“We probably wouldn’t have,” was the honest assessment of Éamonn Fitzmaurice.
“The positive, from our point of view, was that we did keep going, despite looking for a long time like it was one of those days. You have to credit the lads that they did keep going to the end. With a small bit of luck, we could have got a goal and got something out of it.”
The Kerry manager was most disappointed to concede a point in the 58th minute, when Galway had only 13 players on the field, after both Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh and Johnny Heaney had walked for black cards.
“We had 15 men, so that was disappointing, that we didn’t organise it [better]. The point probably broke up a bit of momentum that we had, but you have to credit Galway for the way they broke out and got the score.”
Despite the defeat and Kerry just two points above the drop zone, Fitzmaurice doesn’t see relegation as an issue.
“We have four points on the board, we have a big game, now, on Saturday night, against Dublin.
“Huge opportunity for the lads. They are on full points, going well, and a great test for us.”
He added: “I am happy with the younger lads, in that they are being exposed to this level of football. There is that consistency that, in all our games, we have kept going at it until the very end. We have won two, lost the other two, but I am happy with how we are progressing. It is a steep learning curve, at this level, we know that.”
Kevin Walsh, meanwhile, expressed satisfaction with the consistency Galway are developing.
“There was a bit of pressure on today. A lot of people, including ourselves, were looking for a bit more consistency. We felt we had, maybe, improved on that last year, getting out of Division 2. We had to improve on that again. We’ll take this result.”
It might not have been his finest afternoon, but ultimately Ruairí Lavelle was the toast of Galway football last night. His troubles off the kicking tee allowed Kerry gobble up too many kick-outs. Another dribbled out over the sideline.
However, only for Lavelle, the hosts would have claimed an undeserved share of the spoils and, in the process, brought an end to Galway’s winning start in what is their first spring back up in Division 1 since 2011.
The announcement of seven minutes’ additional time was met by a collective groan from the home contingent, a decent scattering of which was already spilling down Boherbee, their side trailing 1-14 to 0-11. Seven minutes later, following two points from David Clifford and another from sub Daithi Casey, Kerry were laying siege to the Galway goal in search of a leveller. Possession was worked to Clifford who, from outside the 20m line, hit a swerving shot which Lavelle got his gloves behind. The ball broke to Stephen O’Brien on the edge of the square but again Lavelle was equal to the task, parrying the Kenmare man’s shot.
Of course, it shouldn’t have come to this, the Tribesmen almost made to pay for their second-half wastefulness where they time and again punched holes in the Kingdom rearguard.
The final whistle sounded soon after, the visitors celebrating a first league win over Kerry since 2003 and first on Kingdom soil since 2000. The victory also brought to an end their six-game losing streak to Kerry in the spring competition.
More pertinent to the current campaign, it represented Galway’s fourth win from as many outings. One more victory in their remaining three games — Monaghan (home), Dublin (home), and Kildare (away) — and it is difficult not to see them making a first league final since 2006.
Lavelle’s late heroics, along with his save to deny Brian Ó Beaglaoich in the second minute, mean the westerners have now gone four games without being breached for a green flag.
Full-back Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh has brought authority and a level of stability to a line which has been so porous in recent seasons. Outside him, 2017 U21 half-forward Sean Kelly was effective at half-back, the Moycullen youngster providing himself as an outlet in attack on numerous occasions. His GPS will make for decent reading.
Damien Comer’s wrecking-ball approach again paid dividends. The Galway captain, though not among the scorers, drew a number of fouls off Jason Foley. Eamonn Brannigan, with 1-3, was the team’s top scorer from play and considering he couldn’t nail down a starting berth last summer, it says plenty that he is their chief marksman four league games in.
Brannigan kicked two points as Galway made the most of their first-half wind advantage early on, surging 0-6 to 0-2 clear after 16 minutes. They could have had a goal, too. Brian Kelly, in for his first start in 2018, repelled Cathal Sweeney’s drive.
Successive fouls on Barry John Keane allowed free-takers David Clifford and Sean O’Shea narrow the deficit. Subsequent attempts to eat further into their opponent’s lead, however, were frustrated by a series of poor wides.
A masterful Shane Walsh free sent Galway back down the tunnel 0-9 to 0-5 in front at half-time. Barry McHugh’s fifth minor nudged them into a double-scores advantage within 33 seconds of the restart.
Further points from Clifford and O’Shea were cancelled out when Brannigan showed a clean pair of heels to the opposition defence to deliver the sole goal of the afternoon. 1-10 to 0-7 Galway led.
Peter Crowley, sub Tom O’Sullivan, Clifford (free), and a well-worked O’Brien point brought Fitzmaurice’s troops right back into contention.
Just as they had flip-flopped from creative to careless all afternoon long, they followed their most productive spell with an 18-minute barren patch. During this, Galway enjoyed their own run of four in a row. Three McHugh frees, two of which were won by Comer, and Brannigan’s third, re-established a six-point cushion and proved sufficient breathing room in the face of Kerry’s late onslaught.
That Kerry have failed for a sixth consecutive season under Fitzmaurice to win a February league fixture at home is most frustrating, but nothing to lose sleep over.
It’s only football, after all, a point which resonated with everyone in the ground during the minute’s silence impeccably observed before throw-in for 14-year old Aodhán Ó Conchúr of Dingle and 11-year old Amy O’Connor who both passed away over the weekend.
B McHugh (0-8, 0-5 frees, 0-2 ‘45s); E Brannigan (1-3); P Sweeney (0-2); S Walsh (0-1 free).
D Clifford (0-6, 0-3 frees); S O’Shea (0-3, 0-2 frees); P Murphy, P Crowley, S O’Brien, T O’Sullivan, D Casey (0-1 each).
B Kelly; P Murphy, J Foley, S Enright; B Ó Beaglaoich, R Shanahan, P Crowley; J Barry, Barry O’Sullivan; M Burns, S O’Shea, S O’Brien; D Clifford, P Geaney, BJ Keane.
M Flaherty for Shanahan (40); T O’Sullivan for Ó Beaglaoich (42); É Ó Conchúir for Keane (48); D Casey for Burns (60); K Spillane for Geaney (66, inj); B Ó Seanacháin for B O’Sullivan (70).
R Lavelle; E Kerin, S A Ó Ceallaigh; D Kyne; C Sweeney, G Bradshaw, S Kelly; P Conroy, P Cooke; J Heaney, S Walsh, E Brannigan; B McHugh, D Comer, P Sweeney.
G O’Donnell for C Sweeney (bc, 8); S Armstrong for P Sweeney (49); D Wynne for Ó Ceallaigh (bc, 57); J Duane for Heaney (bc, 57); C Duggan for Cooke (64); T Flynn for Brannigan (70).
F Kelly (Longford).