Margins wise, Kerry under Éamonn Fitzmaurice have experienced worse All-Ireland quarter-final victories than this one. There was the six-point difference against Cavan in 2013 and the seven that separated them from Galway the last time they faced each other at this stage three years ago.
Galway were an inferior side then, though, a point worth considering when reviewing this latest success. And yet the scoreline here hardly told the whole story. Kerry were good at times but only that, frail at others. The manner in which they continue to be carved open by teams, Division 2 sides at that, will be the source of most discomfort.
Notwithstanding the fact they sealed a seventh straight All-Ireland semi-final appearance, that Mayo or Roscommon will have only 13 days to ready themselves for Kerry was one positive to take from yesterday. The others? Kieran Donaghy’s first-half performance. Paul Murphy further underlining his leadership acumen. Johnny Buckley playing like a captain.
The latter pair were prominent when Galway were battering down on the Kerry goal after half-time. It was Mark Griffin who denied Damien Comer a goal two minutes into the new half and Brian Kelly who saved strongly from Seán Armstrong that kept Galway out but it was the pair of Murphy and Buckley that gave Kerry at least some foothold when they looked to have lost some much of their first-half composure.
Yet Galway never moved closer than four points from Kerry. Murphy’s 46th-minute point was cancelled out by Eamonn Brannigan before David Moran and Armstrong then exchanged scores but the next three points were Kerry’s as their bench’s influence began to tell. Disheartened by those goal chances being spurned, Galway’s belief dipped, the game turned into a procession for Kerry, and another hat-trick of Kingdom points followed an Ian Burke free.
Burke had been excellent in the first half, taking four points from play, the first of them parried over by Kelly, but Galway were playing second fiddle from before Donaghy claimed his 14th-minute goal. David Moran launched a diagonal ball into his fellow Tralee man and Donaghy, beating two men, finished to the net on his weaker left foot.
The long-ball tactic was one Kerry used a few more times before the half was out, profiting when Donnchadh Walsh pumped a ball into the edge of the square for Donaghy and he fisted over. He caught another in the 21st minute only to be crowded out upon landing and penalised as James O’Donoghue found the net although Donaghy did win a free in the 27th minute, which O’Donoghue converted.
Fitzmaurice denied they had taken their lead from how successful Tipperary were in doing the same in last year’s quarter-final against the same opposition. “No, that’s part of our gameplan and it’s something we do, especially when Kieran is in there. We use his aerial presence.
“They changed their full-back before the game — they brought in (David) Walsh, the big, tall fella who was always going to compete with Kieran in there. But you know, Kieran is on the go a long time and he’s playing great football.
“Playing the football of his life” was how Fitzmaurice put it about his eldest statesman. It wasn’t that Galway weren’t crowding around Donaghy — they had players back — but their attempts to cut the supply link to him were slack.
“Ah well look it, we probably would have liked to get bodies back a little bit quicker to help the full-back,” argued Kevin Walsh. “It’s a huge pitch, some of these guys don’t even know the pitch. That’s the big difference with the likes of Kerry and Dublin compared to a young Galway side coming in.
“I could see that maybe the extra 10 yards, the extra 15 yards getting back, what you practise in training can often be a little bit… so that’s an experience these guys needed to look at. At the same time, it wasn’t all about that. I think we had our own goal chances and if we’d taken one or two of them, who knows.”
Galway trailed by seven points when Buckley notched his second of the game in the 33rd minute. Walsh’s side did add three scores in a row, one following a Fionn Fitzgerald clearance off the line from Comer, and Shane Enright was blessed not to be black-carded for upending Johnny Heaney. It was Kerry’s Walsh who finished off the scoring in the half, after which Kerry led 1-10 to 0-8.
With less ball coming his way, Donaghy moved to midfield but his influence diminished as the game developed. O’Donoghue was benched beforehand on an afternoon when he looked anything but his spritely self.
It might have ended as a formality for Kerry although that was in part due to the five points provided by the bench, Stephen O’Brien again involved in a lot of the good Kerry did after the break. After they had weathered the storm earlier in the half, it was easy street for the Munster champions. Once again, they played within themselves but won handsomely.
The default setting of most Kerry managers upon winning any game bar an All-Ireland final is to play it down. Éamonn Fitzmaurice, though, chose to ignore the script. Kerry have been tested, he argued, and an eight-point victory is an eight-point victory in anyone’s language.
“Any day you win an All-Ireland quarter-final by eight points and you’re still in the championship and going into a semi-final, you have to be happy. There were aspects of our performance, patches where we didn’t play well and periods as well when we were very sloppy. Overall, look, it’s job done.
“If you had asked me this morning would I have taken an eight-point win, I’d have said: ‘Absolutely.’ It’s a case of onwards and upwards now and we’ll look to improve over the next three weeks.”
