Teed up on the 40 by old comrade Declan O’Sullivan, Sheehan’s match-winning score into a swirling breeze was stunning in its execution, and, though a brave Kenmare District side were given time for one more play to carve out an equaliser, they stumbled at the finish line.
South Kerry has proved in the past that it has the championship smarts to win these semi-final battles. They won this one ugly. Aesthetics can be put on hold for another day, though Sheehan’s late, late intervention was a thing of beauty. His winner now sets up a mouth-watering final clash against Killarney Legion on November 8.
“It was heart in mouth stuff in the end,” admitted South Kerry manager John Sugrue. “I think we just about showed enough grit and character to get through that and to dig out a result. It didn’t look too bright for us when we were two points down. But these boys have some work done, have a bit of unity about them, and we’re living on that so far.”
Kenmare manager Mick Doyle has worked wonders in transforming the fortunes of the District side. 12 months ago Kenmare struggled to field in the championship, but Doyle’s extraordinary man-management skills brought a young group to within touching distance of a final. Though hugely disappointed, the Sneem native, who resides in Cork, was magnanimous in defeat. “Heart-breaking is the word I would use,” said a crestfallen Doyle. “We were in a good position two points up, we got chances throughout the game and didn’t take them. Unfortunately for us the wrong man, Bryan Sheehan, got the ball at the very finish and he doesn’t miss too often.
“We were beaten – that’s it. And probably by the better team, and I wish South Kerry the very best in the final. It’s a fine team with fine footballers and it should be a great final against Legion.”
This clash won’t enter the annals as a classic; indeed the quality fell somewhat short with a high number of frees infecting the flow of a game that really only sparked into life in the closing 15 minutes.
The closeness of the exchanges was measured in the fact that they drew level on eight occasions, but, in the end, it was South Kerry’s greater football nous and experience that brought them over the finish line.
When Kerry minor Seán O’Shea pushed Kenmare 0-11 to 0-9 ahead on 54 minutes it looked like Doyle had once again worked the managerial oracle.
But, for the closing minutes of normal time and added time, South Kerry discovered another gear. Denis Daly, Paul O’Donoghue and Aidan Walsh led from the front before Sheehan arced over the winner.
Kenmare enjoyed more possession in the first 20 minutes and were full value for their 0-4 to 0-2 lead. The low-scoring may have been a result of both teams deploying a sweeper, but it was Kenmare who were making the greater inroads through a porous South Kerry defence. John Spillane, Flor O’Sullivan, Adrian Spillane and Paul O’Connor caught the eye though Killian Young shadowed his Kerry teammate Stephen O’Brien magnificently. Brian Crowley got Kenmare off the mark inside a minute before Adrian Spillane showed pace to open up the South Kerry defence, unleashing a powerful drive that Brian O’Connor parried.
Adrian Spillane then had the opportunity to knock in the rebound but O’Connor showed tremendous reflexes once again to snuff out the second opportunity.
Sheehan (2) and Paul O’Connor (2) swapped frees before the latter extended Kenmare’s lead to 0-4 to 0-2 by the 17th minute.
The quality of football continued to disappoint. Too many shots were dropped short or struck wide, South Kerry being the bigger culprits. Sugrue would argue that his charges were at least creating chances and they did finish the half strongly, Sheehan on target with a 45 and a massive effort from near halfway, both sandwiched in between a Chris Farley effort to leave it stand 0-5 to 0-4 at half-time.
Paul O’Donoghue produced two of the game’s best scores early in the second half, while, at the other end, Stephen O’Brien’s move to full-forward saw him land his second before O’Connor drew the teams level in the 44th minute.
Aidan Walsh, too, upped his game twice scoring off the back of excellent approach play by South Kerry, a team that was finally finding its voice to convert from play.
Kenmare then enjoyed a golden spell, registering four successive scores to move two in front. However, South Kerry have earned a reputation as a resilient outfit and, with Declan O’Sullivan an influential substitute in a roaming role, they carved out three final opportunities. Sheehan landed a free, Denis Daly curled over a beauty off the inside of his boot, before Sheehan’s memorable winner. Declan O’Sullivan did pick up a yellow, before cynical play earned him a combined black and red card before full-time.
B Sheehan (0-6, 4f, 1 ‘45’); P O’Donoghue and A Walsh (0-2 each); C Farley and D Daly (0-1 each).
P O’Connor (0-7 frees); S O’Brien (0-2); B Crowley and S O’Shea (0-1 each).
B O’Connor (Valentia); B Sugrue (Renard), B Walsh (Skellig Rangers), P O’Sullivan (Valentia); R Wharton (Renard), P O’Sullivan (Dromid Pearses), K Young (Renard); B Sheehan (capt.) (St . Mary’s), B O’Sullivan (Valentia); P O’Donoghue (St. Mary’s), D Daly (do.), A Walsh (do.); I Galvin (Sneem/Derrynane), C Farley (Dromid Pearses), C O’Shea (St. Mary’s). Subs: P O’Connor (Valentia) for Farley (35); G Gibson (Waterville) for Walsh (50); D O’Sullivan (Dromid) for Galvin (52).
K Fitzgibbon (Kenmare); D Crowley (do.), T Morley (capt.) (Templenoe), J Spillane (do.); M Crowley (Kenmare), D O’Shea (do.), D Crowley (Templenoe); F O’Sullivan (Tuosist), A Spillane (Templenoe); B Crowley (do.), K O’Sullivan (Kenmare), S O’Brien (do.); K Spillane (Templenoe), T Doyle (do.), P O’Connor (Kenmare). Subs: S Sheehan (Templenoe) for Doyle (ht); S O’Shea (Kenmare) for B Crowley (41).
D Sayers (Austin Stacks).