Even in their first Liam MacCarthy Cup outing in 12 years.
Ciarán Carey interpreted that first-half performance as being at 30% or 40% capacity. They upped it to 50 or 60% thereafter.
“The big plus for me is there’s another 40% in them. We hurled below par but still won, which is a good sign,” said the Kerry manager.
In a historic first appearance in the Leinster Hurling Championship, the story of the 70 minutes was set in motion when Carlow failed to take advantage of their 20 scoring chances in the first half, shooting 13 wides.
Their 0-7 total should have been at least doubled, but Carlow manager Pat English was left adding up the cost of that profligacy.
“We conceded two silly goals from basic errors and you can’t do that in any championship, Leinster Championship, Munster Championship, even in the Christy Ring.
“We made mistakes with 13 wides in the first half, plus two silly goals. That’s 19 points. If you get half of that, or prevent half of that, it’s a different game. But Kerry were the better team on the day.”
Kerry only created half of Carlow’s 20 first-half chances but scored 1-6, as their forward-line were 100% accurate in the first 25 minutes.
John Egan’s 13th-minute goal gave them a lead they would never lose, although Carlow had their chances to respond, hitting three bad wides in the three minutes after the goal.
Having wasted their wind advantage, Shane Nolan’s kicked goal after 42 minutes effectively ended the game and signalled the start of some Kerry target-practice.
“I’d be satisfied with the result,” said Carey afterwards.
And the performance?
“The performance probably dipped slightly. It came across to me that they were a bit tired and it was evident in the first half in relation to hooking and blocking. The turnovers wouldn’t have been at the same standard as against Laois. But I was pleased with the second half.”
Carey added: “I can’t put my finger on it, why the touch wasn’t great, or why the decision-making or the passes were poor, it just was. There has been the same in the past but they are improving on it and getting better. Today, they came below the bar of the standard that they’d set.”
We shouldn’t dwell much on that, though. Kerry still finished with a flourish and totalled 2-19 on their Liam MacCarthy Cup return, after all.
Among the bright sparks late on, John Griffin came up from midfield to add three late points, while teenager Jordan Conway showed off some fancy flicks on his way to scoring two. The latter is one of four 19-year-olds Kerry are relying on.
Improvement will be needed for Westmeath, who Carey said are “streets ahead of Carlow”. That much was certainly evident two hours later as the Lake County hammered Offaly by double scores.
The group winners will face Galway, with Laois the prize for the runners-up. However, Carey isn’t thinking too much about those incentives yet.
“It’s a bit down the road, and if we roll on a month and win a quarter-final, we won’t be in the round-robin next year. But it’s next Saturday we’ll be preparing for.”
Westmeath’s win will have thrown everything into more uncertainty too. Carlow, now needing a win against Offaly, will be looking inward during their six-day turnaround.
“We’re not going to get any physically stronger or faster over the next two to three weeks but we will find out what’s inside us,” said English. “If we don’t have the mettle for it, we’ll have to regroup and get the mettle for it. That’s what spirit is about.”
S Nolan (1-4, 3 frees); J Egan (1-3); J Griffin (0-3); J Goulding, M Boyle, J Conway (0-2 each); D Dineen (free), D Collins, M O’Leary (0-1 each).
M Kavanagh (0-8, 6 frees); R Kelly, JM Nolan (0-2 each); J Kavanagh, Sean Murphy, Seamus Murphy, J Doyle (1f), HP O’Byrne (0-1).
A McCabe; B Murphy, P Kelly, K Carmody; J Diggins, D Dineen, T Murnane; J Griffin, D Collins; C Harty, M O’Leary, S Nolan; J Goulding, M Boyle, J Egan.
B Brosnan for Murnane (blood, 16-19), B O’Leary for Harty (18, inj), J Conway for Nolan (46, inj), J O’Connor for B O’Leary, B Barrett for Goulding (68), D Fitzell for Murphy (69).
B Treacy; G Coady, M Ryan, A Corcoran; D Byrne, R Coady, J O’Hara; J Kavanagh, R Kelly; Sean Murphy, M Kavanagh, K McDonald; JM Nolan, J Doyle, Seamus Murphy.
R Smithers for J Kavanagh (22, inj), HP O’Byrne for Seamus Murphy (50), C Lawlor for McDonald (69).
C Lyons (Cork).