Kerry enter the last four without having faced Division 1 opposition, but don’t tell Fitzmaurice that his team’s mettle hasn’t been examined. “No, I don’t buy into that. We’re well tested, every day you go out you’re tested. We were tested today and they didn’t stand up to those tests, so we will have to improve on that. Every day you win, you go onto the next stage and you’re happy.”
Did he wish Galway were closer?
“It was plenty tight from where I was standing. No, I didn’t hope for that at all.”
Had Galway taken any of those four goal openings Kerry may just have felt their opponents’ breath on their necks. As in the match with Cork, Kerry weren’t punished: “Yeah, it’s something to work on, obviously. It’s something we have worked on and something we have to do more work on, but again, with all these things, you have to give credit to the opposition. We saw what Galway could do last weekend, we saw what they were able to do against Mayo in the Connacht championship, as well. We were well warned about their attacking threat. There were a couple of close ones but there was good defending too and Brian [Kelly] obviously did very well in goals.”
In mitigation, Fitzmaurice said getting into the Croke Park routine again took Kerry some time: “We looked a bit off the pace, initially, and definitely our decision-making wasn’t good at times, but you can’t beat championship games and everything that goes with them. The emotional build-up as well as everything else, coming back up to Dublin, getting that routine again coming into Croke Park. There’s plenty for us to take from today. We’re delighted to have won the game but plenty to work on.”
Kevin Walsh wasn’t prepared to be too harsh on his players but recognised a failure to take any of their goal-scoring opportunities ended their championship.
For the second successive season, Galway’s quarter-final exit and their championship woes in Croke Park, stemming back to 2001, continue. It might have been all so different had they found the net at least once.“I didn’t have the bird’s eye view that you (media) had but we certainly got in there and got a few chances. Goals create momentum and that showed against Donegal when we took our chances last week,” said Walsh. “If we got one or two them today it would have allowed us to ask the question to see where we were but it wasn’t to be.
“And conceding the goal so early in the first half left us on the back-foot against a team as experienced as Kerry which is a place we did not want to be. Goals often give momentum to a team and we simply did not get them.”
It seemed obvious that Galway’s shoulders dropped, particularly when they were unable to convert both goal chances in the second half. Asked if those misses killed Galway’s spirit, he shrugged: “I can’t say too much about the boys. I don’t know about that. If you score goals, momentum builds up but if you don’t it can be deflating but I can’t say anything bad about our boys.
“We needed to ask some questions by making chances and when we did make chances we needed to take them. We can look at what was missed but it is not going to make it any better. Sometimes if you miss too much it can kill momentum a little bit.”
Walsh intimated that another week to prepare to face Kerry having beaten Donegal would have been ideal. On 2017 as a whole, he reviewed: “Well, there’s a full stop for every team at some point apart from the All-Ireland champions. There’s always going to be someone feeling this pain, bar the winners, at some point. If we look back on our season, promotion (to Division 1) was high on our list, we achieved that and getting our first win, albeit not a championship win, at Croke Park was important as well for Galway people.
“We probably would have liked to retain the Connacht title, we didn’t do that, but along the way, proving that it was no fluke the year before, it was important that we performed against Mayo as well. Our goal would have been to certainly try and get to the last four this year.”
Scorers for Kerry: K. Donaghy (1-1); P. Geaney (0-4, 1 free); J. Buckley, P. Murphy, D. Moran, S. O’Brien, B.J. Keane (0-2 each); J. O’Donoghue (free), D. Walsh, J. Savage (0-1 each).
Scorers for Galway: I. Burke (0-5, 1 free); S. Armstrong (0-4, 1 free); S. Walsh (free), M. Daly, E. Brannigan, J. Heaney (0-1 each).
KERRY: B. Kelly 8; F. Fitzgerald 7, S. Enright 6, M. Griffin 7; P. Crowley 7, T. Morley 6, P. Murphy 9; D. Moran 7, J. Barry 6; M. Geaney 6, J. Buckley (c) 8, D. Walsh 7; J. O’Donoghue 5, K. Donaghy 7, P. Geaney 7.
Subs for Kerry: S. O’Brien 7 for M. Geaney (39); J. Savage 7 for J. O’Donoghue (48); A. Maher 6 for J. Barry (54); B.J. Keane 7 for K. Donaghy (57); K. Young 6 for T. Morley (63); J. Lyne 6 for D. Walsh (67).
GALWAY: B. Power 7; E. Kerin 6, D. Walsh 5, D. Kyne 7; G. O’Donnell (c) 6, G. Bradshaw 6, L. Silke 7; P. Conroy 6, J. Heaney 7; T. Flynn 6, M. Daly 7. S. Walsh 6; D. Comer 7, S. Armstrong 7, I. Burke 8.
Subs for Galway: C. Sweeney 6 for D. Walsh (39); E. Brannigan 7 for S. Walsh (44); M. Farragher 6 for D. Bradshaw (52); F. Ó Curraoin 6 for M. Daly (58); C. McDaid 6 for T. Flynn (63); D. Cummins 6 for S. Armstrong (66).
Referee: D. Coldrick (Meath).
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