Kingdom revel in first junior success in 12 years

KERRY bridged a 12-year gap by defeating Roscommon in a keenly contested All-Ireland junior football championship final at Cusack Park, Ennis yesterday.

The fact that the victory was achieved at the hands of the Connacht champions made it all the sweeter, as they had provided the opposition in 2000 decider when Roscommon emerged winners.

Those who advocate the disbanding of this grade should have a very serious rethink or at least come and see these games before they finally draw the curtain down on it. The competition may be well down the order of priorities for both counties, but the sheer joy on the faces of the winning players and management showed just how much the victory meant to them.

If the commitment of both teams is any indication, then this junior football championship most definitely has a place on the GAA calendar.

Kerry shaded the issue but only just. Their football was that bit craftier than Roscommon’s, but they also enjoyed more than their share of luck. Three goal chances were spurned by the Connacht champions, who also kicked some dreadful wides from score-able positions.

Had they converted half of their ten wides the title would surely have gone west. Kerry were equally guilty of missed chances — they had two wides less than their opponents — but in a game this tight they got the all-important goal which effectively won them their 14th title at this level.

Five minutes elapsed before Roscommon had the first point by Derek Moran. Johnny Buckley levelled it for Kerry a minute later but Munster champions began to struggle once Paul Moran got on top at centre forward for the westerners. Moran caused major problems for Kerry’s centre back, who was to emerge one of their heroes in the second half, and he created the scoring chances for his side to take a 0-3 to 0-1 lead at the end of the opening quarter.

Kerry’s movement on and off the ball was excellent but they enjoyed a slice of good fortune in the 16th minute when a pass meant for Conor Daly was deflected into the unmarked Stephen Wallace, and the Ardfert man billowed the Roscommon net from close range for a goal against the run of play.

With a strong wind to their backs, Kerry needed a sizeable lead if they were going to take the title, and Roscommon wasted the first of their goal chances when Seamus Heneghan raced through only to blaze wide with just the ‘keeper to beat.

It was a huge let-off for Kerry and they were fortunate again a couple of minutes later when Paul Moran’s snap-shot came back off Brian Hickey’s face. After Hickey recovered following treatment the half-time whistle sounded, and the Munster champions’ lead of 1-5 to 0-4 didn’t look to be enough.

The second half developed into a tremendous struggle and after the sides swapped points, Roscommon wasted their third chance of a goal when Derek Moran’s shot came back off the butt of the upright with the Kerry ’keeper stranded.

Greasy underfoot conditions after a heavy shower made ball control difficult, but that added greatly to the excitement. Sean Purcell kicked two points in a row for Roscommon to leave just the minimum between the sides and they were shaping up as likely winners.

However, with Brian Hickey now masterful on Paul Moran, Stephen Wallace and Ronan McAuliffe giving the Roscommon defence a torrid time, and the introduction of Flor O’Sullivan to midfield, Kerry took back the initiative, and McAuliffe’s two points in a row had his side a goal to the good coming up to the final minutes. Credit to Roscommon, they stormed the Kerry defence looking for that equalising goal but it never came, mainly due to the brilliance of Hickey, James Costello and team captain Sean Hegarty, but they were grateful for the final whistle when it came two minutes into injury time.

Scorers: Kerry: S. Wallace 1-2; R. McAuliffe 0-4; J. Buckley, M. Murphy, C. Daly 0-1 each. Roscommon: D. Moran (frees), R. O’Connor, M. Connolly, S. Purcell 0-2 each; S. Heneghan, J. Callery 0-1 each.

KERRY: S. Og O Ciardabhain; S. Hegarty, J. Costello, D. Doyle; D. O’Sullivan, B. Hickey, J. King; JP Brosnan, A. Garnbett; N. Fleming, M. Murphy, C. Daly; R. McAuliffe, S. Wallace, J. Buckley.

Subs: K. Foley for Fleming; F. O’Sullivan for Brosnan; F. Griffin for King.

ROSCOMMON: D. Moran; T. Bannon, D. Donnellan, A. Murtagh; B., Goode, N. Moran, G. Mockler; D. McNulty, R. O’Connor; R. Cox, P. Moran, S. Purcell; D. Moran, M. Connolly, S. Heneghan.

Subs: M. O’Keeffe for Bannon; S. Sharkey for Mockler; J. Callery for Heneghan; M. Killilea for O’Connor.

Referee: F. Barrett (Kildare).

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