Kerry and All-Ireland quarter-finals. At this stage, framed by their own hyphened, hinged parlance. Ring-rusty. Lethargic-like. Semi-sloppy. But powder still dry. And winning to boot.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s crew were on the train down to Kerry by the time Mayo and Roscommon battled themselves into inconclusiveness in the second of yesterday’s double-bill at Croke Park. News of the replay date and venue was confirmed last night, with both camps happy that a second bite this day week will round off a hectic bank holiday championship weekend in both codes.
After the exclamation point delivered by Armagh on Saturday night, yesterday’s clamour for semi-final spots had a somewhat unsatisfactory feel to it. While Mayo’s slugfest with Roscommon was absorbing for the fact that momentum swayed east and west until the 78th minute, their Connacht neighbours will feel frustrated that they didn’t ask more questions of Kerry in the opener. The vast majority of the 65,746 in attendance would agree.
An eight-point winning margin, 1-18 to 0-13, doesn’t reflect the busy afternoon Kerry keeper Brian Kelly put down, but they rarely looked in real jeopardy once Kieran Donaghy — playing the football of his life, according to manager, Eamonn Fitzmaurice — rampaged his way in for the game’s only goal on 13 minutes.
Dirty petrol, another spluttering Kerry quarter-final special you can set your clock by, choked off the panache they showed on the first Sunday of the month in Killarney, but the indefatigable Paul Murphy and Johnny Buckley kept them on the straight and narrow whenever trouble beckoned.
Truly, Murphy has developed into a Rolls Royce performer, and Buckley’s return offers intelligence in the top half of the pitch and another defensive buffer behind midfield. Fitzmaurice agreed his captain led from the front in every sense of the word against Galway.
“There were periods of the game when we were a bit off it and he led with his workrate and his tackling and, obviously, with his football. He was excellent and a massive option on kickouts.”
If the effect of his busy afternoon was a welcome shot of confidence for Kerry keeper Kelly, the cause was another set of presentable goal chances created by teams running hard at Fitzmaurice’s defence.
Galway goals were the driver of Kevin Walsh’s game plan, but they failed to take any of four chances. The sense that a more clinical attack would expose Kerry is only marginally more seductive than the feeling a team with more self-belief than Galway could have done so yesterday.
Just before the break, Damien Comer surged through the Kerry cover again and this time beat Kelly but Fionn Fitzgerald cleared his goalbound effort off the line. Burke’s point from the next phase was poor consolation.
And still Galway were only pawing at Kerry most of the afternoon. Whether they weren’t inclined or unable to rouse themselves out of third gear, Kerry only looked faintly bothered when Galway surged with three points on the bounce before half-time.
Stephen O’Brien was introduced shortly after the interval and added two points, and though Sean Armstrong looked menacing when he charged at Kerry’s full-back line, there was enough variety in Kerry’s attacking changes to keep them out of harm’s way.
Jack Savage returned from illness to remind everyone he was close to starting the Munster final. The Tralee youngster has a spiky attitude that carries little respect for pecking orders. And yet he’ll hardly muscle past Kieran Donaghy, who looks in remarkable shape at 34, and represents a great advertisement for the spring regime of basketball and gym work.
The expanses of Croke Park made it problematic for Galway to get cover back in support of their full back David Walsh, who was outmatched mano a mano with Donaghy. One arrowed delivery from David Moran was enough to set the full-forward up for the goal that set Kerry on their way but there was more to be harvested had Kerry persisted with that well advertised tactic. Maybe they were pulling their cards in a touch.
With facile last-eight wins over Cavan, Clare, Galway before and Kildare over the past four seasons, Fitzmaurice will again have to rely on that tried and trusted crucible of training in Killarney to get his squad to the pitch required for an August 20th semi final meeting with either remaining Connacht contender.
That’s three weeks too for James O’Donoghue to recover fully from whatever “small knock” he picked up that blunted his sharpness in the quarter-final.
Barring any further injuries, Kerry should return to headquarters — “a home pitch at this stage”, shrugged Kevin Walsh afterwards — hungry for road.
BY contrast, if Mayo prevail next Monday in the replay, they’ll have clocked up over 500 minutes of toil by the time they face the Munster champions, who have been in action for a little over 200 minutes.
That the Mayo players are quarrying their way out of so many situations is a rare and wonderful thing to behold. Galway might have seen them off in the provincial semi final but they have a way to go before they can expect to match Mayo’s big-game nous.
Their manager Walsh acknowledged the cost of failing to retain their Connacht title, pitting them as it did against one of the “heavyweight” champions, as he put it, in the last eight.
“Our goal would have been to certainly try and get to the last four this year, maybe avoiding the top two along the way. (Kerry) are going to be in that top two in my opinion, but looking back at the chances we created, we needed to take one or two to really test them.”
On another day, with a different referee, Shane Enright’s charge on Johnny Heaney may have merited a black card, but David Coldrick’s yellow for the Tarbert man was not as perplexing as the same colour brandished by referee Joe McQuillan for Roscommon’s Tadhg O’Rourke for a cynical foul on Diarmuid O’Connor before half-time in the drawn quarter-final.
By that stage Mayo had overturned an early seven point deficit to go in at the break two in front. However, with 15 minutes to go, Roscommon’s vigour had them 2-8 to 1-10 in front, Donal Smith landing the first of two cracking scores into Hill 16.
When Paddy Durcan edged Mayo in front in the 68th minute, one thought they’d steer it home on autopilot, but Cillian O’Connor snatched at opportunities to win it, and Smith didn’t when it came to steering an injury time free over from 40 metres.
“That was great,” gushed Rossies manager Kevin McStay afterwards.
“We’d see that as money in the bank — not just for the replay but for next year and beyond in terms of our development.”
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