IT was routine business for Kerry yesterday afternoon in Austin Stack Park, Tralee as they deposited another two points in their NFL Division One account.
A nine-point winning margin was a touch flattering to Kerry and they needed a strong scoring kick at the finish to rubber-stamp a victory that keeps them firmly on track towards a league final.
But Kerry’s supremacy over a limited Westmeath outfit was undoubted and manager Jack O’Connor confessed to having a more upbeat post-match mood.
“I’m a lot happier today than I was last week, I suppose I’m just happier with the attitude of the team. We probably didn’t deserve to win by nine points but we’re happy overall. The subs all worked well. Every one of them contributed. The fact of the matter is we’re only training one day a week, just doing midweek sessions. So the league is going well for us.”
For Gaeltacht man Tomás Ó Flatharta it was far from a pleasant homecoming in his role as Westmeath bainisteoir. The encouraging signals exhibited in pushing Tyrone all the way the week before dissipated long before the final whistle here. They turned in a distinctly average performance and their slide towards relegation looks inexorable. Their injury list continues to weigh them down, and the loss of Kieran Gavin through injury and David Duffy through a yellow card during the course of this game crippled their prospects further.
In Ó Flatharta’s view the gulf in resources available to the two sides was critical: “They’ve great players with so much talent. They made eight or nine changes going into the game and brought in another few lads. Whereas the Under-21 lads who played yesterday, we’d to play five of them again today. It just shows the difference in the depth of talent in the two counties.”
For Kerry, Kieran O’Leary and Paul O’Connor had been thrust into the corner-forward spots, yet Westmeath comfortably dealt with them. Westmeath’s tactic of packing their defence with bodies frustrated Tommy Walsh and Kieran Donaghy up the middle, with the Leinster side’s pressure and tackling first-rate. If the opening half confirmed anything it was that Kerry pack a greater attacking punch when they have Colm Cooper in tow, and his ability to squeeze out scores was missed here.
Westmeath belied their lowly league status early on and trooped in at the interval with a 0-5 to 0-4 advantage. Their vigorous defence allied to Kerry’s awry shooting kept their concession of scores at a low total, while anytime they raided forward they came away with a point to show for their efforts. Denis Glennon was predictably the go-to guy up front, and while Tom O’Sullivan never allowed him to cut loose, Glennon’s freetaking was still accurate enough to help him contribute four first-half points.
Deficiencies may have been popping up in Kerry’s offensive play, but elsewhere there were positive vibes. Aidan O’Shea’s dynamism on the club stage is starting to manifest itself onto a higher platform, Tommy Griffin was highly efficient in his half-back play while Seamus Scanlon steered Kerry through choppy first-half waters with a commanding display around the middle.
Plenty focus was trained on the Kerry player donning the no. 10 shirt and in his first 70 minutes of inter-county senior action, Tadhg Kennelly acquitted himself well. His athleticism and ball-carrying were top-drawer, and the only snag was his failure to adorn his strong efforts with a score.
In the second half Kerry’s performance graph enjoyed an upward swing. David Moran and Darran O’Sullivan left personal indents on the game when introduced, while a vastly improved supply of ball into Kieran Donaghy reaped a handsome dividend. Two early points by Paul O’Connor and Donaghy put Kerry in front, but a Glennon free in the 47th minute tied the game up once more.
Tomás Ó Sé galloped forward for a typically stylish score a minute later, with Darran and Sean O’Sullivan following up with similar efforts to send Kerry three clear. The scoreboard was finally starting to reflect Kerry’s greater dominance, yet despite Westmeath struggling to penetrate the Kerry rearguard, the Leinster men were thrown a lifeline in the 57th minute.
Donncha Walsh was shown yellow for halting Francis Boyle’s run towards goal, and Denis Glennon seemed the ideal candidate to be handed the penalty responsibility. But his low shot was tamely struck and as the ball rolled wide of goal, Westmeath’s hopes of salvation were gone.
Kerry finished powerfully with Donaghy producing a personal highlights reel late on. Firstly he was fouled for a free that O’Connor converted and then he was hauled down for a penalty that saw Gary Connaughton brilliantly deny O’Connor. Yet Donaghy did ensure a green flag was waved by blasting home in the 68th minute and Kerry strolled home nine-point winners.
Scorers for Kerry: K Donaghy 1-1, P O’Connor 0-3 (0-2f), B Sheehan 0-2 (0-1 ‘45), S Scanlon, D O’Sullivan, D Walsh, K O’Leary, T Ó Sé, S O’Sullivan 0-1 each.
Westmeath: D Glennon 0-5 (0-4f), D Harte 0-1.
KERRY: G Reidy; A O’Shea, T O’Sullivan, K Quirke; T Ó’Sé, A O’Mahony, T Griffin; S Scanlon, A Maher; T Kennelly, T Walsh, D Walsh; K O’Leary, K Donaghy, P O’Connor.
Subs: D Moran for Maher (31), D O’Sullivan for T Walsh (half-time), S O’Sullivan for O’Leary (47), B Sheehan for D Walsh (58), B Moran for O’Mahony (64), M Corridan for Griffin (64).
WESTMEATH: G Connaughton; A Claffey, K Gavin, J Keane; F Boyle, D Heavin, D Harte; N Kilcoyne, D Duffy; M Ennis, J Smyth, C Reilly; D Bannon, D Glennon, C Lynam.
Subs: P Bannon for Kilcoyne (23), K Scally for Claffey (23), T McDaniel for Gavin (inj) (27), A Clinton for Duffy (yellow) (36), P Kelly for Reilly (57), K Gavin for Lynam (59).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).
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