The “who me?” look on Declan O’Sullivan’s face was the giveaway that he had not been substituted because of injury.
In the middle of the pitch, he mightn’t have heard his name being mentioned over the PA system but it was his replacement, Kieran O’Leary, who broke the bad news to him.
O’Sullivan was hardly the worst Kerry player on a day of under-performance for the team but Jack O’Connor had made his mind up that his Dromid Pearses club-mate had run his race for the day.
“Ah he just, you know, appeared to be running out of steam,” said the manager. “We were trying our best just to freshen it up and I think the fellas that came on did well for us.”
Given O’Sullivan’s impressive performances in the qualifiers, it’s a decision that might be held against O’Connor, whose own future as manager could now be at an end.
Having finished his fourth season in his second term (seventh year in total), the post-mortem in Kerry will be forensic after a second campaign in three years came to an abrupt halt at the quarter-finals stage.
He preferred to keep counsel on his future yesterday, saying “it’s a bit early for that kind of stuff”. He rued Eoin Brosnan’s early injury and then Bryan Sheehan’s.
He pointed to Colm McFadden’s freak goal, a score he said shouldn’t have been conceded (“any day you concede a goal from a sideline is a bad day”), as key to giving Donegal a platform they refused to surrender.
“Our form had come good in the last few weeks. We just came up against a very hungry team today who got whatever breaks were going.
“You’d have to say the sideline [goal] was a big score in the context of the game because it just gave them the confidence that they needed in the first half to, you know, play the game that they want to play.
“At the end of the day there was two points in it so that was a massive score. You know, take nothing away from Donegal, they were extremely hungry and fought very hard but so did our fellas, right to the bitter end.”
It wasn’t that Donegal surprised O’Connor — they did exactly what he expected them to do. “I felt they would go pretty offensive early on and, if they got ahead, withdraw a bit and that’s more or less how it panned out.”
Donegal never went behind and O’Connor felt Kerry would have tested their opponents’ mettle had they drawn level. He also said the arrival of the rain during the game didn’t help.
“I don’t want to be blaming the elements but the way we wanted to do it, to get ball and kick it in, I don’t think the rain was any great blessing.”
Kicking five wides in either half, Kerry were made to pay for their erratic shooting.
“In the first half we snatched at a lot of chances and rushed chances and that. We needed to show more patience.
“I thought we did that a bit better in the second half. We rotated the ball a bit better.”
O’Connor added: “We thought we were getting to grips with them late on there, we’d just have liked to have another minute or so injury time.
“I think there was two played, maybe we could have done with another minute. Look, at the end of the day you have to say that on balance they were the better team.”
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