Cork harvest for bright football future

By Tony Leen, Tralee
Cork 0-18 Kerry 2-08
AND so the balance tilts a degree or two more.

As Cork squirrel away another batch of nascent talent to work into their football future, Kerry reflect on a third successive year without emerging from Munster with their Under 21 footballers.

Add that the county's minors last won an All-Ireland twenty years ago and it sketches a medium term future for the Kingdom that gets darker around every corner.

The optimist's argument persists: as long as the seniors are netting three or four to add to their once-vast arsenal, Kerry will always be competitive. "Kerry will always have good footballers," Cork Under 21 coach Sean Hayes politely observed after last night's more-comprehensive-than-it-appears victory in Tralee.

But with the Kingdom's era of titans now at an end - from Maurice Fitzgerald to Seamus Moynihan to the O Se's to Declan O'Sullivan and Gooch - Kerry need a splurge of impetus for the future wellbeing of football in the country, not a trickle of potentially good minors and Under 21s.

When folk are looking longingly at the other end of the world to see if Tommy Walsh is packing his bags, it's time to smash the alarm break-glass unit.

Cork has no such concerns. Long before their Rebel Og body co-ordinated a well structured under age development squad programme in the county, the Rebels were producing quality - and physically imposing - footballers for every section of the pitch.

Sean Hayes admitted after last night's 0-18 to 2-8 win that dual starlet Alan Cadogan - who contributed five points - would not have started had Cathal Vaughan not picked up an injury last week.

Given that both are considered among the brightest attacking talents playing football, it's a lovely problem for a coach to have.

Kerry have their Corn Ui Mhuiri successes to point to - a third Munster colleges in a row for Pobal Scoil Corca Dhuibhne last weekend - and Under 21 selector Harry O'Neill insisted after last night's game that the Kingdom's under age talent is catching up in terms of physique with their rivals.

Promising youngsters like Paul Murphy and Pa Kilkenny are still finding their way through the system to the senior set-up - the likes of Fionn Fitzgerald and James O'Donoghue are also proving that - but it's getting tougher to unearth those unpolished gems in Kerry.

They aren't growing on trees anymore. The trees are even getting tougher to find.

Not getting the exposure to the pick of the country's Under 21 players, as Cork will likely have again this spring, is an obvious problem for Kerry, and by extension for their senior prospects into the future.

Jack O'Connor, Pat O'Shea and now Eamonn Fitzmaurice are producing competitive teams with less and less raw material. That's only going to end one way.

Across the border, there seems to be a splurge of quality youngsters coming through the ranks.

Kerry might have led 2-4 to 0-7 at half time in Tralee last night but it was courtesy of a generous penalty awarded by referee Keith O'Brien and a piece of quick thinking from James Crean that set up his colleague Gary O'Leary for a fisted goal.

However with Kevin Crowley, Conor Dorman and Jamie Davis solid and poised at the back, and Cadogan, Dan MacEoin and Ballincollig's Sean Kiely - a midfielder masquerading as a wing forward - ever dangerous up front, few home supporters among the attendance of 3,404 were codding themselves that Kerry were halfway to a semi-final against Limerick next week.

Three fast Cork points after the break put that delusion further to rest. Kerry would only score four points in the second half, but a hat-tip to corner forward Thomas Hickey and midfielder Shaun Keane for never giving up the fight.

They'll be two that Darragh O Se might be ready to pass onto his close friend Eamonn Fitzmaurice. Sean Hayes won't need to inform Brian Cuthbert of any new teenage tyros - few know the under age system in the county as well as the Bishopstown man.

Besides, he has enough going on keeping all his senior forwards busy and on the pitch.

It's a delicious problem for Cork, where Cuthbert is trying to put the foot back into football.

Perhaps their more adventurous brand of play will woo back the supporters who have drifted in recent years.

Of course, football will always burn brightest in Kerry - whether the Kingdom connoisseurs will have much to cheer over the next few years is a moot point though.

Scorers for Cork: A Cadogan (0-5); D MacEoin (0-5, 0-1 free); S Kiely (0-3); M Sugrue (0-2); J Corkery, K Kavanagh (0-1 each).

Scorers for Kerry: J Crean (1-3, 1-0 pen, 0-2 frees); G O’Leary (1-0); T Hickey (0-3, 0-1 frees); C Keating (0-2).

Cork: M Martin (Nemo Rangers); J Davis (Douglas), C Dorman (Bishopstown), S Cronin (Nemo Rangers); B O’Driscoll (Tadhg Mac Cárthaigh), S White (Clonakilty), K Crowley (Millstreet); D Murphy (Valley Rovers), I McGuire (St Finbarr’s); M Sugrue (Bandon), C O’Sullivan (Clyda Rovers), S Kiely (Ballincollig); D Mac Eoin (Illen Rovers), D Harrington (Adrigole), A Cadogan (Douglas).

Subs: K Kavanagh for Murphy (HT), C McIntrye for O’Sullivan (HT), J Corkery for Harrington (36), K Fulignati for O’Driscoll (47).

KERRY: S Murphy (Kilcummin); N Breen (Beaufort), G Crowley (Templenoe), J McGuire (Listowel Emmets); P Ó Conchúir (Dingle), P Ó Sé (An Ghaeltacht), T Morley (Templenoe); K Murphy (Kilcummin), S Keane (Legion); G Horan (Austin Stacks), G O’Leary (Kilcummin), A Spillane (Templenoe); T Hickey (Desmonds), J Crean (Annascaul), C Keating (Skellig Rangers).

Subs: D Daly for Horan (40 mins), C Keane for O’Leary (47), C Fitzgerald for A Spillane (50), J O’Donoghue for Crean (54), C Jordan for Morley (60).

Referee: F O’Brien (Tipperary).


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