These are the victories worth far more in real terms than the two league points Kerry ground out at the refurbished Austin Stack Park yesterday. In training terms, yesterday’s 70 minutes is worth half a dozen sessions. It was that productive for Kerry, and scarcely any less for Rory Gallagher as he plans for the minefields of Ulster Championship.
Much was made and will be made of the frenetic first-half. There were so many markers laid down early on that referee Eddie Kinsella would have needed to be in the TMO booth himself to keep track of the shenanigans. Perhaps it was inevitable. Donegal brought an unbeaten record and their customary in-your-face bristle; Kerry were wearing their Aidan O’Mahony not-an-inch game-face.
Neil McGee engineered the fourth-minute sending-off of Kerry full-forward Alan Fitzgerald, but the Castlegregory man committed the rookie error of retaliation in front of the umpire. Were that all umpires as proactive.
If the Laois official thought his no-nonsense approach might settle things down, he was wildly optimistic. If anything things became more fractious, with Shane Enright and debutant Denis Daly also black-carded for Kerry in the first 25 minutes. The baying — and unusually vocal — Kerry support in an attendance of 7,056 might have played their part in the pivotal red card for Donegal’s Leo McLoone in the 26th minute, a decision apparently made on basis of linesman Rory Hickey’s intervention. Either way, it left Donegal manager Rory Gallagher seething, so much so that he spoke to the referee in the dressing room area at half-time.
In case you hadn’t noticed, moments of football did break through the disciplinary interruptions. Kerry, with a strong breeze, led 0-7 to 0-3 at the break, five of their scores coming from imperious free-taker Bryan Sheehan. Given the autumn and winter he’s had at club level with St Mary’s, the biggest issue for Fitzmaurice is guiding Sheehan through to summer. Midfield partner Kieran Donaghy was prominent too and Kerry’s ball-handling was really impressive at times.
Donegal’s Ryan McHugh was deputed to pick up Kerry’s foraging centre- forward Paul Murphy, but it was the Kilcar man who was making more of a front-foot impact in that duel. In fact, Kerry’s half-forward impetus came from that energiser bunny Donnchadh Walsh, who fisted three crucial points on the day. Any edge the wind and Donaghy bestowed at midfield for the Kingdom in the first-half was rapidly extinguished after the break, with Neil Gallagher making an instant impact as sub. Eoghan Bán Gallagher will take plenty from his first start because Kerry’s inside line of Stephen O’Brien and Darran O’Sullivan was a right handful in the space Alan Fitzgerald’s departure created.Paddy McBrearty’s goal chance in the early moments of the second period was a portent of Donegal’s newfound pep up top. Murphy, Gallagher and McBrearty (2) had the visitors level at 0-7 each within six minutes of the restart. There seemed one winner at this stage, which underlines the point about Fitzmaurice’s extra layer of satisfaction.
A quick free on 44 minutes found Donaghy in space, and he released the surging Peter Crowley who carried and converted from 15 metres. A Sheehan free was then followed by the score of the match, a Donnchadh Walsh fisted point that had even Rory Gallagher purring afterwards. Walsh applied the coup de grace to an extended exhibition of movement and possession that Kerry hasn’t produced since whenever. Actually, yes, since when?
Sheehan landed a ridiculous free from the right side into the wind and at 1-10 to 0-7, this looked done. Not so fast. Kerry got sloppy, gave away a needless sideline ball and before they got set defensively, Eoin McHugh had lofted a delicious ball into the Kerry square. Once Michael Murphy had his hands on the delivery, there was only one conclusion. The Glenswilly artist and athlete added a free with ten minutes left, 1-10 to 1-8.
Again, Kerry hunkered down and played smart, again acknowledged by Gallagher afterwards. Murphy missed an important free, Sheehan converted one and from the next possession Darran O’Sullivan and Johnny Buckley created the opening for Barry John Keane to score. That lad’s introduction- conversion rate must be a sight to study.
The final score was oddly incongruous with the arm-wrestle that preceded it. A clipped, delicate effort from an unlikely angle. Then again, it came from Colm Cooper.
B Sheehan 0-8, (0-7 frees, 0-1 ’45); P Crowley 1-0, D Walsh 0-3, C Cooper and BJ Keane 0-1 each.
M Murphy 1-4 (0-2 frees, 0-1 ’45), P McBrearty 0-3 (frees), N Gallagher 0-1.
Padraig O’Connor for S Enright (Black Card, 24), C Cooper for D Daly (BC 24); J Buckley for K Donaghy (57); B J Keane for S O’Brien (57); B O’Sullivan for P Crowley (65); A Walsh for D O’Sullivan (70).
Eamonn McGee for Neil McGee (7); N Gallagher for H McFadden (HT), Martin McElhinney for E Doherty, (HT); C Toye for A Thompson (54), Neil McGee for E McGee (56 mins).
B Kelly; M Ó Sé, M Griffin, S Enright; P Crowley, A O’Mahony, F Fitzgerald; K Donaghy, B Sheehan; D Daly, P Murphy, D Walsh; D O’Sullivan, A Fitzgerald, S O’Brien.
P Boyle; E Ban Gallagher, N McGee, P McGrath; R McHugh, A Thompson, E Doherty; R Kavanagh, H McFadden; L McLoone, O MacNiallais, E McHugh; P McBrearty, M Murphy, M O’Reilly.
Eddie Kinsella (Laois)