Nothing the Kerins O’Rahilly’s coach will endure on the sideline next season will be any worse than the agony of watching a Declan Quill free shave the wrong side of the South Kerry upright with the penultimate kick of yesterday’s gripping Kerry SFC semi-final at Fitzgerald Stadium.
After 80 minutes evaporated in what seemed half the time, Quill had a 40 metre free to sneak the Tralee side home by a nose. His miss means a replay next Saturday, with the added complication of a club play-off to determine who plays Cork champions Nemo Rangers in a fortnight. If O’Rahillys lose to South Kerry, they’ll have to lift themselves to play Laune Rangers on Thursday week. One can safely assume the watching Nemo coach Ephie Fitzgerald would prefer to be playing the Killorglin outfit.
O’Rahilly’s have always had footballers, but their resilience has rightly been questioned in the past. Given the depth of their defiance yesterday against a division seeking their fifth Kerry final in-a-row, it’s plain to see that Jack O’Connor has had a tangible influence in his first year in charge. Of course, he is blessed with some outstanding young talent in the Walsh brothers, David Moran and Barry John Keane. Special mention too for young Benny Quill, the wing back and man of the match, Mike Quirke. So much for talk of his lack of stamina.
It would be inappropriate to describe South Kerry as fortunate but they spent a lot of time engineering comebacks yesterday. And their chief engineer was Declan O’Sullivan, nominally selected at centre forward, but a presence in every sector again yesterday. Their two goals both catapulted them into three point leads, neither of which they held for any length of time.
Both were finished by Skellig Rangers’ Aidan O’Sullivan, the first giving them a 1-5 to 0-5 lead just before half time, but by half-time, Rahilly’s had cut the leeway back to a point.
Two minutes after the restart, O’Rahilly’s’ Timmy O’Sullivan galloped unchecked along the endline to set up Barry John Walsh for a Strand Road goal. If anyone thought that would signal a substantial shift in momentum, they were blind to the beautiful balance of this game. By the 41st minute, South Kerry’s Ronan Hussey was impressing with two points, and O’Sullivan’s second goal for the division (2-8 to 1-8) might have proved too much for many teams.
Did O’Rahilly’s cave? Think again. Within two minutes, John O’Connor pointed a free, and then Declan Quill sent David Moran bounding through the heart of the South Kerry defence for a Roy of the Rovers finish (2-9 to 2-8). Tommy Walsh, excellently held for the most part by Stephen O’Sullivan, set up his brother Barry John to edge the Tralee side ahead, but though it took Bryan Sheehan three attempts, no-one was surprised when he landed a 40m free to bring the game into extra time at 2-10 to 2-10.
The experience of four successive finals offered another potential edge for extra time to South Kerry. But once again O’Rahilly’s turned convention on its head. After Hussey claimed a fourth point, O’Rahilly’s replied through Declan Quill and a wonderful score from David Moran. Bryan Sheehan hit both posts within a minute, and though Denis Dwyer equalised (2-12 apiece) in the first act of extra time’s second ten minute, Tommy Walsh quickly had the Tralee side back in front.
As the pace dropped, so did the players, several of them with cramp. In the final five minutes, it was mostly about survival for Strand Road, but even they couldn’t resist the single-minded drive of Declan O’Sullivan who was brought down for the 20m free from which Sheehan forced a replay.
Few were complaining, save the County Board CCCC who had to gather in emergency session to unravel the fixtures conundrum. As over 6,000 supporters filed away, oblivious to the biting cold, there was a multitude of talking points, not least the 29th minute Kerins O’Rahillys point from Barry John Walsh waved wide by the umpires but given by a linesman. Now when was the last time that happened?
Scorers for South Kerry: Aidan O’Sullivan (2-0), B. Sheehan (0-5, frees), R. Hussey (0-4, 1 free), R. O’Connor (0-2), Declan O’Sullivan (0-1), D. Dwyer (0-1).
Scorers for Kerins O’Rahilly’s: B.J. Walsh (1-3), D. Moran (1-2), D. Quill (0-3, 1 free), T. Walsh (0-2), B. J. Keane, B. Quill, J. O’Connor, free)(0-1 each).
SOUTH KERRY: L. Sheehan (St Mary’s); W. O’Sullivan (Skellig Rgs), Stephen O’Sullivan (do.), A. O’Connell (St. Micheal’s/Foilmore); Denis O’Sullivan (Dromid Pearses), B. Hickey (Skellig Rgs), A. O’Sullivan (Dromid Pearses); J. Sugrue (Renard), Seamus O’Sullivan (Waterville); A. O’Sullivan (Skellig Rgs), Declan O’Sullivan (Dromid Pearses), B. Kelly (St Michael’s/Foilmore); R. Hussey (Sneem), R. O’Connor (St Michael’s/Foilmore), B. Sheehan (St Mary’s).
Subs: D. Dwyer (Waterville) for Kelly (22); R. Keane (St Mary’s) for Aidan O’Sullivan (Skellig) (70); K. Grandfield (St Michael’s/Foilmore) for Denis O’Sullivan (75).
KERINS O’RAHILLYS: G. Kissane; D. O’Sullivan, M. O’Shea, G. O’Grady; B. Quill, B. Moran, G. Duffy; D. Moran, M. Quirke; J. O’Connor, B.J. Walsh, T. O’Sullivan; D. Quill, T. Walsh, B.J. Keane.
Subs: P. Madden for BJ Keane (42); K. Scannell for O’Sullivan (56); BJ Keane for B Moran (63); Danny O’Sullivan for O’Grady (76).
Referee: D. Casey (Scartaglin)