In the build-up to yesterday, Éamonn Fitzmaurice spoke about the lack of nuance among those commentating on the game of Gaelic football right now.
“The analysis is black and white and it can be knee-jerk and hysterical,” he bemoaned.
Fitzmaurice’s comments pertained to how Galway have been viewed, but such a dichotomy can now be applied to his own team.
One that has gone from a historically emphatic Munster final win over Cork to losing this Super 8 opener, a first championship loss to Galway since 1965 and a defeat which would have looked so much worse but for David Clifford’s face-saving 1-1 salvo in the dying stages.
This event will set sail a host of excuses such as the young age profile of the team as it will harness further questions of Fitzmaurice’s in-game management and why, in a wet game, Kieran Donaghy wasn’t brought on. Enforced changes won’t let him off the hook in that regard.
What this result and performance should do is place an asterisk beside Kerry’s progress to this point.
In truth, the crushing win over Cork had been put under a microscope long before yesterday. Comparing the quality of the Munster SFC to the All-Ireland quarter-final phases is akin to holding up day against night.
“I wouldn’t use that as an excuse. We prepared very well as we always do, we went out, we won our games we played well, but we didn’t bring anywhere near the levels of accuracy in particular (to Croke Park),” said Fitzmaurice.
“I think our workrate was very good, especially in the first half, we worked very hard to keep ourselves in the game. Our accuracy wasn’t there, I don’t think that’s down to the Munster championship. It’s something we have to correct for next weekend.”
That they must do or the visit of Kildare to Fitzgerald Stadium on the August bank holiday may be more of an opportunity to heckle Fitzmaurice than anything else.
Monaghan, as Galway did in a lot of the match-ups, will wire into Kerry’s tyros to gauge their bottle, but somehow you sense Clones may be more an afternoon for the wilier of Fitzmaurice’s group.
As miserable as this game was, reflecting the conditions, Galway had been through something similar, at least as regards the nature of the match, as they had the better of Mayo in Castlebar in May. Consider that Mayo lost Diarmuid O’Connor to a red card as Kerry did Killian Young yesterday and Johnny Heaney swooped for a late goal as Patrick Sweeney did here and the similarities could be described as uncanny.
Kerry had in no way been as tested as Galway and that seemed to be the margin of difference.
That and the wealth which came from the Connacht champions’ bench, the aforementioned Sweeney finding the net and Adrian Varley producing a couple of points.
What did Kerry’s attacking reserves who were called into action contribute by way of scoring in return? Zilch.
Granted, Varley was on the field 10 minutes longer than the three forwards Fitzmaurice asked to step up, but the difference was telling.
With Kildare having made up most of the 30,740 attendance, those who had chosen to stay were thinking twice when the scoreline read 0-3 apiece after 31 minutes. A flurry of scores in considerable additional time because of the treatment required to the injured Paul Conroy left it 0-6 to 0-5 in Galway’s favour going into the dressing rooms.
The sides were level three times thereafter until a fine run from Shane Walsh saw him pick off his only point from play and Declan Kyne stepped up two minutes later to give Galway the most handsome lead of the game.
A misplaced pass to Paul Murphy could then have landed a Kerry goal but Clifford put one between the sides once more a minute before Killian Young was dismissed.
Varley restored the two-point advantage in the 65th minute and sent over another point less than two minutes later. When Walsh punished a foul on Ian Burke, the result looked to be confirmed and when Sweeney had a second chance to find the net after initially being denied by Shane Murphy, it was a question of how much.
A Clifford free and his ingenuity to make the most of a half-chance when kicking the ball on the ground past Ruairí Lavelle to cut the margin may be worth something for Kerry down the line but here it was just consolation as Galway’s thirst for battle and their resources told.
“I wasn’t sure of the time but what was probably pleasing was when impact players come in that they make an impact,” Kevin Walsh said of his substitutes. “That’s been something that probably was a big part of our season to date and I think Adrian Varley may have hit two points and Patrick Sweeney got a goal. That’s pleasing that guys when they come in that they are ready.
“That’s obviously part of what we are trying to put into the group, that everyone has a major part to play, even the six guys that didn’t have the chance to get a jersey, which I think is wrong. But it is the way it is. But they are fully behind the team and I think everybody fully understands that that is where they stand and the value of what they bring is huge.”
Scorers for Galway: S. Walsh (0-5, 4 frees); P. Sweeney (1-0); I. Burke, A. Varley (0-2 each); P. Conroy, D. Comer, S. Kelly, D. Kyne (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kerry: D. Clifford (1-5, 0-1 free); P. Geaney (0-2); K. McCarthy, S. Murphy (45), S. O’Brien (0-1 each).
GALWAY: R. Lavelle; E. Kerin, S.A. Ó Ceallaigh, D. Kyne; C. Sweeney, G. Bradshaw, S. Kelly; P. Conroy, T. Flynn; S. Walsh, M. Daly, E. Brannigan; I. Burke, D. Comer, J. Heaney.
Subs for Galway: P. Cooke for P. Conroy (inj 23); D. Wynne for D. Kyne (blood, 35-35+1); A. Varley for M. Daly (55); G. O’Donnell for G. Bradshaw (64); P. Sweeney for D. Comer (65); K. Molloy for T. Flynn (black, 70+3); F. Burke for I. Burke (70+6).
Sent off: E. Kerin (second yellow, 70).
KERRY: S. Murphy (c); P. Crowley, J. Foley, B. Ó Beaglaoich; P. Murphy, K. Young, G. White; D. Moran, J. Barry; K. McCarthy, S. Ó Shea, S. O’Brien; D. Clifford, P. Geaney, J. O’Donoghue.
Subs for Kerry: T. O’Sullivan for B. Ó Beaglaoich (h-t); A. Maher for J. Barry (47); M. Burns for J. O’Donoghue (52); D. Walsh for S. O’Shea, B.J. Keane for K. McCarthy, M. Griffin for J. Foley (all 66).
Sent off: K. Young (straight, 59).
Referee: B. Cassidy (Derry).