Sweetest ever for Kerry kids

All-Ireland SFC Final
Kerry 2-9 Donegal 0-12
It may have looked sour but for Kerry this was sweet.

Possibly the sweetest ever. It may have been their 37th time doing it and yet this was like none before, sealed by a performance and a winning scoreline so unKerry-like.

Go back to pre-Munster final and how James O’Donoghue, the Footballer of the Year in waiting, was deep in reflection about how much the Kerry public were running down their own players. “You’re kind of questioning are you a true Kerry player and do you deserve to be wearing that shirt?” he shrugged, recalling that period.

But nobody, at the outset of this summer, had seen this coming. As well as it might be Kerry that again finish top of the pile, it’s refreshing that football can continue to surprise and marvel.

That being said, the 82,124 crowd that watched on yesterday will agree the game itself hardly took anyone’s breath away. It was dour and it was a dirge, effectively decided by an eagle-eyed renaissance man pouncing on a rare mistake by the best goalkeeper in the country this season.

However, the result did confirm one thing — nobody adapts better than Kerry. Key to their survival against Mayo and ultimate success had been their ability to change. Look at their back-line yesterday and the comfort each of them finds in filling any one of the six positions.

Where Donegal were rigid, Kerry were flexible and had shown as much throughout the summer. “Every day we cut our cloth to measure,” said Eamonn Fitzmaurice. “Today we knew that we had to be a good bit more defensive than we have been all year but that’s down to the players at my disposal. There’s a trust between me and them. They trust me and the management to get it right and if we ask them to do something they do it.”

Like under Jack O’Connor, Fitzmaurice revels in assigning the match-ups. Even though Darach O’Connor was part of the plans, Fionn Fitzgerald was more than level to his dynamic threat. Although they indulged in some dark arts, the discipline of the Kerry half-back line in keeping their shape and composure was fundamental to victory.

There was some fortune too. There was nothing lucky about Paul Geaney’s shot, he finished beautifully after gathering the ball, but Stephen O’Brien’s initial shot had been a mis-hit.

The goal deprived Donegal of the tempo-setting lead and the first half was for the most part played on Kerry’s terms. It wasn’t until the 29th minute that Donegal scored from play and that was a ground effort by Odhran Mac Niallais. The four scores prior to that had all come from placed balls as Kerry funnelled into the centre to foil Donegal, illegitimately at times.

Marc Ó Sé was ruling the roost in his battle with Colm McFadden and further out Aidan O’Mahony was coping well on Michael Murphy.

Paul Durcan looked nervy when he was challenged by Geaney for a long O’Donoghue delivery, the ball trickling wide. Kerry had another goal chance when Geaney blazed over from close range when Kieran Donaghy was in a better position.

A Karl Lacey point in the 31st minute was the last of the half, the sides level 1-3 to 0-6 at the interval, and Murphy put Donegal ahead for the first time three minutes into the new half, the captain not even looking at the posts as he successfully swung for them.

Murphy, by that stage, had been stationed to full-forward where Donaghy had been causing so much of a nuisance for Donegal in the first half. On more than one occasion, Eamon McGee was glad to have another defender to help him out as Donaghy used his body to great effect to win or at least break ball.

A majestic Paul Murphy point from the Cusack Stand sideline restored parity in the 39th minute although it was another 12 minutes before another score was registered as both sides, Kerry in particular, booted wide after wide. Kerry were also struggling on their own kick-out yet looked to be getting the upper hand in several individual battles.

Killian Young’s gumption to take on two defenders earned him a free, which substitute Barry John Keane sent over, eventually ended the barren spell. And then came Donaghy’s goal in the 52nd minute, which had followed another Kerry wide. With a short, quick kick-out, Durcan failed to find his target and Donaghy punished him mercilessly.

It was a cruel blow for Durcan but Donegal almost recovered, bringing Kerry to within a point of them via two points from replacement Paddy McBrearty and a tasty Neil McGee effort.

Kerry fired eight wides in the second-half but Johnny Buckley wasn’t among the erratic, his 57th minute score a splendid effort to push his side into a two-point lead.

Keane was blessed to win a free for a tackle by Neil Gallagher, and he duly sent it over. And the fortitude of the Kerry rearguard was illustrated by Peter Crowley’s acrobatic block on David Walsh in the 60th minute.

Donaghy showed no end of skill to take an O’Mahony diagonal ball while under pressure before fisting over the bar and Kerry were four up again.

Substitutes Dermot Molloy, with his first touch, and then Christy Toye made it a two-point game once more but it was another auxiliary in the form of Bryan Sheehan who then split the posts with a 69th minute free after Buckley had been felled.

But for the woodwork, McFadden may have forced a replay when he reacted quickly to a deflected McBrearty shot. A let-off it most certainly was but even Jim McGuinness acknowledged it would have masked an afternoon when Kerry performed better.

And to think it was achieved by one if not the youngest Kerry teams of all times in the charge of their youngest ever manager. Sweet indeed.

Scorers for Kerry: P Geaney (0-1 free), K Donaghy (1-2 each); BJ Keane (0-2, frees); P Murphy, J Buckley, B Sheehan (free) (0-1 each).

Scorers for Donegal: M Murphy (0-4, 0-3 frees); P McBrearty (0-2); C McFadden (free), O Mac Niallais, K Lacey, N McGee, D Molloy, C Toye (0-1 each).

KERRY: B Kelly; F Fitzgerald, A O’Mahony, M Ó Sé; P Murphy, P Crowley, K Young; A Maher, D Moran; D Walsh, S O’Brien, J Buckley; P Geaney, K Donaghy, J O’Donoghue.

Subs for Kerry: M Geaney for S O’Brien (h-t); BJ Keane for P Geaney (49 mins); S Enright for F Fitzgerald (55); Declan O’Sullivan for D Walsh (57); B Sheehan for D Moran (68); K O’Leary for K Donaghy (70+1); J Buckley (black, 70+2).

DONEGAL: P Durcan; N McGee, E McGee, P McGrath; K Lacey, F McGlynn, A Thompson; R Kavanagh, N Gallagher; O Mac Niallais, L McLoone, R McHugh; C McFadden, M Murphy, D O’Connor.

Subs for Donegal: C Toye for D O’Connor (28 mins); P McBrearty for R McHugh (46); M McElhinney for O Mac Niallais (52); David Walsh for Leo McLoone (57); D Molloy for R Kavanagh (64).

Referee: E Kinsella (Laois).



Breaking Stories

Football rumours from the media

Whelan reflects on Ireland career ahead of Northern Ireland clash

Comment: John Gallagher’s emotional ties more black than green

Comment: After bile of Windsor Park 1993, peace came ‘dropping slow’ for the North

Breaking Stories

Learning points: The truth is now being twisted in full view

’Tis the season to be sweet: What makes a good chocolate bar?

Gavin Bryars going with the flow

A question of taste with Tonie Walsh

More From The Irish Examiner