Day of firsts for Kerry as they ease past Derry

Allianz FL Division 1 Round 2: Derry 0-13 Kerry 1-17: You might think there are few worlds left for Kerry’s footballers to conquer, but this was a day of firsts for the county team.

Day of firsts for Kerry as they ease past Derry

First points of the nascent Allianz League campaign, first visit to Celtic Park, Eamon Fitzmaurice’s first win as senior manager in the month of February and Tommy Walsh’s first start in green and gold since the 2009 All-Ireland final.

A good day’s work, that.

This was as memorable a day and game as you can muster in the frigid cold of early spring, what with two teams willing and able to play some decent football and provide a clutch of exceptional scores that were sprinkled liberally throughout.

It wasn’t all sweetness and light.

Joe McQuillan saw fit to use five yellow cards, two black and one red but modern football demands an iron fist as well as the velvet glove. Kerry conceded 32 frees to Derry’s 18 here and Derry manager Brian McIver felt they got off lightly.

Still, Paul Geaney stole this show with a sublime 1-5 from play and six direct assists for other scores. Bryan Sheehan provided the other cornerstone on the scoreboard with seven points from placed balls.

Geaney’s display was of the sort that should be edited into an instructional video for kids attending Cúl Camps. Three different men marked him and none will have closed their own doors behind them last night happy.

Derry hadn’t anything like the same firepower as the visitors. Sweeper Daniel Heavron, with two points, provided the biggest contribution from play while half-time substitute Eoin Bradley joined in with a quartet from frees.

Kerry had travelled northwards on Saturday night with the bitter taste of a seven-point loss to Mayo stuck in their throats and with a host of big-name players still to return to the panel.

Derry were already in trouble by the time Fitzmaurice turned to his bench but the sight of Kieran O’Leary, Anthony Maher, Killian Young and Donnchadh Walsh trotting on for seasonal bows only reinforced a prevailing view that the points were travelling south. There’s an almost mystical quality to trips north for games like these. You expect the southerners to be engaged in battle that won’t be easy on the eye, but Kerry were never led yesterday and the football was unseasonal in its fluidity.

Derry struggled in midfield against Donegal in week one and manager Brian McIver responded to that by utilising short kick-outs from the off. Possession was mostly secured but it made for a long trek upfield.

They pulled Kerry back level twice in the first 20 minutes before the visitors began to engineer some daylight and the half ended with the Munster side 10 points to seven in front on a day ideal for football.

McIver introduced Bradley on the restart and the full-forward gave Mark Griffin plenty of work in an industrious display but, though he was deadly accurate from frees, his radar was off from open play.

His arrival saw Derry attempt to play longer balls than they had been but the return was too sporadic to heap enough pressure on a Kerry defence that coped well, despite the youth of the sextet that started.

In truth, most of the Kerry side fared well, in what was a hugely improved display from the week before, although Tommy Walsh clearly needs another few months — and maybe some harder pitches — before he can reach the pace required. The former AFL player was already done for the day when the game tipped definitively in Kerry’s favour.

Mark Lynch may be Derry’s dangerman and playmaker, but he had made little impact until catching Jonathan Lyne with a high elbow 50 minutes in. Though already booked, Lynch walked for a straight red.

A harsh call was the common consensus among those in the vicinity at the time, but Derry’s claim that it yanked the game from their grasp at a time when they trailed by four points doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Ciaran McFaul and Bradley landed two points from frees in the immediate aftermath and it was really Geaney’s goal, claimed two minutes after another Sheehan free, that marked the line in the sand.

It started with a loose ball from Derry full-back Niall Holly — the first of that trio detailed to Paul Geaney. Intercepted by Stephen O’Brien, it found its way through Johnny Buckley’s hands and then to the Dingle man, who slipped it under the goalkeeper. There were nearly 10 minutes plus stoppages to go at that point but there would be no Alamo. Not even a hint of one. As trips to Ulster go, this was about as benign as it gets at this time of year.

Kudos to Kerry for that.

Scorers for Derry: E Bradley (0-4); D Heavron (0-2); C McFaul (0-2, one free); M Lynch (0-2 frees); K Johnston, G O’Kane (both 0-1); B Heron (0-1 free).

Scorers for Kerry: P Geaney (1-5); B Sheehan 0-7, 6 frees, 1 ‘45’); S O’Brien (0-2); BJ Keane (0-2, 1 free); J Sherwood (0-1).

Subs for Derry: E Bradley for O’Brien (HT); D Brown for J O’Kane (43); E McGuckin for Craig (45); N McNicholl for McAtamney (49); C Murphy for McFaul (69, black card); J Kearney for Lynn (72).

Subs for Kerry: A Maher for T Walsh (43); K Young for Kilkenny, D Walsh for M Geaney (both 58); P O’Connor for Fitzgerald (65, black card); K O’Leary for Keane (65).

Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).

DERRY: T Mallon; O Duffy, N Holly, J O’Kane; K Johnston, G O’Kane, SL McGoldrick; M Lynch, C McAtamney; C McFaul, B Heron, E Lynn; M Craig, T O’Brien, D Heavron.

KERRY: B Kealy; P Kilkenny, M Griffin, F Fitzgerald; J Lyne, J Sherwood, P Murphy; D Moran, J Buckley; M Geaney, B Sheehan, T Walsh; S O’Brien, P Geaney, BJ Keane.

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