Kerry completed a seven-in-a-row of Munster SFC titles at Páirc Uí Chaoimh this evening, but not with the ease that was expected as a plucky Cork side pushed them all the way.
A disappointing crowd of just 18,265 reflected the lack of interest in the second provincial football final of the year. Kerry won the corresponding fixture by 17 points last year and were expected to have plenty to spare again, but a revitalised Cork refused to read the script and were just a point adrift until injury-time points from substitute Micheál Burns and Sean O’Shea brought relief for the Kingdom, who were reduced to 14 players for the final quarter after the already cautioned Paul Geaney was black-carded for a foul on Kevin Flahive.
Kerry captain Gavin White lifts the Munster SFC trophy. ©INPHO/James Crombie.
The Kingdom shipped two early goals in last year's decider, but this time they made all the early running and had two points on the board from O'Shea and the excellent David Clifford before the former teed up wing back Tom O'Sullivan for the opening goal after six minutes.
Mark Collins got the underdogs off the mark from a free, but there was no respite as Dara Moynihan and Clifford extended Kerry's lead to seven points after 13 minutes. Both sides missed a host of goal chances in the opening half, with O'Shea passing up on the first of those after being set up by Clifford.
The Rebels got themselves back into contention in the 19th minute when Luke Connolly palmed the ball to the net after Ruairi Deane had won a throw-up on the 20-metre line. Tadhg Morley denied the home side a second major with a brilliant blockdown on Collins, but the corner forward then kicked his third point before Kerry responded with three on the bounce from Clifford and O'Shea (two).
Sean White missed another goalscoring opportunity for Cork before Collins sent over a free to leave them trailing by six, 1-4 to 1-10, at the break.
O'Shea nailed his fifth free after the restart before Morley pulled down Killian O'Hanlon for a 38th minute penalty which Connolly experted converted to make it a four-point game, 2-4 to 1-11.
Mark Collins then left a goal in it before O'Shea (free) and Sean White traded points. Ronan McCarthy's men were visibly growing in confidence and drew level in the 49th minute when Brian Hurley flicked the ball past Kerry 'keeper Shane Ryan after Ian Maguire's shot had been half-blocked.
Crucially, Kerry responded with points from Diarmuid O'Connor and Clifford, but Geaney's black card meant the game remained in the melting pot.
James Loughrey reduced the deficit to the minimum, but the champions were able to keep Cork at arm's length with scores from Stephen O'Brien and O'Shea.
Collins kept the Rebels in the hunt, but Peter Keane's charges held on for a three-point win which sealed another provincial success and a place in the Super 8s.
Kerry - S Ryan; J Foley, T Morley, T O'Sullivan (1-1); P Murphy, J Sherwood, G White; D Moran, J Barry; D O'Connor (0-1), S O'Shea (0-8, 6f), S O'Brien (0-2); D Clifford (0-4, 1f), P Geaney (0-1), D Moynihan (0-1). Subs: G Crowley for J Foley, M Burns (0-1) for D Moynihan, A Spillane for J Barry, B O Beaglaoich for D O'Connor, M Griffin for T O'Sullivan.
Cork - M White; N Walsh, J Loughrey (0-1), K Flahive; L O'Donovan, S White (0-1), M Taylor; I Maguire, K O'Hanlon; P Kerrigan, R Deane, T Clancy; M Collins (0-8, 6f), B Hurley (1-0), L Connolly (2-0, 1-0pen). Subs: K O'Donovan for N Walsh, K O'Driscoll for S White, M Hurley for B Hurley, S Sherlock for L Connolly, A Browne for M Taylor, S Cronin for J Loughrey.
Referee - A Nolan.