Cork moved into the Munster final to face Limerick after a pulsating win over Kerry at Páirc Uí Chaoimh this evening.
The Rebels were denied victory last weekend when a controversial late free saw Kerry level the match deep into injury time in Killarney and knew that they had to at least match their endeavour from that day to progress today.
They were the dominant team in the first period, moving five points clear of Kerry at the interval thanks to the industrious performance of their forward line, especially Donncha O'Connor, while Kerry’s forwards were well marshalled, as man of the match Anthony Lynch dominated an off-form Colm Cooper.
Both teams were reduced to 14 men after 25 minutes when an elbow from Paul Galvin brought a retaliatory punch from Noel O'Leary and both men was shown a straight red card.
At half-time there looked like only one winner with Cork retaining possession better and moving the ball well, while Kerry appeared tired, but predictably they roared back in the second period and drew level within ten minutes as Darran O’Sullivan made an instant impression off the bench.
However a penalty for Cork was the turning point in the 46th minute. Daniel Goulding found himself clean through on goal and Padraig Reidy pulled his jersey to give away a certain penalty.
Donncha O'Connor slotted home the spot kick and although Kerry struggled to stay in touch, Cork pulled away after that and earned a deserved win.
It was the Kingdom who began the match the brighter after their terrible start in the Killarney game a week earlier. Bryan Sheehan scored the first two points of the tie and Aidan O'Mahony was spraying searching, accurate balls from midfield.
But in the 11th minute, Donncha O'Connor scored the first of his four first-half points from a free and from thereon in, the Rebels moved up a gear and left Kerry reeling.
O’Connor and his cohorts Daniel Goulding and James Masters seemed to be everywhere – they were working hard, opening up space for each other and creating chances. Cork moved three points ahead with scores from Goulding and O’Connor and a storming finish from John Miskella as he powered forward from the back.
Cork were running away it at this stage – they were first to every ball, working harder, retaining possession better and moving the ball well. Worringly for Kerry, there seemed to be unmarked Rebels all over the pitch and the Kingdom players looked tired even at this early stage.
Then on 25 minutes, Paul Galvin and Noel O’Leary were involved in an off-the-ball spat – Galvin seemingly elbowed the Cork sub and O’Leary reacted by knocking the Kerryman to the floor with a right hook. Both men were swiftly shown a red card by referee Pat McEnaney and it was 14 men apiece for the rest of the game for both sides.
Colm Cooper spent the first period frustrated as he was impressively marshalled by Anthony Lynch. Cooper finally opened his account with a free after half an hour and the two sides traded scores in the aftermath of the double sending-off. At the half-time whistle, Cork led 0-9 to 0-4 and looked as though they could cruise to victory.
In front of a less than capacity crowd of 30,270, Kerry – inevitably – came roaring back at the start of the second half, closing the gap to two points within three minutes after scores from sub Darran O’Sullivan and Colm Cooper.
Kerry were first to every ball and playing with real energy after the interval and Cork looked shaken by the onslaught. Daniel Goudling pushed a simple chance wide – Cork’s seventh of the game.
Further points from Darragh Ó Sé and sub David Moran brought Kerry level. The Kingdom midfield were driving at the Cork defence and getting away from their markers with unnerving ease. The game looked to have changed completely.
But then on 46 minutes, Cork were awarded a penalty against the run of play and it proved to be the turning point in the match. Daniel Goulding found himself clean through on goal and Padraig Reidy’s only option was to foul him. He pulled his jersey and could have no arguments about the decision or his yellow card.
Donncha O'Connor stepped up and slotted the spot kick home with a fine low shot that bounced in off the left hand post. It gave the Rebels a three point lead and instantly stopped Kerry’s momentum.
The two teams traded points and both sides were giving everything in a high-energy encounter. The extra space afforded by the double sending off allowed both sets of attackers more freedom and it resulted in a hugely entertaining match.
A flurry of scores from the Rebels with ten minutes to go pushed them clear of Kerry, with substitutes Fintan Gould and Paul O’Flynn contributing points off the bench and further scores from the excellent Daniel Goulding pushing Cork clear, as they wound down the clock by keeping possession from a tired and frustrating Kerry side.
The triumphant Rebels go on to face Limerick in the Munster final, with Kerry off to the qualifiers. On this evidence, Cork are genuine All-Ireland contenders, while Kerry may be a team in decline. We shall see as the summer progresses, but hopefully there will be more games this entertaining along the way.
Cork: A Quirke; K O'Connor, M Shields, A Lynch; J Miskella, G Canty, G Spillane; A O'Connor, N Murphy; P Kelly, P O'Neill, P Kerrigan; D Goulding, J Masters, D O'Connor.
Kerry: D Murphy, M Ó Sé, T O'Sullivan, P Reidy; T Ó Sé, A O'Mahony, K Young; D Ó Sé, T Griffin; P Galvin, D O'Sullivan, T Kennelly; C Cooper, T Walsh, B Sheehan.