NO DISRESPECT to Derry, but it was a blessing we werespared extra-time in yesterday’s Allianz NFL Division One final in Croke Park, after a game which was never less than competitive but almost completely lacked atmosphere.
Better balanced Kerry never trailed from the time Donncha Walsh got the game’s only goal in the ninth minute and the holders failed to get nearer than two points after that.
Nearing the end, the possibility of a draw loomed briefly, especially since Derry had Paddy Bradley back on the field after he had been forced off injured late in the first half. However, when substitute Bryan Sheehan and Colm Cooper added late scores to stretch Kerry’s lead to four points, there was going to be only one outcome.
Derry were in front for a mere five minutes after Paddy Bradley opened the scoring in the second minute and wing-back Chrissy McKaigue added a second point in another two minutes. To give them credit, they were quicker to settle, showing a facility to defend well and build up attacks quickly.
The only problem was that they wasted some good chances, which meant they fell into arrears after the goal from Walsh (who had also netted in last year’s final between the teams at Parnell Park). It came when midfielder Micheal Quirke won a right wing cross from Kieran Donaghy and Walsh came speeding in to collect the pass and finish in style.
Four times before the break scores were level and the fact that it was always Kerry who went back into the lead was indicative of a superior threat in attack. This owed much to strong play at half-back, where Tomas Ó Se contributed hugely from an early stage and, more significantly, a commanding presence at midfield. Here, the Micheal Quirke/Anthony Maher partnership — which the manager suggested last week could be in ‘pole position’ for championship selection — generally outplayed the Derry pairing of Fergal Doherty and Joe Diver.
Quirke was the one who fetched the cleanest in the air, while Maher — one of the players who made a strong impact in the campaign — upset Doherty by breaking a lot of ball around the middle. In the end, Doherty’s best work was to be done deep in defence, but in contrast to how much he dominated in last year’s final, his role was negligible over the 70 minutes.
Colm Cooper was quickest to leave his mark on the game in attack before Tommy Walsh settled and won ball repeatedly in the left corner. And, while Kieran Donaghy found it hard to win possession against former All Star Kevin McCloy, he was to play an important support role, especially when he drifted outfield.
Walsh and Declan O’Sullivan also got in a lot of work at half-forward but while captain Darran O’Sullivan could not be faulted for effort, he was rarely involved in the play.
At the other end, Kerry looked composed and dependable, even when Paddy Bradley’s probing play initially put Tom O’Sullivan under pressure for a short period and his brother Eoin made progress against Killian Young.
Paddy was forced off in the 24th minute with an injury he received when Eoin ran into him in the seventh minute and, as big a psychological blow it was at the time, he hadn’t been very prominent up to then.
In fact, while continuous effort won them some good possession and four points from frees, as a unit Derry’s forwards never really had the Kerry backs in anything approaching serious trouble. They trailed 1-7 to 0-9 at the break and it reflected the way the game was being fought out.
It didn’t alter very much in the second half, with Paddy Bradley resuming his place in the attack after three minutes and Darragh Ó Sé making only his second appearance since his comeback in the 43rd minute, as the first of eight replacements (two of them blood subs) made by the management.
Interestingly, it appeared at the time that Quirke wanted to resume after being treated briefly on the sideline following a heavy tackle.
The Gaeltacht man quickly settled into the game and made some good passes, David Moran also impressed after being introduced while Bryan Sheehan proved his worth by kicking over three frees from the left. And while Tadhg Kennelly celebrated his first appearance in Croke Park with the county he saw little of the ball.
Kerry remained comfortably in control and gave the impression of having the confidence to be able to deal with any situation. As it happened, all they had to do was to retain their grip — which they did. All in all, a very satisfactory outcome for players and validation of Jack O’Connor’s decision to return.
Scorers for Kerry: C. Cooper 0-6 (0-3 frees); D. Walsh 1-0; B. Sheehan 0-3 frees; T. Ó Se and T. Walsh 0-2 each; Declan O’Sullivan and A. O’Mahony 0-1 each.
Scorers for Derry: M. Lynch (0-3 frees) and E. Bradley (0-1 free) 0-4 each; P. Bradley 0-2 (0-1 free); C. McKaigue, J. Kielt (free), P. Murphy, E. Lynn and S. Bradley 0-1 each.
KERRY: D. Murphy; P. Reidy, T. O’Sullivan, K. Young; T. Ó Se, A. O’Mahony, T. Griffin; A. Maher, M. Quirke; Darran O’Sullivan (capt.), Declan O’Sullivan, D. Walsh; C. Cooper, K. Donaghy, T. Walsh.
Subs: D. Ó Se for Quirke (injured, 43); T. Kennelly for Walsh (47); B. Sheehan for Declan O’Sullivan (blood sub, 49); D. Moran for Maher (50); Declan O’Sullivan for Donaghy (58); D. Bohan for Griffin (62); S. O’Sullivan for Darran O’Sullivan (65); A. O’Shea for Reidy (blood sub, 71).
DERRY: B. Gillis; K. McGuckin, K. McCloy, G. O’Kane; C. McKaigue, B. McGuigan, S.L. McGoldrick; F. Doherty, J. Diver; E. Lynn, P. Murphy, B. Mullan; E. Bradley, P. Bradley, M. Lynch.
Subs: J. Kielt for P. Bradley (injured, 24); Bradley for Mullan (38); D. McBride for O’Kane (injured, 46); S. Bradley for Murphy (49); B. Dillon for McBride (yellow card replacement, 67).
Referee: M. Duffy (Sligo).
*Attendance: 20,545 (last year 9,742).
*A minute’s silence was observed in memory of Conor McCusker, brother of the Derry vice-captain and former Antrim chairman Oliver Kelly.
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