Kerry 0-17 Donegal 1-10
Kerry claimed their first All-Ireland MFC title in two decades with a four points win over first-time finalists Donegal in a thrilling curtain-raiser decider at Croke Park.
The Kingdom had too much class up front for their Ulster opponents, with Killian Spillane and Micheal Burns tormenting the Tir Chonail defence all afternoon.
They had to endure a nervous finish, however, after the Ulster lads came from six points behind to cut the deficit to one.
But Jack O’Connor’s side had the maturity and composure to ride out the storm and deliver a couple of stylish and decisive late blows to take a 12th title and move clear at the top of the Minor Football roll of honour.
Two contrasting defensive strategies saw Donegal flood their territory with bodies, while Kerry’s tenacious tackling was equally effective as they closed down the danger men, particularly playmaker Lorcan Connor, who endured a frustrating opening half.
Nevertheless, talented attackers on both sides managed a decent strike rate, with the Kingdom easing ahead early on through Matthew Faherty and Killian Spillane.
Donegal took the lead with a long range free from Caolan McGonagle, after Stephen McBrearty had skipped past a couple of challenges to split the posts.
One man who managed to break the Donegal system was Micheal Burns, whose strong running and creativity was a constant problem for the Ulster champions.
Barry O’Sullivan also found a way to negate the swarmed defence by kicking a long range point, while Burns opened up a two points gap at the end of the opening quarter.
He turned provider for two Spillane scores late in the half, as Jack O’Connor’s lads went three clear, and it could have been worse, had Colm Kelly not made a vital intercept as full back Brian O Beaglaoich surged forward.
John Campbell’s long range free narrowed the gap, but it was Kerry who led by 0-8 to 0-6 at the interval.
Jordan Kiely came off the bench to add pace and trickery to Kerry’s attacking resources, slotting over a point early in the second half, with O'Sullivan and Spillane also on target as they pushed four
Donegal had to commit more men forward, and after McBrearty had prised an opening for John Campbell to strike a point, half backs Cian Mulligan and Tony McCleneghan to send Brennan in for a crack at goal, but his shot crashed against a post.
Kerry’s relief was expressed in the form of another flourish which yielded three quick points, two of them from substitute Liam Carey, and now they held a comfortable six points advantage.
But Donegal got themselves right back into it with a goal, this time Brennan making no mistake with a clinical finish after McCleneghan had once again made the telling break.
Connor’s free narrowed the gap to one with five minutes to play, but the Munster lads recovered from a difficult spell, Burns, Spillane and Barry O’Sullivan leading the charge.
And it was Spillane who kicked two late points to ensure the Tom Markham Cup was heading back to the Kingdom for the first time in 20 years.
Kerry: S Ryan (0-1, f), D O’Donoghue, B Ó Beaglaioch, T O’Sullivan
(0-1), B Sugrue, A Barry, C Coffey, B O'Sullivan (0-2), M O’Connor, M
Burns (0-2), B Rayle, M Flaherty (0-1), K Spillane (0-5, 3f), L
Kearney, T Ó Sé (0-1).
Subs: L Carey (0-2) for Coffey, J Kiely (0-2) for Kearney, R Wharton
for Sugrue, S O’Sullivan for O Se, I Parker for Rayle.
Donegal: D Rodgers, D Monagle, C Gillespie, C Kelly, S McMenamin, T
McCleneghan, C Mulligan (0-1), E Gallagher, C McGonagle (0-1, f), S
McBrearty (0-2), L Connor (0-2, 2f), M Carroll, J Brennan (1-1), J
Campbell (0-2, 1f), E O’Donnell.
Subs: N Harley (0-1) for Kelly, G McBride for O’Donnell, C Diver for
Harley, C Bonner for Gallagher.