After a so-so evening against Dublin’s Seán Murray last month, the Kerry boss had to field questions and listen to calls for him to return Donaghy to midfield where the side admittedly have been struggling.
Ain’t he glad he ignored them. With Darran O’Sullivan keeping him supplied, Donaghy was the fulcrum for 1-6 of Kerry’s scores. That they didn’t finish this game off earlier was down to a failure to give the 2006 footballer of the year enough support at an earlier juncture in the tie.
“I was never too worried about Kieran Donaghy’s form,” insisted O’Connor. “It seemed everybody else was caught up in it. Donaghy has a great attitude. Come what may, even when things aren’t happening for him, he works away.
“He caught a pile of ball and we felt in the first-half there wasn’t enough coming off him because fellas weren’t running off him. We tried to get that going in the second-half and I think Darran’s goal was a testament to that.”
That the goal came three minutes after the arrival of Declan O’Sullivan and Paul Galvin was no coincidence either.
After Donnchadh Walsh’s punt in to Donaghy, it was O’Sullivan who gave the Austin Stacks man an option before he teed up his namesake Darran. Galvin, meanwhile, coaxed himself back into the fray with some tidypassing around the 40, initiating attacks and figuring prominently in the keep-ball tactics towards the end.
“It’s great to bring on players of that calibre with 20 minutes to go,” said O’Connor. “The game was in the melting pot at that stage. I’m veryhappy with all the subs; Dave Moran made a massive difference in themiddle of the field and if he keeps that form up he’ll solve a big problem for us there.”
Two Moran frees from difficult angles in the final 12 minutes werevital in staving off an Armagh reprise towards the end when StevieMcDonnell finally found himself unshackled by Tom O’Sullivan and picked off three points.
But the result was hardly in doubt. Armagh screened well but they aren’t the force they were.
Without the Crossmaglen players notably Jamie Clarke, they are lacking in the forward line and thedependency on McDonnell showed itself again yesterday. With their danger man kept at bay, Armagh had four long periods where they failed to score — the first 13 minutes, 23minutes before and after the break and then 18 minutes between the third and fourth quarters.
“We felt if we could keep the game open until the last 10 minutes we could have won it,” said Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke. “We let them get away from us and we clawed them back to three points but we needed a goal to try and give us a lift, which would have carried us over the line.
“The goal was a big blow. Goals are always a big blow but at the time it came, it was a great score for them. We don’t have enough people scoring on a regular basis and that makes life difficult for us and easier for team we’re playing.”
But Armagh, after a shaky start when they appeared to be sacrificing the ball and pushed back centre-forward Billie Joe Padden to act as sweeper, irritated Kerry in the first-half.
Up 0-3 to 0-0 after 12 minutes, Kerry’s lead was hauled back in the space of four minutes before midfielder Kieran Toner slammed home a goal in the 20th minute after collecting a ball on the run from Brian Mallon. AMcDonnell free in the 23rd minute made it 1-4 to 0-3 to Armagh but the remainder of the half belonged toKerry although they only went in at the break on level terms, 1-4 to 0-7.
With Seamus Scanlon making way for Moran, Kerry’s fortunes in midfield improved and it took twodespairing interventions from Ciaran McKeever and Philip McEvoy to stave off goal attempts. McKeever was on hand to scoop the ball from the line after Donaghy’s shot deflected off McEvoy towards the net while the goalkeeper had to retire withsuspected concussion in the 30th minute after blocking DarranO’Sullivan’s forceful shot.
“A lot of teams would have been frustrated going in at half-time because I thought we were very unlucky to be going in level,” reckoned O’Connor. Like Brian O’Driscoll on Saturday, O’Sullivan wasn’t to be denied, though. Kerry’s tide was coming. The only question was when Armagh were going to relent.
“It’s a long journey up here from St Finian’s Bay to Armagh city so itshortens the trip back,” smiledO’Connor.
Scorers for Armagh: S McDonnell (three frees) 0-5; K Toner 1-0; P Duffy 0-2; G Swift, C McKeever 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kerry: B Sheehan (four frees) 0-4; C Cooper (two frees) 0-3; D O’Sullivan 1-0; K O’Leary, D Moran (two frees) 0-2 each; D Walsh, A Maher 0-1 each.
Subs for Armagh: J McCullagh for McEvoy (inj, 33); A Duffy for Grugan (44); D McKenna for Dyas (58); C Watters for Padden (60); J Murtagh for B Mallon (68).
Subs for Kerry: D Moran for Scanlon (29); Declan O’Sullivan and Paul Galvin for O’Leary and Sheehan (49); A O’Mahony for Maguire (58); D Bohan for Brosnan (62).
Referee: Pat McEnaney (Monaghan).