Six days on from their 12-point hammering, away to Dublin, victory over basement outfit, Kildare, was the minimum acceptable outcome in Tralee.
A fourth consecutive defeat for Kerry would have turned next Sunday’s trip to Omagh into a must-win fixture to avoid the drop. That was motivation enough to get the job done on Saturday and, in the process, condemn former coach, Cian O’Neill, and his Kildare charges, to Division 2 football next spring.
Kerry captain, Fionn Fitzgerald, making his first start of 2018, said it was imperative there was a response, given the manner in which they fell to Dublin.
“We needed a bounce-back, a reaction from last week. Not just last week; the last couple of games. We came for a win, number one and, number two, lay down a marker.
“We needed a win. It was a championship game for us. That is how we prepared for it. You didn’t want everything hinging on the Tyrone game, next week, even though we will probably still need to win that.
“We are happy with the win and the fight we showed. That they didn’t have any goal opportunities was positive. We’re definitely going in the right direction.”
Fitzgerald was part of a Kerry rearguard that has come in for a fair amount of criticism in recent weeks. And they were under pressure early on, as Kevin Feely and Tommy Moolick’s bright start, at midfield, for Kildare, ensured plenty of possession inside.
Moolick, Feely, and Niall Kelly landed three on the bounce to move the visitors into an early lead. Unfortunately for them, that’s as good as their evening got.
Daniel Flynn’s first levelled matters, at 0-4 apiece, in the 15th minute, with Kerry then kicking seven unanswered points to establish a gap that was never bridged.
Kevin McCarthy began the scoring spree, the Kilcummin half-forward one of Kerry’s most impressive first-half performers. Clifford (two frees), Paul Geaney, Paul Murphy, Dáithí Casey, and a second from McCarthy moved them 0-11 to 0-4 clear. Casey’s 29th minute white flag meant all six starting forwards were on the mark. Their direct approach had Kildare scrambling, the visitors also in trouble from their own restarts.
At the other end, Paddy Brophy, kicking wide a run-of-the-mill, 25-metre free, summed up their woes. Flynn’s second, just before the break, was their first in 18 minutes. They trailed 0-11 to 0-5 changing ends.
“Relegation is a set-back, in terms of our aspirations to be in the top-eight of the country,” said Kildare boss, Cian O’Neill. “The defeat is disappointing, but not demoralising. We’ve had a really disappointing league.
“I don’t want to shy away from the fact that, up until last week, we were really competitive in every league game. Ultimately, we just weren’t good enough. We are just not performing at the level you need to win these matches. We’re close, but not close enough.”
Outscoring their hosts by 0-5 to 0-2 in the 16 minutes after half-time — included in this was three from play by Daniel Flynn — Kildare were back within three points. Had Kevin Flynn not hit the post with a scoreable opportunity, they could have made further inroads.
Instead, a David Clifford free and a fine David Moran point settled Kerry and they were never in danger of being caught thereafter.
Clifford supplied two of their last four points, but more impressive was his intuition and ability to bring team-mates into the play.
Himself, Geaney, and Séan O’Shea will take three of the forward berths come championship. It remains to be seen who’ll join them. Dáithí Casey and Kevin McCarthy did themselves no harm on Saturday. Encouraging, too, was the sight of Johnny Buckley returning to the fray.
“The dynamic of the team is new,” Fionn Fitzgerald said. “The chemistry is starting to come together, but it is going to take time.
“We haven’t had an opportunity for all of us to train together much, yet.
“Coming back in, I’ve been very impressed with how mature the young fellas are and how they go at it.”
D Clifford (0-6, 0-4 frees); P Geaney (0-3, 0-1 free); K McCarthy, D Casey, BJ Keane (0-2 each); S Murphy (0-1 free), M Burns, P Murphy, D Moran (0-1 each).
D Flynn (0-6); K Feely, T Moolick, P Brophy, B McCormack, N Kelly, F Dowling, P Kelly, M O’Grady (0-1 each).
S Murphy; B Ó Beaglaoich, J Foley, R Shanahan; P Murphy, P Crowley, F Fitzgerald; J Barry, Barry O’Sullivan; M Burns, D Casey, K McCarthy; D Clifford, P Geaney, BJ Keane.
D Moran for O’Sullivan (45 mins); M Flaherty for Burns (52); A Spillane for McCarthy (58); M Griffin for Geaney (60); J Buckley for Keane (64); T O’Sullivan for Fitzgerald (67).
M Donnellan; P Kelly, D Hyland, M O’Grady; J Byrne, E Doyle, K Flynn; K Feely, T Moolick; F Conway, K Cribbin, P Brophy; N Kelly, D Flynn, B McCormack.
P Cribbin for Feely (28 mins, inj); D Slattery for K Cribbin (bc, 48); F Dowling for Moolick (50); M Sherry for Brophy (57, bc); C McNally for McCormack (58); J Hyland for Conway (61).
D Coldrick (Meath).