It’s 21 years since Derry got a league win in the Kingdom, and their manager, Brian McIver, was looking forward to the trip back north.
“It’s a seven-hour journey back to Derry, but it’ll be a nice, relaxed bus,” said McIver. “That was a big two points for a young Derry side, and having three points out of four at this stage is great for us.
“We had to dig in today and it’s great for us, at this stage of our development, to come out of here with the win. We had two 19-year-olds on the field at times. After the opening six or seven minutes, when we couldn’t get the ball, I thought we settled down and played very well.”
Derry asked questions of Kerry tactically from the start, putting Kevin Johnston, named at corner-forward, at wing-back on Donnchadh Walsh. That freed wing-back Aidan McAlynn to centre-back, with the nominal number six, Mark Lynch, roving between the 45s in a free role.
Kerry had the strong wind behind them as they played into the dressing room end in that first half, and they used the breeze well early on, crisp movement in their full-forward line yielding three good points (Conor Cox and a Barry John Keane brace) before Derry answered with a Mark Lynch free.
On the quarter-hour two quick Derry points (Sean Leo McGoldrick and Enda Lynn) levelled matters before Kevin Johnston gave them the lead. Frequently withdrawing a dozen players inside their 45m line, the northerners kept space tight for the Kerry attack, but Keane (free) and a fine long-range effort from Jack Sherwood pushed the home side ahead, and Jonathan Lyne side-footed wide when a ball broke his way in the square.
Derry, growing in confidence, made the most of the let-off, hitting three good points in-a-row, two of them fine efforts by James Kielt.
The visitors also missed two goal chances in the run-in to the break, while Kerry offered a Cox point in response, 0-7 to 0-6 at half-time.
Derry maintained their advantage in the second half. The teams exchanged points early on (Enda McGuckian for Derry, Conor Cox for Kerry), but three on the trot for Derry — McGuckian, Sean Leo McGoldrick and a fine effort from Mark Lynch — gave them a 0-12 to 0-9 lead.
Bringing James O’Donoghue outfield revived Kerry, and two Cox frees cut the difference to the minimum approaching the last ten minutes, but Derry’s ability to win the ball in the middle of the field was crucial. Fergal Doherty, out of football for almost three years, was immense in this area and came in for special praise from McIver afterwards.
Derry’s strength and accuracy meant they led 0-15 to 0-12 ahead with six minutes left. Cox added another dead ball — Kerry won frees running at the Derry backs — but Lynch, again, had a free to make it a three-point game. Stephen O’Brien blazed over from close range late on for Kerry, but Derry held out for a deserved win. Anything else would have been twilight robbery.
True to form, Kerry boss Eamon Fitzmaurice was honest afterwards: “I’m beginning to sound like a broken record but there were similarities to last weekend, and maybe to the McGrath Cup final as well.
“We didn’t convert enough of our chances in the first half, we played well for the first 20 minutes, and in the second half every time we got within a score of Derry they seemed to be able to keep that bit of distance between us.
“It’s disappointing that we’ve performed reasonably well in the first two games but we have no points on the board, but it is what it is and we have to keep trying to improve.”
There were chinks of light for the Kerry boss: Paul Murphy was accomplished at corner-back until he got a late black card, while Conor Cox was accurate, ending with seven points.
Kerry also have an impressive list of absentees, though Fitzmaurice stressed that wasn’t being used as an excuse. “The younger lads are doing well, but I don’t like the term ‘younger lads’. You’re on the Kerry panel and you’ve to take your chance — if you don’t there are others to come back in.”
Did that sum the day up for Kerry, by the way: a mixture of encouraging noise and ominous signs?
Scorers for Kerry: C Cox (0-7, 4fs), BJ Keane (0-3, 2fs), J O’Donoghue, J Lyne, S O’Brien, J Sherwood (0-1 each).
Scorers for Derry: M Lynch (0-4, 3fs), E McGuckin (0-3), E Lynn, S L McGoldrick and J Kielt (1f) (0-2 each), K Johnston, C McGoldrick and B Heron (0-1 each).
KERRY: B Kelly; P Murphy, M Griffin, S Enright; P Crowley, B McGuire, J Sherwood; A Maher, D Moran; J Lyne, S O’Brien, D Walsh (c); BJ Keane, J O’Donoghue, C Cox.
Subs for Kerry: D Culhane for P Crowley (bc, 18), P Geaney for Keane (43), M Geaney for Sherwood (540, A O’Mahony for Maher (60), P Kilkenny for Murphy (bc, 66).
DERRY: T Mallon; D Brown, C McKaigue, D McBride; G O’Kane, M Lynch (c), A McAlynn, F Doherty; P Bradley, SL McGoldrick; J Kielt, E Lynn, K Johnston; E McGuckin, C McGoldrick.
Subs for Derry: D Mullan for C McGoldrick and B Heron for Johnston (52), C Kielt for McAlynn (59), C McFaul for E Lynn and Cillian O’Boyle for E McGuckian (69).
Referee: C Lane (Cork).
Mark Lynch’s towering second-half point gave Derry encouragement at a vital stage of the game.
Second consecutive loss for Kerry in the league — much to discuss for the crowds walking down into Killarney after yesterday’s game.
Derry winning a league game for the first time in Kerry since 1993.
Mark Lynch was the key man here yesterday — winning ball, linking play and chipping in with four points.
Kerry had two — Eamon Fitzmaurice acknowledged Paul Murphy’s as a fair call but queried Peter Crowley’s departure.
Brian McIver’s men defended in depth and kept Kerry’s main danger man, James O’Donoghue, away from goal for large chunks.
Conor Lane of Cork handled the game well — he seemed keener on yellow cards than black, but there were no screaming injustices inflicted on either side.
Kerry travel to Mayo; Derry entertain Westmeath.