiercer hurling than football rivalry. But Saturday’s football encounter in Limerick was a more dramatic affair than the previous week’s hurling encounter, despite lacking some of the quality.

Limerick scored two first-half goals to lead at half-time by seven. Tipperary scored 1-6 unanswered to be two-up at the second-half water-break. This again proved a momentum killer, as Limerick added three unanswered post-water-break points to go one-up, before Tipp’s Conor Sweeney hit a remarkable point (McStay would have loved it) off the post from right on the touchline, with 19 seconds of five minutes’ stoppage-time left.

Two minutes into the second half of extra-time, Limerick led by a point and were denied what would have looked a clear penalty on radio when Hugh Bourke had his arm pulled as he shot for goal, with the ref and two umpires a combined 30 yards away but still missing the incident. Thus reprieved, Tipp levelled again before Brian Fox’s fabulous solo effort put them a point up with 19 seconds of extra-time’s normal time left.

Then, with 11 seconds of *checks notes* extra-time second-half stoppage-time left, Limerick’s Seamus O’Carroll won an “advanced mark,” a new concept this year, giving a player 15 seconds for a free shot at goal if he catches a ball on the full inside the 45-metre line. But with that 15 seconds almost audibly in mind, O’Carroll rushed his kick and the ball flew horribly wide, leaving him distraught as, admirably, players from both sides sought to console him

Cork/Tipp is a fiercer hurling than football rivalry (see below). And on semi-final form, the Munster football final won’t change that.

Extra-time and penalties were oft-forecast during the confused media build-up to Mayo’s Connacht semi-final in Roscommon. While some portrayed Roscommon as coming into the match “under the radar,” others trumpeted a “changing of the guard” in Connacht, as Roscommon replaced relegated Mayo in Division One after the just-finished National League. But the match followed more form-book form, as Mayo’s pace and power proved too much for the hosts.

Mayo haven’t won a Connacht title since 2015 but reached the All-Ireland semi-finals in all-bar-one-year since, and the final twice, after successful qualifiers runs. Shorn of that second chance this year, they were never likely to be as careless as they were in their provincial defeats, especially 2019’s at home to Roscommon.

Mayo won by six points. “Surprisingly easy,” noted the Mayo GAA Blog, correctly. Diarmuid O’Connor’s 19th-minute goal ended the game as a contest, putting them seven points ahead, a lead Roscommon never got below six. Mayo’s combination of youth and experience was a comfortably winning one, in every sector of the pitch. And Roscommon lacked a Plan B, when Plan A failed.

O Se said Roscommon would be “disgusted that they didn’t show up.” And my uncle WAS disgusted. “I’m disgusted,” he confirmed to me on the phone. This was a little harsh on Roscommon, who simply didn’t play well. Defensively, they have improved under manager Anthony Cunningham, after some embarrassment in recent years. But on Sunday that wasn’t enough.

Last year, Roscommon’s three championship wins were against Mayo, Galway and Cork. Those three wins this year (dangerously assuming Cork beat Tipp) would have made Roscommon All-Ireland finalists for the second time in my lifetime and only the sixth time ever. It isn’t just “all comedy” that is timing. Grrr…

There were two good Leinster’s quarter-finals and two one-sided ones. Dublin began their six-in-a-row quest (ten in Leinster) with a facile 11-point win over Westmeath, “live” on Sky Sports Little Mix. Longford led Laois for much of their entertaining game, until Laois powered past them to win by two points. And Kildare overcame Offaly by five in an unexpected point-taking masterclass. But Meath look the likeliest Leinster Final losers to Dublin. They put seven goals past a hapless Wicklow team who themselves had put seven past a hapless Antrim team in the League only last month.

Antrim weren‘t so carefree on Sunday, contributing fully to a grim Ulster quarter-final in Cavan. And Cavan were again grateful to keeper Raymond Galligan, although this time AS a keeper, his late save helping Cavan to a four-point win. Down won by seven points in Fermanagh on Sunday and will meet Cavan in what is being labelled the ‘other” Ulster semi-final, as Donegal/Armagh is the big one on Saturday, live on Sky.

Like Sunday’s football, one of the weekend’s hurling qualifiers was expected to be close, one wasn’t. And, like the football, expectations were confounded. Cork beat Dublin more convincingly than a six-point win suggests while Clare withstood a strong, late Laois rally to win by one.

Cork led from minute eight to minute 78 against a Dublin side, whose forward Chris Crummy’s name accurately described their display. Cork made five changes from the previous week’s lame loss to Waterford. And each one worked. But it remains unclear whether Cork’s improvement in seven days was down to a greater sense of “Corkness” or Dublin being…well…crummy.

Clare/Laois was more fun. Laois goaled early in each half. But they needed their strong second-half start to keep things competitive. With 20 minutes left, though, Laois were at the gates of plucky territory, as Clare led by seven, despite having David McInerney dismissed before half-time for something even the TV cameras’ closest close-ups couldn’t spot. Christ, even the Hubble Telescope might have struggled.

The game hinged on another perplexing decision. On 53 minutes, Laois’s Paddy Purcell was dragged down at least partly inside the penalty area. He still netted. But the ref blew for the foul, which he gave outside the area because he doesn’t understand lines. Laois had to take one point instead of three. And though Purcell goaled with three minutes left, they were still one behind when time ran out.

In this weekend’s qualifiers, Clare, who were managed by Davy Fitzgerald when they won the 2013 All-Ireland, will meet Wexford, who are managed by Fitzgerald now. And Cork and Tipp will renew one of hurling’s greatest rivalries, live on Sky Sports Little Mix. The GAA couldn’t have fixed the draw better. Cough.

No Covid cases this week, heightening the prospect of the championships being completed and maybe providing the long-promised national morale boost. Outside Kerry, that is.