The one getting most air time was ‘One John Egan, there’s only one John Egan’. There were also several renditions of, ‘We’re going up, we’re going up, Kerry are going up’, sang to the tune of England’s Euro ’96 ditty, ‘football’s coming home’.
That was apt because normally it is indeed football that’s coming home to Kerry.
But on this rare occasion the Kingdom hurlers returned from Dublin with the most sizeable of bounties, promotion to Division 1B of the Allianz hurling league.
A chasm admittedly exists between 1B and 1A but that’s dwindling all the time and Kerry can rightfully call themselves a top flight hurling county now.
It’s an incredible achievement and one made possible by Egan whose 71st minute point — 14 minutes after coming onto the field — finally shrugged off Antrim’s determined challenge.
On various occasions, particularly at half-time when Antrim led 0-11 to 0-3, it appeared the league status quo would be maintained. But unlike 12 months ago, when Kerry died a death in this same fixture in the second-half against Offaly, they rose terrifically to the occasion this time, blasting holes through the history books with 2-13 in that period.
“I’m delighted John Egan got that score,” said Kerry manager Eamonn Kelly. “John came on the last day in the Division 2A final against Westmeath and we had to take him off which was an awful thing. But John is a born leader and he’s a huge part of our panel. We had the belief to try him again today and I’m absolutely delighted he got the winner. He’s a key part of our panel.”
In all, Kerry have finished top or joint top of Division 2A in each of the last three seasons and won the title outright twice, in 2014 and 2015. Even Antrim’s captain Neil McManus conceded before the game Kerry shouldn’t have had to contest a further promotion/relegation play-off.
“The system?,” asked Kelly of a promotion/relegation set-up which clearly favours the 1B teams. “I don’t mind now, we’re on the other side of it! Do you know what, if you win your division, you should really go up. I’m saying that aside from what happened here and us winning this match.
“There’s nearly a glass ceiling there stopping the 2A teams going up. Hopefully now we can hold our own. Antrim have been very competitive all year in 1B. They’ve only lost some games by one or two points, we went toe to toe with them so maybe we’re not that far away.”
Kerry certainly had some impressive performers who won’t look out of place in the big league. Shane Nolan was superb at times. He fired 0-8 and rose to the occasion in the last 20 minutes or so with some stunning shooting from acute angles on the wings. In general play, he got through a ton of work.
Colm Harty fired two important goals, albeit his second was a tap in after a dispossession in the Antrim defence that was recycled to leave his finish a formality. Kelly name checked Patrick Kelly for his performance too.
In truth, Antrim shouldn’t have led by as much as they did at half-time. Kerry blasted nine wides in the opening half and wasted three goal chances, perhaps inspired by the five they shot early on against Westmeath. They ultimately got the job done though and can target the Christy Ring Cup success now.
The future is a few shades darker for Antrim.
“It’s seriously damaging,” said Saffrons manager Kevin Ryan. “It’s going to be difficult to pick everyone up. It’s up to the players to decide whether they want us driving it on for them or whether they want someone else.
“They probably don’t at this stage of the season. But they’ve got to decide, the board has to decide.”
As for the failure to carve out victory having been level three times late on, Ryan shrugged.
“It was in our own hands. We had it twice, we had it at half-time and after Kerry came back a us, we had it again.
“We just talked about it with them, we just aren’t good enough to hold onto it. ”
S Nolan (0-8, five frees), C Harty (2-0), M O’Leary (0-4), D Collins, J Griffin, P Kelly and J Egan (0-1 each).
P Shiels (0-7, seven frees), PJ O’Connell (1-2), C Clarke (0-3), N McAuley, N McManus, M Bradley, M Donnelly, C Johnson and M Dudley (0-1 each).
J Egan for Carmody (57),JFlaherty for P Boyle (63).
C Johnson for McAlonan (h/t), M Dudley for Carson (43), D Hamill for Bradley (59).
S Cleere (Kilkenny).