Kerry 2-9 Donegal 0-12
Kerry were forced to sacrifice style for substance, but the artisans from the Kingdom proved the masters of improvisation as they carved out a heroic triumph to lift a 37th All-Ireland SFC triumph at Croke Park.
They weren’t afraid to take on the battle from the trenches, emerging to fire two fatal shots into Donegal’s bid for a second crown in two seasons.
Paul Geaney and Kieran Donaghy hit the net in each half to push the prize beyond the Ulster champions.
A game that dipped towards the depths of mediocrity at times, only to explode into spectacular action in front of 82,184 enthralled spectators, never failed to excite and provoke.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice crafted his own his own defensive master-plan in response to the prototype developed by Jim McGuinness, and while it needed a couple of strokes of good fortune, the Kerry supremo emerged with the plaudits.
Kerry stunned the Ulster champions with a goal less than a minute into the game, Paul Geaney fetching cleanly before beating Paul Durcan with a close range finish.
Kieran Donaghy lobbed over a point to put them four points clear, and the 2012 champions were clearly rattled.
They were having serious difficulty in breaking down Kerry’s effective defensive strategy, and it took them 25 minutes to get a shot away at the posts from play.
Kerry tracked the runners and closed down the central channel, turning over possession to launch counter-attacks.
But as the first half wore on, Donegal’s patience began to pay dividends. They had already chipped away at the deficit with three Michael Murphy frees and a Colm McFadden conversion.
Geaney could have had a second goal, but blazed over the bar from James O’Donoghue’s cross.
O’Donoghue was enduring a frustrating afternoon in the shadow of Neil McGee, and the scores were drying up for the Kingdom.
Odhran Mac Niallais improvised with a first-time finish for his side’s first point from open play in the 29th minute, and centre back Karl Lacey brought them level, 0-6 to 1-3 at the interval.
Kerry kicked long ball in the direction of target man Donaghy, but gained nothing from it, and with both teams reluctant to break out of defensive mode and commit men to the offensive effort, a torrid contest became painfully sterile.
Killian Young did show a readiness to run at the Donegal defence, and was rewarded with the free that Barry John Keane tapped over to ease the Kingdom ahead again in the 51st minute.
The resultant kick-out was a personal tragedy for goalkeeper Durcan, whose kick-out went straight to Donaghy, and he planted the ball in an empty net.
Now they were four points ahead, but Donegal delivered the response demanded of them, and two points from substitute Paddy McBrearty and one from full back Neil McGee made it a one point game going into the final 15 minutes.
But Kerry regrouped and a magnificent defensive effort in the final segment, with Peter Crowley and Paul Murphy performing heroics, was complemented by the arrival of Declan O’Sullivan as a steadying influence.
They held possession cleverly, and took their chances when they arose, with Donaghy and Keane pushing it further beyond the Ulster men.
Christy Toye did narrow it down to three points, and there was a frantic scramble in the dying moments as Colm McFadden came agonisingly close to netting an equalising goal.
: B Kelly, M Ó Sé, A O'Mahony, F Fitzgerald, P Murphy (0-1), P Crowley, K Young, A Maher, D Moran; S O'Brien, J Buckley (0-1), D Walsh, P Geaney (1-2, 0-1f), K Donaghy (1-2, 0-1f), J O’Donoghue.
Subs: M Geaney for O’Brien, BJ Keane (0-2, 2f) for P Geaney, S Enright for Fitzgerald, D O’Sullivan for Walsh, B Sheehan (0-1, f) for Moran, K O’Leary for Donaghy
: P Durcan, E McGee, N McGee (0-1), P McGrath, A Thompson, K Lacey (0-1), F McGlynn, N Gallagher, R Kavanagh, O MacNiallais (0-1), L McLoone, R McHugh, D O’Connor, M Murphy (0-4, 3f), C McFadden (0-1,f).
Subs: C Toye (0-01) for O’Connor, P McBrearty (0-2) for McHugh, M McElhinney for MacNiallais, D Walsh for McLoone, D Molloy (0-1) for Kavanagh