Monaghan 1-9 Kerry 1-17: This is March but this is also progress for Kerry.
In Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s fourth year as manager, they go into next Sunday’s seventh and final round all but certain of finally making the knock-out stages.
Stretching their winning run to four matches, the second in a row on the road, is the county’s best league streak since 2012 when they last qualified for the semi-finals.
Any fears their momentum after winning three on the trot would be arrested by the two-week break were allayed by a first-half performance where their patience was imperial against a strong wind and Monaghan’s reinforced rearguard.
Level at six points apiece at the break, the signs were ominous and Kerry drove on from there, crucifying Monaghan on their own kick-outs in the third quarter, where they outscored the hosts 0-6 to no score. Not even a goal from Darren Hughes, coming against the run of play, could deter them as they fired back through Kieran Donaghy and then a David Moran penalty goal earned by the sharp-mindedness of Paul Murphy.
Composed and clever throughout, Colm Cooper gave his best performance in a Kerry jersey since returning from his cruciate surgery last season, kicking six points, including a couple from frees. Around the middle, Donaghy and Johnny Buckley were marginally in meaner form than Moran, who was returning from the hand injury that had ruled him out of the previous three games.
Monaghan’s lack of ambition cost them dearly, their failure to score for 20 minutes either side of half time a damning statistic, although credit is also due to the Kerry defence for swallowing up Conor McManus in the second half.
Aided by a first-half wind, Malachy O’Rourke admitted Monaghan had reverted to a more conservative approach in the first half having been ripped open by Cork. The problem was Kerry were only too happy to recycle and wait for gaps to appear.
“We felt after last week that we left ourselves very open against Cork and we just wanted to make sure that we set ourselves up defensively first of all. We didn’t think the wind was going to be that much of a factor. We thought that as long as we kept ourselves in the game that we’d be there in the second half as well.
“I still don’t think the wind was that big a factor. But for whatever reason we never got going in the second half and Kerry started to play well they used the ball very well. They kept recycling it until the right man got on the end of it.”
If anything, the half-time stalemate was unfair on Kerry who had more than a decent shout for a penalty foul on Cooper dismissed by David Coldrick towards the end of the first half. The sides were level on six occasions in that period but it was a counterattacking Monaghan who appeared more like the away team.
Kerry’s dominance manifested itself at the outset of the new half when Murphy, Cooper, and a brace from sub Alan Fitzgerald, one from a free, gave them a four-point advantage in eight minutes. More followed from Donaghy and Cooper, and Kerry had developed a double-score lead by the 47th minute, 0-12 to 0-6.
“I think we got on top of their kick-out more in the second half, it gave us a good platform,” said Fitzmaurice.
“Conditions were tough in the first half. There was a strong breeze — it seemed to die down but conditions were tough attacking-wise. Our handling and accuracy would have been a small bit off but at the same time the lads worked ferociously hard, but it was great to go in at half-time level.”
A massive Rory Beggan free ended Monaghan’s run before Hughes’ palmed goal followed Fitzgerald’s third point. Assisted by substitute Owen Duffy, the Monaghan score in the 57th minute made it a three-point game. However, the hosts’ next offering was of the consolation kind in injury-time.
Kerry’s response to the setback was effectively quick. Donaghy hooked over his second point and, from the following kick-out, Murphy seized on Beggan’s attempt at a quick restart. The Monaghan goalkeeper brought him down but Coldrick strangely kept his black card in his pocket.
Nevertheless, Moran’s finish to the corner was clinical and Kerry had regained the initiative and, indeed, made the game theirs.
Fitzgerald and fellow replacement Barry John Keane with a brace put more daylight between themselves and Monaghan, who managed to shoot over a couple of points in injury-time.
Scorers for Monaghan:
C McManus (0-5, 3 frees); D Hughes (1-0); D Mone, K O’Connell, R Beggan (free), R McAnespie (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kerry:
C Cooper (0-6, 4 frees); D Moran (1-1, 1-0 pen); A Fitzgerald (0-4, 1 free); K Donaghy, BJ Keane (0-2 each); D O’Sullivan, P Murphy (0-1 each).
R Beggan; C Walshe, D Wylie, R Wylie; V Corey, K O’Connell, F Kelly; K Hughes, N McAdam; D Mone, T Kerr, D Malone; D Hughes, C McManus, S Carey.
O Duffy for S Carey; R McAnespie for T Kerr (both 46); D Clerkin for D Malone (62).
D Mone (second yellow, 67).
B Kelly; S Enright, M Griffin, M Ó Sé; F Fitzgerald, P Crowley, A O’Mahony; K Donaghy, D Moran; D Walsh, P Murphy, J Buckley; D O’Sullivan, C Cooper, S O’Brien.
A Fitzgerald for S O’Brien (29); K Young for P Crowley (50); BJ Keane for D O’Sullivan (56); B O’Sullivan for J Buckley (62); P Geaney for C Cooper (64); A Walsh for D Walsh (68).
D Coldrick (Kerry)
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