If anything Kerry appeared more hesitant and uncertain than in both their outings in Munster to date and anyone expecting the jogo bonita of one touch football, crisp and incisive movement and an element of ruthlessness were left waiting until well into the second half for any joy.
Even then, the urgency that followed Darran O’Sullivan’s half-time introduction eventually gave way to a strange lethargy and sloppiness as the visitors sleepwalked their way through the tense final minutes.
Lets start with a few unpalatable facts that Kerry will have to digest after hearing this morning’s third round draw: Kerry’s first score from play came after the half hour mark and they had to wait until the 42nd minute for their second; Darran O’ Sullivan’s crucial goal which came when they were trailing by six points. Kerry went in front in the first minute after a Colm Cooper free and didn’t get their noses ahead again until the same player pointed another free in the 56th minute.
That Kerry struggled for so long can be attributed to Westmeath’s controlled aggression and measured approach work around the middle. They frustrated Kerry from numbers 5-12 for the first three quarters of an hour to the extent that Anthony Maher was forced into some cumbersome tackling under the dropping ball and his midfield partner, Bryan Sheehan, was a peripheral figure for long periods.
Sheehan’s period of inactivity with injury certainly told against Kerry yesterday.
At times Kerry seemed unwilling or unable to commit fully to the more direct approach which had been flagged before the game.
Eoin Brosnan was the one Kerry player who could be exempted from blame in this regard. He created the first penalty, was involved in much of what Kerry did well and I believe ahead of next weekend, it would be worthwhile exploring further ways of getting Brosnan into advanced positions. He consistently broke the tackles, made good decisions on the ball and at all times seemed to be able to navigate a path towards the Westmeath goal.
Along with Declan and Darran O’Sullivan, Marc Ó Sé and Aidan O’Mahony, Brosnan maintained throughout the level of urgency required if Kerry are to rid themselves of some lingering bad habits.
When Kerry did play with that urgency, they scored 1-2 in a four minute period between the 7th and 11th minutes of the second half with 1-1 as a direct result of quickly taken frees by Colm Cooper and Tomás Ó Sé.
Westmeath’s outstanding John Heslin and the huge industry of Kieran Martin put a halt to Kerry’s gallop for a while but halfway through the second half Kerry’s outfield players realised that the ploy most likely to suit their inside line, Kieran Donaghy in particular, is in fact the low threaded ball hopping in front of the man. That type of ball is getting harder and harder to engineer.
Westmeath appeared to find it easier to ply their dangerman, Denis Glennon, with decent ball and he gave Killian Young no end of trouble. It wasn’t until Marc Ó Sé was moved over on Glennon that Kerry could be entirely comfortable at the back. This took them far too long, however, and it wasn’t until Glennon had scored an early second half point and created the penalty with hard running and a good pass to Michael Ennis that Ó Sé was detailed to snuff out the threat.
Even when Kerry went two points up heading for home, they seemed to revert to the conservative keep-ball approach and the call against Paul Galvin for dilly-dallying that led to Westmeath’s last score was entirely avoidable.
The hope for Kerry leaving Cusack Park yesterday was that the brief period of dominance they enjoyed during the second half is a truer indication of where they’re going rather than the long periods marked by slackness, uncertainty and mistakes.
The talk on the long road back to Kerry last night was of the similarities between yesterday’s fitful and unconvincing display and the form of the qualifiers of three seasons ago.
2009 ended gloriously but on yesterday’s evidence a similar finale seems fanciful.