Cork v Kerry – Under 21 Football Post Match Reaction

Cork defeated Kerry by 0-18 to 2-8 in the Cadbury’s Munster Under 21 Football Championship Quarter-Final on Wednesday night in Austin Stack Park Tralee. After the game, Cork Under 21 Football manager Séan Hayes and Kerry Under 21 Football selector Harry O’Neill gave their thoughts on what was an entertaining game of football.

Cork U21 manager Séan Hayes

Cork Under 21 manager Séan Hayes began his press briefing by focusing on the character of his side after being hit for two goals in the first half.

“The goals were killer blows, but when you win at the end of a game like that it is good for you, it shows the character you have,” said Hayes. “We are telling these lads they have character and I think they showed that in the second-half. Even though we were frustrated at half-time, it was a great performance by us in the second-half.

“We were playing Kerry and they have good footballers and their two first half goals helped keep them in the game. It helps us in the long run to have a good, tough game like that. Hopefully it will stand to us and our job now is to get ready for Limerick who will be coming in fresh and we can’t take that game for granted.”

“To me we were the better side in that first-half, but coming into your first championship match is always hard and it does take time for lads to get up to the pace of the game. In the first-half it did take us a while to get up to that pace, but we talked about it at half-time, we knew we were a good team and in the second-half we showed how good we are.”

Cork goalkeeper Micheál Martin made a crucial save midway through the second half, a fact noted by Hayes as very important – “It was a fantastic save. That’s what he’s there for. The goalies do all the hard work and we have four good keepers and a goalkeeping coach and he said Micheál was the best and he proved it tonight with that save. “

Alan Cadogan was introduced to the team as a late starter for the injured Cathal Vaughan and took full advantage of the opportunity, scoring five points from play. His manager was fulsome in his praise for his corner-forward.

“In fairness to Alan, he has been under fierce pressure to come out to training. He is involved with Cork, was involved with the Fitzgibbon team. We have been working at this since last year and he hasn’t been there, but he understands that. We spoke to him and said he would play some part and he did and I am delighted for him. He gives it everything for every code and what he did tonight was fantastic.”

Kerry selector Harry O’Neill

Kerry were disappointed to lose on their home patch and bow out of the championship in the first round. Kerry selector Harry O’Neill gave his views afterwards to the assembled media about the game and also the wider issues facing Kerry football in the future.

“We always knew we were going to be up against it playing Cork. They are a big, physical side and they play the game at a certain pace. When you go in to a Championship game like that without competitive action is tough. You don’t learn as much from challenge games now but having said that, what was happening in challenge games probably came home to roost there tonight. We fell short tonight – physically we were not strong enough. We knew their half-back line would be the platform and that Alan Cadogan and Dan MacEoin would be the go-to men. That was the case and we still could not counter it.”

O’Neill was disappointed that they did not build on a positive start – “We were three points up at half-time without playing great. We took our chances up front and Thomas Hickey and the boys inside were keeping the Cork full-back line very honest. Once we got the ball in to them they were causing problems but we were living off scraps a little bit. It was going to take a huge effort from us in the second half to keep it going and you could see the guys who were really pushing hard that when they started to tire in the final ten minutes the whole thing kind of fell apart.”

O’Neill agreed that the goal chance midway through the second half which was saved by Cork goalie Micheál Martin proved decisive. “He made a superb save and though the ball broke out to one of our players, we went for goal again and it was blocked and in those situations, the smart thing would be to pop the ball over the bar and take your score. At the start of the second half, Cork came at us and scored the first three points to level the game but we kicked on and got two points and we expected the lads to drive on from there but it just didn’t happen. Cork came back down and got a couple of scores and it was nip and tuck for a long time. At that stage, we were struggling to get the ball from our half-back line to our half-forward line and Cork cut out a lot of ball around there and put pressure on our backline and that was the launch pad that they wanted. Turning the ball over in that area of the field was playing in to their hands. If we were turning the ball over in their full-back line it’s not the worst thing but to be turning it over in their half-back line is their strong line where they want to drive on and you can see what happened after that”

O’Neill was asked about the bigger picture of where Kerry Football is in relation to Cork and expressed some interesting observations.

“At this level (Under 21) we are behind. The fact that Cork are going for their fourth Munster title in a row and four of the Cork players tonight had experience playing in the National League with the Cork Senior team shows that. If you go through the Cork team, they would have a lot of the younger lads coming through and fed in to the Senior team. They have been winning Munster championships and are a step about where our lads are at. So we are probably playing a little bit of catch up but we have a lot of very good players. We saw above in Fitzgerald stadium last Sunday (a 15 point victory for Kerry Seniors against Tyrone) where the younger guys, the likes of the Paul Murphy, Pa Kilkenny, Fionn Fitzgerald, James O’Donoghue is only 24, Peter Crowley – those guys didn’t win at Under 21 level and some of them were part of a team given an awful hiding in Pairc Ui Rinn a few years ago. But they have bounced back and we have got a number of players out of that panel. Some of the players may need an extra year to bring them up to Senior standard but you can see the progress that those players have made in a short space of time.”

On the issue of Cork producing players of a more physical nature than Kerry, Harry O’Neill does think that progress is being made.

“This is my third year involved at Under 21 level and we have been taking players in over that time from the Minor set-up. While they are still quite young, the players that came in from the Minor set-up of last year were definitely a good bit ahead of what was coming in before that. So there is a good bit of work going on with the development squads and the Minors and it’s starting to bear fruition. While we have not been winning a lot at underage level, there is a lot of good work going on and I do think that it is changing as this is the first year that I saw players in a lot better shape coming in and I think that will be the trend from now on. “