“If you can keep knocking on the door, you will eventually get in,” reflected Keane, in the aftermath of Legion’s three-point win over their East Kerry opponents.
The result advanced Legion to a second county senior final in the club’s 86-year history, their maiden appearance arriving in 1946. Prior to yesterday’s fixture, the Killarney outfit had not contested a championship semi-final since the autumn of ’98.
Under Keane, however, there has been incremental improvement in recent years. They’ve been knocking on the door, threatening a breakthrough performance. Yesterday, it arrived.
And even here, they were forced to stand out in the cold for long periods, as Rathmore surged 1-4 to 0-1 clear by the 12th minute. Indeed, when Aidan O’Mahony instigated and finished a clever passage of play on 46 minutes to move Rathmore 1-8 to 0-7 clear, it was hard to see a road back for Keane’s troops.
On 48 minutes, Legion forced down the Rathmore front door. James O’Donoghue, the provider of six points in total, drew in a raft of red shirts when soloing through the heart of the opposition rearguard. The full-forward off-loaded to Billy McGuire, who delayed not a second in putting through Conor Keane. Goal. Game on, finally.
The subsequent seven minutes produced not a single score; Rathmore determined to sit on their lead, Legion gaining inches with each play.
Step forward James O’Donoghue. Opting to go short with a scoreable free five minutes from time, possession was quickly returned to the 2014 footballer of the year and he held off the attention of two Rathmore defenders to employ the left boot and tie proceedings at 1-8 apiece.
Jonathan Lyne, benefiting from a double interception by Daragh Doherty, landed a massive score off the right boot in front of the main terrace to move Legion in front for the first time in the contest. He turned provider in the ensuing passage, Jamie O’Sullivan on the mark.
The die was cast for Rathmore as the clock ticked into second-half stoppages, Paul Murphy lazily dragging O’Donoghue to the floor. Jamie O’Sullivan converted and while Eoin Lawlor posted a swift response, Billy McGuire returned the margin to three on 63 minutes.
Five minutes in total were added by referee Paul Hayes and the drama continued right up until the last whistle. A Shaun Keane foul on Aidan O’Mahony saw Keane depart the field injured. O’Mahony would soon follow him to the line, the midfielder picking up a straight red card for an off-the-ball incident which left Jamie O’Sullivan on the deck. Rathmore still held the free, but they were unable to penetrate the mass wall of green and white shirts.
“I’d say there was very few around here born when last we were in the final, we are delighted,” said Keane.
“I know we were down six points early on, but we were reasonably happy with what we were doing. We were getting in front of goal, we just weren’t taking the right option. We just needed to stay at it. Bit by bit, we clawed it back.
“We grew in confidence in the second half. There is a great resolve in this team and fighting spirit. All around the field, fellas worked hard.”
This wasn’t so evident in the opening period. A Brendan O’Keeffe free and a goal from Daniel O’Sullivan gave Rathmore the dream start, Denis Moynihan’s charges four in front inside five minutes.
O’Donoghue registered the Legion reply, smothered, however, by three on the hop from John Moynihan, Dean Fitzgerald and Aidan O’Mahony. In the remaining 48 minutes, they would be outscored by 1-11 to 0-5, starting with three unanswered minors from O’Donoghue (two frees) and Conor Keane.
Sure to feature in the post-mortems conducted in Rathmore this morning is Eoin Lawlor’s penalty effort on 23 minutes, the left leg of Legion keeper Brian Kelly preventing a second goal. And while Padraig McCarthy nailed a ’45 thereafter, two in succession from O’Donoghue cut the deficit to 1-5 to 0-6 — hardly an insurmountable target in light of Rathmore’s dominance.
Lyne, Jamie O’Sullivan, Conor Keane, O’Donoghue and Doherty rose to the occasion in the second period to end a 76-year wait for Legion.
J O’Donoghue (0-6, 0-3f); C Keane (1-1); J O’Sullivan (0-3, 0-1f, 0-1 ’45); J Lyne, B McGuire (0-1).
Daniel O’Sullivan (1-0); A O’Mahony, E Lawlor (0-2 each); Donal O’Sullivan, B O’Keeffe (0-1 free), P McCarthy (0-1 ‘45), J Moynihan, D Fitzgerald (0-1 each).
B Kelly; D Sheehan, P O’Connor, C Davies; D Doherty, D O’Sullivan, J Lyne; S Keane, J O’Sullivan; B McGuire, D O’Sullivan, K Breen; T Moriarty, J O’Donoghue, C Keane.
D Sheahan for D O’Sullivan 40), P Lucey for Moriarty 40, D Lyne for Breen 45, T Slattery for S Keane 64.
P McCarthy; C Murphy, P Murphy, T O’Sullivan; TJ Friel, C Jenkins, James O’Sullivan; A O’Mahony, D O’Sullivan; B O’Keeffe, C O’Sullivan, D O’Sullivan; D Fitzgerald, E Lawlor, J Moynihan.
G O’Keeffe for D O’Sullivan 40, M Ryan for Moynihan 40, B Moynihan for Fitzgerald 56, J Moynihan for C O’Sullivan 58.
: P Hayes (Kerins O’Rahaillys).