Laois were the last county to manage just that when they accounted for Tyrone in the final back in 1997, but Kerry stand just 60 minutes away from emulating them – and the last Kerry minor side to do it in 1963 – after this measured defeat of a Derry team that didn’t do itself justice.
With 11 of their panel eligible again next year, it may be that Derry’s younger crop failed to come to grips with the enormity of the occasion. Manager Damian McErlain suggested afterwards that was the case, especially in a disappointing opening half.
Kerry, with just a handful of those boys who claimed the county’s first title at this grade in 20 years 11 months ago, were less fazed by the bright lights and the big city: as you would expect from a side coached by the experienced Jack O’Connor.
The former senior boss was the man with his hand on the tiller when that drought was ended in 2014, but a repeat this time around would be more of a feather in his managerial cap given the lack of expectation that surrounded this bunch at the season’s start.
“It’s great,” he said of the progression to a second straight decider. “It’s fantastic to get there, especially with this group because they weren’t heralded I suppose at the start of the year, but they have improved immensely as the year went on and we showed good bottle out there.
“We took a fairly serious blow there after half-time with the goal, but they showed all year that there is good stuff in them and they came back strong and the goal that Micheal Foley got there was crucial for us to get our foothold in the game again.”
Those two goals did indeed crystallise the winning and losing of it.
Kerry looked comfortable going in at the break at six points to three in front, but they were soon caught by a fluke goal from Derry corner-back Conor Maunsell whose point attempt dipped short and flew under the Kerry bar via Billy Courtney’s fingertips.
The keeper looked understandably distraught by his error, but his teammates had his back. Kerry would get four of the next five scores, including Foley’s goal which came from a palmed finish to a wonderful team move, after 38 minutes.
Foley was superb on the day, bagging 1-3 from play as his partner in the far corner, Conor Geaney, found himself tagged by a couple of defenders at every turn.
That said, Geaney still bagged two points from play and three from frees before his cousin Paul signed for two in the senior tie.
Derry’s go-to guys up front were less successful with AFL target Conor Glass struggling in front of goal and Shane McGuigan receiving a debated black card with a full quarter still to play. A disallowed goal for substitute Niall McAtamney at the last whistle confirmed this wasn’t to be their day.
Still, Kerry were by no means perfect. O’Connor accepted that they conceded too many turnovers and they dipped in the second quarter, but they dominated midfield and displayed a patience and poise in breaking down Derry that belied their young years on such a big stage.
Derry set up with a spare man at the back at all times and they flooded their rearguard, as is the modern way, when facing oncoming opponents.
But a superb Kerry start, which saw them lead by five points to one, helped the Munster side settle and compounded Derry’s nerves.
Time and again the victors maintained possession, prodding and probing for the right time and the right place to make an incision that would maximise the damage to the Ulster side’s cause, with midfielders Andrew Barry and John Mark Foley providing both possession and points.
“Very nervy first-half, particularly that first 15 minutes,” admitted Derry’s McErlain later. “Most of the issues were coming out of unforced errors. Kerry seemed to cope better with the conditions. They seemed to have a physical edge all over the pitch.
“Any ball we seemed to be giving was under pressure, men were tightly marked. Look, I think Kerry were the better side on the day and our boys gave it everything.
Defensively we grew stronger as the game wore on and we had a couple of outstanding performances in there.” But not enough. Kerry’s day.
M Foley (1-3); C Geaney (0-5, 3 frees); JM Foley (0-2); A Barry (0-1).
C Maunsell (1-0); F Kearney (0-2); S McGuigan (0-2, 1 free); C Glass (0-1 free); N McAtamney (0-1).
B Courtney; D Brosnan, J Foley, J Morgan; G White, M Breen, D O’Brien; A Barry, JM Foley; B O Seanchain, S O’Shea, B Barrett; M Foley, B Sweeney, C Geaney.
T O’Sullivan for Brosnan and M O’Connor for Breen (both 37); S O’Sullivan for Barrett (46); E Cronin for O’Shea (56).
C Mullan-Young; N Keenan, C McGrogan, C Maunsell; O Duffin, M McEvoy, E Concannon; P Kearney, J Doherty; P Coney, S Downey, C Glass; T Flanagan, F Kearney, S McGuigan.
N McAtamney for P Kearney (HT); G McLaughlin for Duffin (36); F Higgins for Maunsell and B Grant for Coney (both 42); S Higgins for McGuigan (black card, 48).
J Henry (Mayo).