Romance often melts in the unforgiving crucible of championship semi-finals and finals, and for outsiders Shannon Rangers, yesterday’s Kerry SFC semi-final should be benevolently filed under ‘learning experience’.
The North Kerry divisional side has gone further than many would have envisaged this season in getting to the final four but in Mid Kerry they met opposition with a formidable feel to them — well-prepared players hardened by years of championship experience and sprinkled with stellar quality like Donnchadh Walsh, Gavan O’Grady, Pa Kilkenny and Darran O’Sullivan to name but four.
Among their six subs who saw game-time yesterday was All-Ireland Kerry minor winner Liam Carey, who did enough in his second-half display to suggest he is one for the future — maybe even two weeks into the future with Mid Kerry in the final against Austin Stacks.
Manager James Sheehan was happy to acknowledge there is more in Mid Kerry and for most of this one-sided semi, they looked to have an extra gear, or two, in them if required.
Pa Kilkenny did a sublime job in nullifying Shannon Rangers’ danger man Paul Kennelly, while Aaron Cahillane and Beaufort’s Ronan Murphy looked effortlessly in control of proceedings in the full and half-back lines.
Shannon Rangers keeper Darragh O’Shea stood between them and a proper trimming at times, but he had no chance after 23 minutes when Mid Kerry’s Barry O’Grady teed up Darran O’Sullivan for a sweet volleyed finish to the net. Danny O’Sullivan had another goal chance just before the break, but Colin McGillicuddy pointed the rebound to give the victors a 1-5 to 0-0 interval advantage.
Whatever embarrassment Rangers might have felt being held scoreless in the first period could wait. They had two subs in before half-time and two more just after the break as they tried different formulae to generate some momentum.
“The one thing I didn’t think would happen us was that we would freeze,” admitted Rangers joint-manager Liam Weir afterwards, “but credit to Mid Kerry, they showed us how to play in a big game today. They didn’t panic as much as we did and that comes from them being in this situation a lot more than we have.”
His Mid Kerry counterpart, James Sheehan, was less concerned with the miserly entertainment value than he was with closing out the game in the second period. However there was little fear that their first half missed chances would come back to bite them.
“Nobody cares that much about the quality of these kind of games, semi-finals are for winning. There is a lot more in Mid Kerry, and I don’t mean that in a bullish way. They haven’t really been tested yes and when they are, they’ll be more than able.”
Sheehan will have to devise a specific defensive plan to deal with a rampant Kieran Donaghy for the final, and Mid Kerry look better equipped than most to nullify the Kerry target man. However their attacking arsenal has a real look of menace about it — and the likes of Liam Carey and ex- Kerry forward Sean O’Sullivan are waiting in the wings.
Both were on the scoresheet in the third quarter, as Mid Kerry kept Rangers at arm’s length, leading 1-7 to 0-2 by the 43rd minute. Paul Kennelly had broken Rangers’ duck shortly after the break, but he was held scoreless from play by Pa Kilkenny, and like Mikey Boyle alongside him, couldn’t influence the game in the manner Rangers might have hoped.
It was a thoroughly dispiriting end to what has been a promising campaign for Rangers, but their management was admirably defiant afterwards.
“We didn’t do ourselves justice but we’re not going to fold, I guarantee you. It won’t be 37 years before we are back looking to get into a county final again. We’ll learn the lesson we got today. We honestly felt we had a bunch of players to bring us to a county final, and we will build on that.”
Scorers for Mid Kerry: Darran O’Sullivan (1-1), G O’Grady (0-4, two frees, 45), S. O’Sullivan (0-2, 1f), F Griffin, C McGillicuddy, L Carey, D Walsh, G Sayers (0-1 each).
Scorers for Shannon Rangers: P Kennelly (0-3fs), B O’Grady, D Wrenn, D Culhane, P O’Connell (0-1 each).
MID KERRY: M Moriarty (Beaufort); A Cahillane (Keel), G Hartnett (Beaufort), MJ O’Connor (Beaufort); R. Murphy (Beaufort), G. Griffin (Glenbeigh-Glencar), P. Kilkenny (Glenbeigh- Glencar); C McGillicuddy (Glenbeigh-Glencar), T Ladden (Keel); J Long (Keel), Darran O’Sullivan (Glenbeigh-Glencar), D Walsh (Cromane); G O’Grady (Glenbeigh-Glencar), G Sayers (Keel), D O’Sullivan (Glenbeigh-Glencar).
Subs: L Carey (Beaufort) for Long (ht); S O’Sullivan (Cromane) for D O’Sullivan (40); J Hoare (Glenbeigh-Glencar) for Cahillane (53); K Courtney (Glenbeigh-Glencar) for Darran O’Sullivan (54); B Murphy (Glenbeigh-Glencar) for Walsh (56); M Burke (Keel) for Sayers (58).
SHANNON RANGERS: D O’Shea (Ballydonoghue); M McEllistrim (Ballylongford), D Wrenn (Tarbert), J. King (Beale); A Lanigan (Tarbert), S Enright (Tarbert), P Costello (Ballyduff); M O’Mahony (Ballydonoghue), D Culhane (Ballylongford); B O’Grady (Ballyduff), G O’Gorman (Beale), K Mulvihill (Ballylongford); M Boyle (Ballyduff), P Kennelly (Ballydonoghue), G. O’Sullivan (Tarbert); PJ Connolly for Mulvihill (29).
Subs: P O’Connell (Tarbert) for O’Sullivan (23); K Enright for O’Mahoney (27); T Kennelly for M Boyle (38); P Collins (Beale) for O’Gorman (41); Jason Foley (Ballydonoghue) for Costello (49).
Referee: P O’Sullivan (Firies).