Crowds milling outside before the two county football semi-finals delayed the first act by 15 minutes. An attendance of nearly 5,000 curious and keen to pay homage to a liberal sprinkling of September stars on show for the double-header.
But nobody’s got the bounce off Kerry’s 37th title like Austin Stacks have from Kieran Donaghy.
The Tralee oak tree has experienced a remarkable reawakening since those fraught afternoons against Mayo. There were times during yesterday’s comprehensive semi-final success for Stacks he simply owned the game. In the 10 minutes before half-time, Stacks scored five times — he teed up four of them, and claimed the other — a point that should have been a goal, in fact.
Dingle pushed Kerry minor All-Ireland midfielder Mark O’Connor back to police Donaghy, but they had the 2013 version in mind. In this form, Donaghy is a double-team operation for any opposition.
There were five minutes to the break when Donaghy blew the semi-final open, sweeping like a falcon on David Mannix’s pinpoint delivery to tee up Shane O’Callaghan for the goal finish. It opened up a 1-6 to 0-3 lead and balloon-pricked Dingle’s self-belief. Five more Stacks points followed in as many minutes before the interval to send them in 1-11 to 0-3 in front.
“A lot of people wouldn’t appreciate how brilliant Kieran has been for us this year,” revealed Stacks manager Stephen Stack afterwards. “He was with Kerry a lot but he made a huge effort for the club when he could — those early morning sessions with the lads that he turned up for, we also put him in charge of B teams.
“He has been bursting to get back with us since the All-Ireland. It gave us that extra dimension today that we’d be foolish not to use.”
Kudos too, though, to the quality of the link play up front for Stacks. Townie teams in Kerry always pride themselves on intelligent use of the ball in tight spaces, and the likes of Kerry panellist Shane O’Callaghan, David Mannix and Shane Carroll were true to that creed in the most competitive phase of the game. During that first quarter Dingle showed glimpses of the football that has seen them flourish at under age level in recent years. Paul Geaney’s movement inside was impressive, but they will regret the pair of goals chances they spurned in the opening 20 minutes, one from the Kerry forward himself, which Stacks keeper Darragh O’Brien did very well to smother. Minutes later Jack O’Sullivan was also put through on goal, but hit the outside of a post.
There was no such profligacy at the other end. Shane O’Callaghan, “a very honest player” according to his manager, has been profiting from inclusion on the extended Kerry training panel this year and his intelligence and ball-winning ability on the flanks yesterday were noteworthy. He took his goal finish clinically — Stacks’ first in four Championship outings this year — but did a lot more good things besides.
Stephen Stack did what every proper coach would do at half-time in preaching the vice that is complacency, but it’s wasting sweetness on the desert air.
“You look at Dingle, they have Hogan Cup champions, they have All-Ireland senior and minor winners, those kind of players don’t die easily. They have a winning mindset. Remember, they won their quarter final in the 63rd minute against Legion.”
The Listowel man, an All-Ireland winner twice himself with Kerry, is tougher on himself than anyone, and he’ll have seen enough Dingle goal chances in this one to bring his players to book easily enough. It isn’t like they have forgotten the 4-16 to 0-12 shellacking they got in the county final from Dr Crokes last year.
“Of course we are thrilled to be in a final, but there will be no high fives. All this means is we are back to where we were last year. The lads shipped a heavy defeat in the final last year but they’ve roared back this year looking for redemption.”
It’s 20 years since the famed Rock Street club lifted the Kerry football title, and nothing Dingle were going to do in the second-half yesterday was going to deny them the opportunity to snap that winless streak. Donaghy will be credited with the 41st minute goal that O’Callaghan created up the right flank for him, though the last touch might have come off Dingle defender Mark O’Connor.
Either way, a chasm of 13 points between the sides (2-12 to 0-5) would have been beyond the Man turning the water into wine at Cana.
However, the West Kerry side did make things moderately interesting, when Paul Geaney converted a 53rd minute penalty after midfielder Barry O’Sullivan was fouled. It brought Geaney’s total to 1-6 before a serious rib injury brought his afternoon to a premature end — and landed him in Kerry General Hospital via an ambulance. Moments after the penalty that made it 2-12 to 1-9, Dingle had another goal effort smothered by Darragh O’Brien. Had that gone in, who knows?
The final is likely to be fixed for Killarney’s Fitzgerald Stadium, the location for Stacks’ last victory in 1994 against Dr Crokes.
He didn't quite make that one, but William Kirby, now 39 and giving 22 years to his direct opponent, All-Ireland winning minor Barry O’Sullivan, is still going strong. The age difference was the only thing he gave the Dingle prospect in a 44-minute bravura display, but he got intelligent support from the likes of Wayne Guthrie, Mikey Collins and Shane Carroll around the midfield diamond.
Dingle will not be interested in patronising stats, but they had six All-Ireland winners this year starting yesterday, four of them minors. The west is awake, their future is bright.
For the Rock, meanwhile, a return to the podium is long overdue. And they’ve painful history from 12 months ago to fire them.
Scorers for Austin Stacks: S Carroll (0-6, 4fs), K Donaghy (1-2), S O’Callaghan (1-0), D Mannix (0-3, 1f), M Collins (0-2).
Scores for Dingle: P Geaney (1-6, pen, 4fs), M Geaney (45), B O’Sullivan, M Flaherty (0-1 each).
AUSTIN STACKS: D O’Brien; F McNamara, B Shanahan, R Shanahan; P McCarthy, G Horan, C Jordan; W Guthrie, W Kirby; M Collins, S Carroll, F Mangan; D Mannix, K Donaghy, S O’Callaghan.
Subs: C O’Connell for Kirby (44); D McElligott for Carroll (45); D O’Brien for M Collins (47); D Bohan for Mangan (50); D Long for Mannix (62) DINGLE: S O’Flaherty; M Flannery, P O’Connor, T O’Sullivan; P Devane, M O’Connor, B Kelliher; D O’Sullivan, B O’Sullivan; M Flaherty, M Geaney, G Curran; C Geaney, P Geaney, J O’Sullivan.
Subs: M Evans for C Geaney (18); P Murphy for Curran (ht); W Devane for P Geaney (Blood, 34); W Devane for J O’Sullivan (38); C Bambury for Evans (51); C O’Sullivan for Flannery (56); J Sheehy for P Geaney (61).
Referee: E Walsh (Rathmore)
In a tight game the first goal was always going to be crucial and, although St Patrick’s had early chances, it was Ballylanders’ James Kirby who found the net in the 22nd minute.
The final was played in Newcastle West for the second successive year rather than the normal Gaelic Grounds and again the support appeared to approve, with 2,565 supporters in attendance.
Gearoid Hegarty crashed a goalbound shot off the right upright in the third minute. Within 90-seconds wing-back Keelin Stephenson also saw his shot come back off the same upright.
Ballylanders captain Jimmy Barry Murphy was confirmed as the official Man of the Match. His distribution was crucial and he also chipped in with three points from play.
In a game where every score came from play, referee Denis Richardson had no need to reach into his pocket to show black.
Ephie Fitzgerald and co will be very happy that their sweeper system worked a treat. At times they had two men covering St Patrick’s dangerman Eoin Hanrahan.
A relatively easy outing for Denis Richardson. To be fair to both sides, the final was played in fine spirit and the man in the middle had no major calls to make.
Ballylanders now await the Waterford champions in the Munster club quarter-final on November 2 at a Limerick venue.