Donegal 1-17 Kerry 2-17: Too close for comfort in the end but a deceptive scoreline in many ways.
Many in this 6,320 crowd had exited O’Donnell Park before Donegal kicked the last six points of the game to come within a goal of the visitors.
But Kerry weren’t going to be denied their first round one win under Éamonn Fitzmaurice. Not since 2012 had they last enjoyed success on league opening day but here the Kingdom were irresistible. David Moran gave a tremendous display against Donegal’s unfamiliar midfield duo, while the full-forward line of Paul Geaney, James O’Donoghue, and Jack Savage scalped 2-10 for themselves, 2-7 from play.
It had been three years since Geaney and O’Donoghue last lined up together in this competition and in 50 minutes of football they showed their explosiveness. Savage was no slouch either. Neither were the rest of Kerry’s greenhorns, particularly substitute Jack Barry who ably assisted Moran and teed up Geaney for his opening goal, having replaced the concussed Shane Enright.
Jason Foley and Tom O’Sullivan acquitted themselves with merit too on a rewarding day for Éamonn Fitzmaurice. “They all did very well because it is a huge step-up and no matter how a player is told that and no matter how much it is said in general, until lads experience it and we see how they get on, you don’t know.
“Today I thought all of the lads did well. Jack Barry came in as well in his first game in the league and he made a big impact for a fella who had to come in so quickly into the game, with Shane going off. Delighted with the younger lads and it was good for them to get the football under their belts.”
The striking aspect of this affair was that Kerry’s nine-point lead, established in the 44th minute with Geaney’s second goal, could have been so much more. Paul Murphy and Donnchadh Walsh came close to adding further goals.
They had concluded their tally of 30-plus scoring opportunities with Savage’s 57th minute free, Kerry’s last score. Thereafter, they invited Donegal to come at them seemingly satisfied that their work up front was sufficient.
To Donegal’s credit, they made the scoreboard respectful in the dying stages and had a borderline penalty shout turned down, but there was too much inexperience in their ranks to frighten Kerry.
Losing to Neil McGee to a vomiting bug prior to throw-in didn’t help their rearguard, either.
McGee was at the centre of last year’s tempestuous encounter in Tralee but there was no whiff of a repeat here. The penalty decision in 23rd minute, Martin O’Reilly’s fine run being illegitimately brought to an end, was the major flashpoint in the first half but even at that it was a push to say it was debatable.
Murphy fired to the net but within seconds it was cancelled out when Barry fed Geaney and he clinically struck the ball past Mark Anthony McGinley. “It was a great reaction to get up the field so quickly,” reflected Fitzmaurice, “and to get a goal straight away because we had started quite well and the penalty seemed to be against the run of play, but it brought them back into it.
“But we responded then and we kicked on from there. We played a lot of good football, a lot of good scores and definitely have to work on the last quarter but delighted just to have got the result.”
Kerry were reaping plenty of dividend down their left flank as well as on Donegal’s kick-outs, while at the other end Paddy McBrearty cut a lonesome figure. A point from Ciaran Thompson, alongside O’Reilly Donegal’s best performer, brought Donegal to within a couple of Kerry but Fitzmaurice’s side finished out the half with an unanswered five-point run before a Murphy free made it 1-11 to 1-5 at the break.
Donegal began the second half with a brace of points but O’Donoghue sent over two of his own, followed by one from Paul Murphy to leave seven between them. Former Leitrim player Paul Brennan hit back with a well-taken score but Kerry’s response was swift when from a kick-out, Moran kick-passed into Walsh who supplied Geaney for another expertly-taken goal.
Kerry had done enough even at that early juncture but could have goaled again when Walsh threw a hand to a Moran 45 only to see it come off the crossbar. Donegal outscored Kerry seven points to one in the final 20 minutes of action but it mattered little as they extended their losing streak in the league to six.
“We put that pressure on ourselves,” said Rory Gallagher. “We approach every game feeling we have to win every game. In the last few years we have won three games and it has been enough to survive in the division. We will look next week to Roscommon. The games come thick and fast but you have to be true to yourself, and we will have to improve a good bit to beat Roscommon.”
Scorers for Donegal:
M. Murphy (1-3, 1-0 pen, 3 frees); P. McBrearty (0-4, 3 frees); C. Thompson (0-3); D. O’Connor (0-2); M. Reilly, E. McHugh, P. Brennan, R. McHugh, C. Gibbons (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kerry:
P. Geaney (2-4, 2 frees); J. O’Donoghue, J. Savage (1 free) (0-3 each); D. Walsh (0-2); J. Barry, T. O’Sullivan, J. Lyne, D. Moran, P. Murphy (0-1 each).
M.A. McGinley; P. McGrath, C. Ward, E. Bán Gallagher; F. McGlynn, R. McHugh, P. Brennan; J. McGee, H. McFadden; M. O’Reilly, M. Langan, C. Thompson; P. McBrearty, M. Murphy (c), J. Brennan.
E. McHugh for F. McGlynn (26); C. Gibbons for M. Langan (42); D. O’Connor for J. Brennan (47); E. Doherty for P. McGrath (inj 50); E. O’Donnell for M. O’Reilly (inj 57); S. McBrearty for H. McFadden (61).
B. Kelly; J. Foley, M. Griffin, S. Enright; K. Young, P. Crowley (c), T. O’Sullivan; D. Moran, T. Morley; J. Lyne, P. Murphy, D. Walsh; J. Savage, P. Geaney, J. O’Donoghue.
J. Barry for S. Enright (inj 9); M. Geaney for J. Lyne (48); B.J. Keane for J. O’Donoghue (52); Brendan O’Sullivan for P. Murphy (57); Barry O’Sullivan for D. Walsh (67); C. Geaney for J. Savage (61); J. Barry (70+3, not replaced).
M. Deegan (Laois).
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