Kerry had won Division 2 of the league, Kildare had been relegated. Kerry beat Kildare by 17 points in that campaign and, just three weeks ago, dished out an eight point Ring Cup defeat.
Even on the basis of Kildare’s workmanlike semi-final win over Meath, it seemed inconceivable that they might conjure 4-18 at Croke Park to deny such an experienced Kerry side.
Yet, while the hurling world was aghast at the coup, Kerry manager Eamonn Kelly genuinely wasn’t surprised. It wasn’t widely publicised in the build-up, but he knew Kildare’s ambitious young manager Brian Lawlor about as well as he knows any hurling man.
“We’re both Kildangan men. He was under me for 12 years when I was managing and he was playing,” Tipperary native Kelly revealed. “We both jointly managed Kildangan to win the Kilmacud Sevens three years ago. That’s how well I know Brian. I knew he’d leave no stone unturned to beat us.”
And that’s pretty much how it panned out. Lawlor prepared his team to give their best performance of the year and they duly delivered.
Kildare bounced back from a slow start — or a typically fast Kerry start — to trail by just one at half-time, 2-10 to 2-9. And when the game hung in the balance in the second half, they displayed both steel and silk to come out on top and claim a maiden title.
Their hero list was extensive. Bernard Deay shot some great second-half scores, as did fellow goalscorers Ray McLoughney and Gerry Keegan. Paul Divilly was reliable on frees. Midfielder Martin Fitzgerald was exceptional.
Lilies boss Lawlor admitted: “Looking at our league and championship form, I would agree that this performance was way above that level. But I knew this was in them. I’m just delighted it’s been steady progress through the championship and they’ve saved the best for the big day.
“The other side of it is it’s difficult for Kerry to win three times in-a-row. That was absolute motivation to us. We said, ‘we’re not going to lose a third game to these guys’.”
Even allowing for Kerry’s 16 wides — 10 in the first half — the quality of hurling from both sides was excellent. Kildare have a great opportunity now to play at a higher level in 2015. If they beat Westmeath next weekend, they will replace the Lake County in the province’s new qualifier series.
A frustrated Lawlor insisted winning the Ring Cup should be enough to gain promotion though. And he hit out at the fact that next Saturday will be their seventh straight weekend of championship action.
“The whole system is set up to stop the emerging counties from progressing,” he said. “Like, Kerry won their league division, they should have been promoted. We won our championship, we should have been promoted. Neither happened.
“In what other sport or even section of the GAA do you win a competition and not get promoted? It’s crazy.”
Westmeath have been out of action since beating London on May 24 to finish second bottom in Leinster’s qualifier series.
“I’m not going to say one word to the guys about not celebrating,” Lawlor said. “They can go and celebrate all they want tonight. But that has to be the end of it. With a seven-day turnaround, we have to be back fresh and back training on Tuesday night. We can celebrate all we want when we beat Westmeath next Saturday.”
Scorers for Kildare: G Keegan (1-4), P Divilly (0-7, 5fs) B Deay (1-3), R McLoughney (1-2), P Dermody (1-0 pen), M Fitzgerald (0-2).
Scorers for Kerry: S Nolan (1-4), P Boyle (1-2), J Egan (0-4, 3fs), C Harty, D Butler and J Griffin (0-3 each), T Flynn (1f), T Casey and D Collins (0-1 each).
KILDARE: P Dermody; N Ó Muineacháin, F Ó Muineacháin, J Doran; D Harney, R Hoban, E O’Neill; M Moloney, M Fitzgerald; P Divilly, R Kelly, B Deay; G Keegan, T Murphy, R McLoughney.
Subs: M Delaney for Kelly (56), J O’Malley for Murphy (70).
KERRY: T Flynn; D Fitzell, T Murnane, S Weir; B Murphy, D Dineen, T Casey; D O’Connell, D Collins; J Egan, S Nolan, C Harty; P Boyle, M Boyle, D Butler.
Subs: J Griffin for Fitzell (ht), B O’Leary for M Boyle (62), J Leahy for Casey (65), J Casey for Butler (67).
Referee: S Cleere (Kilkenny).