Kerry won’t have grafted harder for a pair of league points in quite some time. And that will make this come-from-behind victory all the sweeter for Peter Keane and the players.
The Kingdom were never headed until the 57th minute, but desperation appeared to have got the better of them in a frantic last ten minutes after Shane Walsh put Galway in the box seat. Instead Kerry managed to turn a 2-11 to 0-14 deficit into a one-point win by holding their visitors scoreless for the final ten minutes of play.
Padraic Joyce might point to the black card to Galway defender Cillian McDaid in the 63rd minute, but the number of missed goal chances in the first half was the primary reason they leave Tralee pointless.
Paul Geaney’s 70th minute goal – a Geaney special in its execution – levelled the game and after Dara Moynihan and Killian Spillane missed chances to sneak it, the latter made amends in the 73rd minute to pilfer the points.
To their credit, Galway were bright and dangerous throughout, and bristled with intent from the get-go in a high octane Allianz League Division 1 meeting. “We were the better side,” Joyce lamented afterwards. They passed up four goal opportunities in the first period and didn’t strike the front until the 57th minute when Walsh powered in for their second goal.
Galway never took a conservative step thereafter and forced Kerry into frantic and shapeless passages and passes. Things looked grim for the hosts, but they found a way. Such battling wins are invaluable in the development of a playing group.
Galway offered plenty of promise to their travelling support too but the players will be bitterly disappointed not to take at least a share of the spoils.
A booming effort from the aforementioned McDaid and a Walsh point had them a point down (0-13 to 1-9) on 52 minutes.
And when wing forward Eamonn Brannigan split the posts as Galway profited from an unforced Kerry turnover, they were level on 55 minutes; Clifford edged Kerry in front and only desperate defending denied Tommy Walsh what could have been the decisive goal with 13 minutes left.
Instead it appeared to come at the other end, Walsh turning on the turbo to rifle home the visitors’ second goal, 2-10 to 0-14. Kerry thought they had a shout for a penalty as the keeper ripped the ball from Stephen O’Brien’s hand, but at the other end a now rampant Walsh was busy adding to his tally. It would be Galway’s last score, which given their momentum at that stage, is a surprise.
Then again, it was a night of twists turns and surprises – and no little entertainment for a crowd of over 11,000.
With no Liam O’Connor to set feet tapping, for entertainment the crowd could have played ‘Pick your best point of the first half’ so bountiful were Kerry’s contenders.
Of course, the travelling Galway support had their own less enjoyable equivalent titled: ‘Which was the easiest of our several goal chances?’
Joyce’s men had five wholly presentable first-half opportunities for net gains, taking just the one as Johnny Heaney rounded off another fast-handed move to reduce the deficit to a point (0-7 to 1-3).
In defence of wing forward Fintan O Laoi, his 22nd minute effort from half a dozen metres was brilliantly smothered by the agility of Shane Ryan and the Kerry keeper was again to the rescue when Damien Comer – with a penalty claim – scuffed his close-range effort in the final minute of the half. Still though, Padraic Joyce and his management team must have wondered how they trailed 0-10 to 1-5 at the break.
Those first half points? The pick was arguably James O’Donoghue, who wriggled free and pointed off his right side from an angle in the 21st minute. Again, he was razor sharp on ball, and there was a collective groan when his withdrawal was announced after the break.
Paul Geaney ran him close for the pick of the points with a long ranger, while David Clifford ran with the theme of scoring off the weaker foot when he split the posts in the 15th minute.
Weak foot? Yeah right. Clifford ended the half with four points and when the prospect of a goal momentarily loomed, the main stand shrieked like girls at a pop concert. It was always going to be a tough evening for rookie Galway full-back Sean Mulkerrin but he coped manfully.
Weightier topics cooled some half time cuppa too, not least for the locals in a whopping crowd of 11,117. Defensively Kerry may still be shorn some regulars – Tadhg Morley, Tom O’Sullivan, Peter Crowley, Briain O Beaglaoich - but Galway’s fluidity from back to front and the facility with which they put themselves in target range was somewhat alarming from Peter Keane’s vantage point. Comer, making his first start of the year, was clean through in the fourth minute but blazed over and Michael Daly had a clean shot for goal too in the 13th minute but pulled his effort across the goal.
Daly levelled 1-5 to 0-8 three minutes before the break, but Stephen O’Brien and Clifford kept Kerry two up at the interval.
When they fell behind with 13 minutes remaining, Kerry appeared to have run out of poise and precision but they somehow managed to breast the tape first.
Scorers for Kerry: D Clifford (0-6, 3 frees), P Geaney (1-2, 1 free), J O’Donoghue (0-2), M Burns (0-2), S O’Brien, K Spillane, T Walsh (0-1 each)
Scorers for Galway: S Walsh (1-4, 3 frees), J Heaney (1-0), E Brannigan (0-3), D Comer (0-2, one mark), M Daly, C McDaid (0-1 each).
KERRY: 1 S Ryan; 2 J Foley, 17 G O’Sullivan, 4 S Enright; 5 P Murphy, 6 G Crowley, 7 G White; 8 L Kearney, 9 J Barry; 10 G O’Brien, 19 M Burns, 12 S O’Brien; 13 J O’Donoghue, 14 D Clifford, 15 P Geaney.
Subs: D O’Connor for G O’Brien (31); T Walsh for O’Donoghue (half time); D Moynihan for Burns (55); K Spillane for Kearney (61).
GALWAY: 1 C Gleeson; 2 J Duane, 3 S Mulkerrin, 4 J Heaney; 5 G O’Donnell, 6 J Daly, 7 C McDaid; 8 R Steede, 9 C D’Arcy; 10 E Brannigan, 11 D Comer, 12 F O Laoi; 13 R Finnerty, 14 S Walsh, 15 M Daly.
Subs: S Kelly for Duane (21); M Tierney for Finnerty (half time); T Flynn for Steede (41); L Costello for O Laoi (47); A Varley for M Daly (52).
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow)