For the third successive year they squared off against Tipperary at the end of May and while they maintained their run of wins against the Premier opponents, this Munster SFC quarter-final was not the carefree stroll of previous clashes.
Kerry duly established a meeting with rivals Cork in the Munster semi-final with a six-point winning margin to reflect on at the final whistle. Yet they could never quite shake off the determined challenge of Tipperary. In the past two seasons a dispiriting trend has emerged of Tipperary being competitive for threequarters of the match before fading in the final quarter with Kerry flexing their muscle and exerting superiority. However, yesterday Tipperary refused to thrown in the towel and hung in bravely until the final whistle.
Over the next fortnight, Kerry will look to sharpen their play and erase the flaws evident in this encounter. Jack O’Connor admitted their football was sloppy and it was odd, particularly in the opening stages, to witness Kerry players making poor decisions in possession, demonstrating below-par handling and kicking wayward passes. It added up to a frustrating afternoon for the likes of Declan O’Sullivan and Colm Cooper with the supply of ball into those inside danger men lacking in quality.
In addition, Kerry found it difficult to service them due to some outstanding Tipperary defending. Killenaule man Paddy Codd had plenty reason to be pleased with his afternoon’s work at full-back. Restricting one of the game’s most celebrated talents, Declan O’Sullivan, to a point from play was a reflection of the diligence of Codd’s defending.
It is salient to point out that a portion of Kerry’s rustiness can be attributed to the six-week lay-off from competitive action they have endured since their league semi-final loss to Mayo in April. On any opening championship day out there will be a degree of lethargy and this match is bound to sharpen Kerry’s senses. Their defence was a solid and compact unit, with Daniel Bohan anchoring things well at full-back while Peter Crowley settled in comfortably on his senior championship debut.
The return of Marc Ó Sé in a fortnight will be a boost to their defensive resources while that team selection will be challenged also by Kieran Donaghy who made an important contribution when drafted in after 45 minutes. Donaghy succeeded in bringing a calming influence to Kerry’s play at a time when they were only two points ahead, 0-11 to 0-9. He made a couple of fine catches from kickouts and used possession intelligently.
Tipperary had plenty to be pleased about. They began without Brian Jones and Barry Grogan, after the duo have decamped to Boston for the summer, attackers Brian Mulvihill and Conor Sweeney, sidelined with injuries, and then saw centre-back Robbie Costigan limp off in the 26th minute.
Yet despite having only seven weeks to work with the team, manager Peter Creedon succeeded in producing a cohesive and spirited performance from his charges.
There were a few stellar individual showings, from Codd, wing-back Brian Fox, whose influence became more pronounced as the action developed, and midfielder Hugh Coghlan. In attack, Michael Quinlivan, the first from last year’s batch of All-Ireland winning minors to graduate to the senior stage, looked lively and inventive, even though his shooting from play betrayed his approach work at times and he also saw a straightforward attempt from a free in the 47th minute rebound off an upright. Alongside him in attack Alan Maloney displayed a superb ability from placed ball positions while the dynamism of Peter Acheson did succeed in stretching the Kerry half-back line.
Tipperary were 0-9 to 0-6 adrift at the interval and still in the hunt at 0-14 to 0-10 with 12 minutes remaining. There was a distinct sense though that they required a goal to ignite their challenge. Kerry were alert to this and protected Brendan Kealy’s goalmouth by erecting strong defensive barriers that Tipperary found tough to break through. Even when they did pierce the rearguard, Brendan Kealy was unbeatable in goal as he tipped over a stinging drive by Hugh Coghlan after half-time and smothered a close-range shot by Philip Austin in injury-time.
Kerry had the necessary experience and guile to survive this challenge. They displayed greater urgency at vital phases, best demonstrated when they strung together five successive points between the 23rd and 31st minutes. Before being withdrawn in the 45th minute Paul Galvin had showed the best appetite and ability to claim breaks during the match while Darran O’Sullivan made a few telling incisive runs. Substitute James O’Donoghue chipped over a point in the finale and when Bryan Sheehan tapped over an injury-time free, minds were already drifting to a trip to Páirc Uí Chaoimh in a fortnight.
Scorers for Kerry: B Sheehan 0-6 (0-5f), C Cooper 0-4 (0-2f), T O Sé, A Maher, Darran O’Sullivan, Declan O’Sullivan, K O’Leary, J O’Donoghue 0-1 each.
Scorers for Tipperary: A Moloney 0-4 (0-3f), M Quinlivan (0-2f), P Acheson 0-2 each, H Coghlan, P Austin 0-1 each.
Subs for Kerry: K Donaghy for Galvin (45), B Maguire for Young (48), BJ Keane for Curtin (50), J O’Donoghue for O’Leary (50), A O’Mahony for Brosnan (62)
Subs for Tipperary: D Leahy for Costigan (inj) (26), R Ryan for Scully (48), B O’Brien for Quinlivan (64), A Matassa for Hannigan (71)
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo).