Even the blessed rule makers were smiling in Tralee Saturday night. Whatever about the cursed Mark, the Black Card sin-bin is already making itself felt in a material way.
Kerry and Galway took their cue from a dry ball and a feverish crowd in Tralee to produce a belter in front of over 11,100 spectators. A pity for Kerry that this was their only Saturday floodlit special this term. The League, unquestionably, has become a Spring Championship.
Ultimately the paper-thin difference was probably the binning of Galway wing back Cillian McDaid in the 63rd minute. The time is important. He should have been eligible to return for the final two of five minutes additional time, but there was no stop in play or ball dead to do so. In that window, Killian Spillane grabbed a precious winning point for the hosts.
“Smash and grab? Yes, you could say that at the end,” accepted Kerry manager Peter Keane.
“The black card had a big bearing, and the timing of it. That five minutes didn’t go astray (for us) after the 35. We were going for it in the end.”
There’s a lovely freshness to Pádraic Joyce’s Galway. It comes from the man himself and his Ronseal approach to things.
“A black card is now huge. It was deserved and it had an effect. But it’s only right, you pull someone down, you have to be punished for it. That’s Cillian’s third one this year. He needs to smarten up a bit on that.”
Joyce had every right to be buzzing about many aspects of his side’s performance. Few would argue with his assertion that the better side came up shy in the end. “Hugely disappointed,” he sighed, reflecting frustration at a hatful of missed goal chances in the first half. One finish out of five won’t close the deal for a visitor to Austin Stack Park.
Kerry? They won’t graft harder for a pair of league points this season. Three points down in the 70th minute with no score from play since the 44th, they managed to quarry a Paul Geaney goal — Geaneyesque in its execution — and Spillane’s winner to plunder the victory.
That will make the victory all the sweeter for Peter Keane and his players.
That the Kingdom were never headed until the 57th minute says as much of Galway’s profligacy as it does Kerry’s scoring prowess, even if some of the first-half point-taking from O’Donoghue, Clifford and Geaney was sublime. O’Donoghue didn’t reappear for the second half, a planned strategy according to his manager. Undoubtedly his razored edge was missed. Rookie Galway full-back Sean Mulkerrin was ‘outstanding’ on David Clifford, reckoned his manager — but the Kerry captain still nailed six points, three from play.
“I said coming down to Tralee we’d need 20 points to beat Kerry. We got 17 and we’d plenty of chances. I’d reckon we left 2-6 behind us,” mused Joyce.
“At the end when we were three up, we had the chances but started to go backwards. We are trying to get that out of the game in Galway but some fellas were still stuck in the reverse. It cost us in the end, big time. We had a chance to go four up a few times for the cushion, but didn’t take them.”
While three points from four is a healthy start for Kerry, weightier matters like defending will temper excitement. They were without Tadhg Morley, Tom O’Sullivan, Peter Crowley and Briain Ó Beaglaoich, but Galway’s fluidity from back to front and the facility with which they put themselves in target range was alarming for the Kerry cogniscenti.
Damien 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. It was a recurring theme. Kerry manager Keane accepts that his second-year project will malfunction from time to time but those filling the stands understand. “We make mistakes, but I feel the people are willing us and wishing us on.”
Galway’s Michael Daly levelled matters at 1-5 to 0-8 three minutes before the break, but Stephen O’Brien and Clifford kept Kerry two up at the interval. Wing forward Eamonn Brannigan split the posts to level on 55 minutes as Galway profited from an unforced Kerry turnover before Shane Walsh flicked on the turbo to rifle home the visitors’ second goal, 2-10 to 0-14 in the 57th.
Walsh added another two minutes later, but underlining Joyce’s issue with his side ‘going backwards’ thereafter, that was their final score.
McDaid’s binning four minutes later offered Tommy Walsh greater scope in the final third and as Kerry skirted the line between ramping up the intensity and succumbing to desperation, they got Geaney in enough space to squeeze home the levelling goal.
“I didn’t wake up January 1 thinking it would be great to have three (League) points out of four, but we’ll take it,” added Keane, who takes his side to Omagh next Sunday.
“Three matches in a row is a whirlwind. A fella picking up injury now could mean missing the rest of the league. The turnaround is very demanding. We flew to Dublin last Saturday, which saved us a day.”
In the basic matter of league points, Galway will rue coming away empty-handed. They go to Letterkenny next Sunday.
“They will be there at the business end of the season,” Keane added.
“I was in Salthill last Sunday (against Monaghan), they’ve a lot of good players.”
And Corofin’s contingent to return. “Tuesday was the first occasion no one was on the physio beds, which is great,” Joyce said.
“We are getting fitter. I spoke to the Corofin lads, two of them are injured, and five are taking a break.”
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; 17 G O’Sullivan, J Foley, 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).
The game in 60 seconds
It mattered: How long have you got? A game of see-sawing momentum. Cillian McDaid’s sin binning is referenced elsewhere. Paul Geaney’s 70th minute equalising goal saved Kerry’s bacon. Remember the first minute goal in the 2014 All-Ireland final against Donegal? It was that sort of clipped, across-his-body finish.
Can’t ignore: The attendance. 11,117 packed into Austin Stack Park for Kerry’s only floodlit occasion of this Allianz League campaign. That’s good news too, remember, for all the lower league counties, who share in the dosh from League gate receipts.
Good Day: Things looked pretty bleak for Michael Burns when he was subbed before half time in Kerry’s Super 8 tie against Meath in Navan last summer. 2019 was a virtual write off for the Crokes dynamo in Kerry terms but he asked all the right questions with his start Saturday night in place of Sean O’Shea. One blinding cameo early in the second half featured a turnover, an improvised flick to keep the attack going and the point from a tight angle. In the running for MVP.
Best on show: Liam Kearney, the rookie Kerry midfielder, showed up well, and his manager
namechecked his fellow centrefielder Jack Barry. Gary O’Donnell was a positive influence for Galway from wing back, but for MVP take your pick between the two skippers – Shane Walsh and David Clifford.
Physio room: Kerry were missing Tadhg Morley and Sean O’Shea from the named selection. The latter was a bug, according to Peter Keane, who said Morley should return for Tyrone. Briain O Beaglaoich and Adrian Spillane will miss the trip to Omagh though.
Sideline smarts: Interesting that Dr Crokes’ Tony Brosnan was an unused sub for Kerry. If it was pre-ordained to play James O’Donoghue for one half and Tommy Walsh for the other, it was an interesting approach by Kerry. Sean Kelly did well when introduced for Galway, and there’s a bit of talk about the impact Oughterard’s Marty Tierney could have up front for the Tribe this summer.
Man in the middle: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow). Did absolutely fine.
Where next: Kerry travel to Omagh Sunday to face Tyrone while Galway are on the road again in Letterkenny to face Declan Bonner’s Donegal.