Shortly after the final whistle, the two teams mingled, swapped jerseys, and smiled in the middle of the field. Level 15 times and never more than two points difference between them, it was all they could do.
For close to 80 minutes, they had tested each other’s moral fibre and could reconcile with, at least on this day, being of similar quality.
Rows developed and spats were initiated — even maor foirnes Tommy Griffin and Karl Lacey were testing out the strength of each other’s shoulders on the sideline — but that edginess never took away from, but rather added to, this spectacle.
The result might have been an anti-climax to a riveting affair; nevertheless, it was a fair one, if slightly tougher on Donegal, who must now head to Mayo needing a result to avoid a championship exit.
On the basis of their second-half showing here, they will land into Castlebar with more than optimism going for them. Slightly the better team in that period, the depth of their panel was evident by how they were able to absorb such a rough run of injuries in the build-up to this clash.
Kerry too had their setbacks. James O’Donoghue’s absence was well-flagged, but losing David Moran — their hero in Killarney seven days previous — was a significant blow. Before the end of normal time, neither starting midfield was in action, the Donegal pair and Adrian Spillane making way because of injury.
Kerry were also able to push on and Killian Spillane’s three-point haul might be an indication of another dimension Peter Keane will have from here on in.
It was Michael Murphy’s fifth free of the game that ultimately tied it, the Donegal captain ably kicking from his hands, unlike the two he boomed over from outside the 45-metre line earlier in the half. From converting turned-over kickouts to quick one-twos, how he and Ryan McHugh combined throughout the game was artistic.
There was grit in their football too, as there was in Kerry’s, chiefly when Paul Geaney cancelled out an additional-time point from Murphy after McHugh had pounced on a Shane Ryan restart.
Geaney, giving a timely reminder of his class, had earlier shown his powers of recovery when finishing to the net an attack which had to be restarted by Seán O’Shea after Geaney had misplaced a pass to Jack Sherwood.
While goal chances went abegging for both him and David Clifford in the first half, after which Kerry led 0-10 to 0-9, Geaney’s finish was exquisite — but Kerry weren’t allowed to build on it. Donegal substitute Oisín Gallen sent over the next score, and when Murphy struck a low penalty past Ryan in the 53rd minute, Donegal were back in the lead.
The penalty for a Stephen O’Brien infringement against Daire Ó Baoill looked to be just about the right call, just as was the call to disallow a Eoin McHugh goal a minute later when he was not only in the parallelogram before the ball arrived, but caught it before pushing it in.
O’Shea and Murphy swapped points in the 59th and 60th minutes, as did Killian Spillane with a Murphy effort from a placed ball soon after, before Kerry strung together a couple through O’Brien and Clifford. A splendid Michael Langan point squared matters, only for Jason Foley to ghost through to collect a Sherwood pass and ensure Kerry went into additional time ahead.
However, four minutes later and Donegal were up once more as Murphy obliged following Gallen’s second point of the game. Geaney’s defiance tied up things for a 14th occasion. It was Paul Murphy who provided Kerry’s last score of the game, only for Geaney to be then whistled for upending Jamie Brennan, and Murphy raised yet another white flag.
And so each, like Dublin, remain undefeated, but unlike the All-Ireland champions, their battle for fitness will have come on immeasurably after this.
“Coming hoping that at the end of the day you would have four points out of the two games, you have three, so look, it’s better than two,” bargained Keane.
I thought we fought like hell towards the end. There was a never-say-die attitude by us.
Going to Navan where Meath have nothing to play for but pride — they will finish bottom of Group 1 regardless — fate will be in Kerry’s hands. A draw sends them into the last four; a win could see them avoid Dublin a week later. Even if the wait for a Croke Park win will go on to a sixth game, that is a marked improvement on 12 months ago.
For Donegal, there is a real possibility they could fail to make the All-Ireland semis-finals if they lose in Castlebar against a Mayo team that have lost twice already.
“Lads have moved on and they are definitely showing signs of improvement,” said Bonner. “We will still have a level to go and we know that, but it is within the group. There will be a lot of questions asked and we are hoping to have the answers.”
Scorers for Donegal: M. Murphy (1-8, 1-0 pen, 0-5 frees); P. McBrearty (0-4, 2 frees); O. Gallen, M. Langan, R. McHugh (0-2 each); J. McGee, N. O’Donnell (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kerry: P. Geaney (1-4); S. O’Shea (0-4, 3 frees); D. Clifford (1 free); S. O’Brien, K. Spillane (0-3 each); T. O’Sullivan, J. Foley, P. Murphy (0-1 each).
DONEGAL: S. Patton; C. Ward, S. McMenamin, O. McFadden-Ferry; E. McHugh, E. Doherty, R. McHugh; H. McFadden, J. McGee; C. Thompson, N.
O’Donnell, M. Langan; P. McBrearty, M. Murphy (c), J. Brennan.
Subs for Donegal: D. Ó Baoill for J. McGee (inj 24); O. Gallen for N. O’Donnell (black, 35+2); F. McGlynn for H. McFadden (inj 39); P.
Brennan for E. Doherty (47); B. McCole for O. McFadden-Ferry (63); L. McLoone for C. Thompson (70).
KERRY: S. Ryan; T. O’Sullivan, S. Enright, T. Morley; J. Foley, P. Murphy, G. Crowley; A. Spillane, D. O’Connor; G. White (c), S. O’Shea, S. O’Brien; K. Spillane, D. Clifford, P. Geaney.
Subs for Kerry: J. Lyne for G. White (black, 35); J. Sherwood for D. O’Connor (44); M. Burns for S. O’Brien (blood, 53-60); M. Griffin for S. Enright (56); G. O’Sullivan for G. Crowley (63); M. Burns for A. Spillane (inj 68); T. Ó Sé for K. Spillane (70+3).
Sent off: T. Ó Sé (straight, 70+4).
Referee: P. Neilan (Roscommon).