The harshest of the team’s critics these past four weeks would have to admit it’s getting better (but maybe they could proffer John Lennon’s refrain — it couldn’t get much worse).
However, as much as Kildare maintained their 100% record they can be thankful they extended it in Newbridge after seeing Kerry reel in five of the six-point lead they had sat on with 20 minutes to go.
As a nervous 5,994 crowd watched on, Eoin Brosnan had a goal chance to putKerry up by two with five minutes remaining but Shane Connolly denied his palmed effort in the ensuing parallelogram scramble.
Kildare themselves had a penalty saved when Brendan Kealy was equal to Johnny Doyle’s 58th-minute shot. A goal would have put them seven ahead and out of sight. They were guilty of 12 wides but it was Kerry who were more profligate with a remarkable 16.
James O’Donoghue and Donnchadh Walsh were guilty of three apiece as was Seanie Johnston for Kildare. The difference was Johnston also scored 1-3 from play whereas the entire Kerry forward line’s scoring return outside of frees amounted to a single point.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice insisted the statistic didn’t concern him. “It doesn’t worry me really because we did create the chances — we didn’t take them today. If we can improve our conversion rate next weekend, it’ll be a step in the right direction.”
Kieran McGeeney felt both teams’ radars equally let them down.
“Kerry have to get a few of their forwards back and not having their shooting boots on probably helped. I’d say we were the same.
“We just panicked a bit after we missed the penalty, our structure broke down, but that happens. They kicked on from the penalty, even if we had got a point. Mr Buckley’s point-taking from distance was quite extraordinary as well.
“I do think we put them under pressure to kick a lot of those wides.”
It had been Kildare who were the most erratic in their shooting in the early exchanges. Kerry had gone ahead by two before Johnston took his goal, receiving a Tomás O’Connor offload following a Niall Kelly ball into the square.
A second O’Donoghue free followed for Kerry but Kildare then kicked three on the bounce, a Kelly point coming either side of Doyle frees.
Johnston finished out the half with a brace but O’Donoghue added two of his own and Kerry trailed 0-5 to 1-5 at the break, a deficit that was quite generous to the visitors given Kildare’s authority in general play.
With Hugh McGrillen and Michael Foley towering over Barry John Keane and Kieran O’Leary, Kerry were getting little purchase in the full-forward line.
Kerry’s build-up play was laboured too, although their ball retention was much better than previous games and earned them frees, three of which were fired over by O’Donoghue in the first half.
Straight from the restart, a dazzling Daniel Flynn run should have reaped more than a Johnston point.
Two minutes later, Jonathan Lyne, who ended up kicking two second-half points, shot wide with a good goal chance prior to Donnchadh Walsh inexplicably fisting wide.
Walsh’s efforts were otherwise admirable and was the best Kerry forward on show, which didn’t say so much about himself as the rest in the attack considering he only returned to training a couple of weeks ago.
A booming Buckey point and Lyne’s first score in the 45th minute cut Kildare’s lead to two but a Doyle goal, beautifully taken and also created by Mikey Conway, followed by a quick Emmet Bolton point, bridged the margin to six.
At almost the same juncture against Dublin three weeks ago, Kerry trailed by the same number and finished up losing by 10.
There was no repeat of that collapse yesterday as points from half backs Tomás Ó Sé and Lyne kickstarted the fightback.
Doyle then failed to put the game beyond Kerry after Kealy saved following a drag-back on Brian Flanagan. Relieved, Kerry cut the difference to two when Buckley, who had taken over long-range free-taking duties from O’Donoghue, punished two Kildare fouls in as many minutes.
Brosnan’s missed goal chance looked like it would prove costly, although Peter Crowley made it a one-point game in the final minute of the 70.
Kildare had been looking to kill time for the best partof the last 10 minutes but engineered enough momentum to seal the win when substitute Paddy Brophy split the posts in the second and last minute of injury-time.
Scorers for Kildare: S Johnston 1-3, J Doyle 1-2 (0-2f), N Kelly, E Bolton, P Brophy 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kerry: J O’Donoghue (3f), J Buckley (2f) 0-4 each, J Lyne 0-2, T Ó Sé, P Crowley 0-1 each.
KILDARE: S Connolly; E Doyle, M Foley, H McGrillen; P Kelly, M Conway, E Bolton; D Flynn, P O’Neill; M O’Flaherty, N Kelly, B Flanagan; S Johnston, T O’Connor, J Doyle.
Subs for Kildare: A Smith for O’Flaherty (45), P Brophy for Kelly (55), O Lyons for Bolton, C McNally for Flanagan (both 60), E O’Flaherty for Johnston (71).
KERRY: B Kealy; M Ó Sé, A O’Mahony, S Enright; T Ó Sé, K Young, E Brosnan; J Buckley, K Donaghy; J Lyne, D Walsh, J O’Donoghue; BJ Keane, M O’Donoghue, K O’Leary.
Subs for Kerry: Darran O’Sullivan for M O’Donoghue (27), P Crowley for Enright (46), B Maguire for Keane (52), F Fitzgerald for T Ó Sé (68).
Referee: E Kinsella (Laois).