Rocky road hardened us up admits O'Connor
Victorious Kerry boss Jack O’Connor believes the hard road to the All-Ireland final worked wonders for his side as they gained revenge for their Munster Final defeat in winning their 36th Sam Maguire Trophy at Croke Park.
Cork’s replay victory sent Kerry on a tough trip through the qualifiers, but it was one that saw a harder side emerge according O’Connor.
“It’s been a great journey, a long rocky road,” he admitted in the aftermath of their four-point win this afternoon. “The evening we escaped below in Tralee against Sligo by a point, where Diarmuid saved the penalty with three minutes to go, you wouldn’t have given us much of a chance that evening.
“Deep down we felt that if we held in there the Lord would reward us and we turned the corner and I’m just delighted now,” he added.
O’Connor and his side were of the belief that Cork had yet to face a real battle in this year’s Championship, something that stood to Kerry yesterday.
“We said that before the game that we had hard, tough games this year, even in the league above in Omagh and Parnell Park,. We were able to draw on all of those and we felt Cork hadn’t been in a battle all year, and if it came down to a battle we had the advantage there.
“These fellahs are great battlers. Their heart and their character and everything else was questioned all year, but we’ve great faith in these fellahs through many a tough day.”
Today’s victory proved an emotional one for Tadhg Kennelly, who came back from an AFL Career in Australia to try and win an All-Ireland and join his brother Noel and late father Tim as a Celtic Cross holder.
“It’s unbelievable, very emotional. It hasn’t really sunk in, I’ve just been thinking about my father to tell you the truth,” said Kennelly, who put in a whirlwind 51 minutes before being replaced by Donnacha Walsh.
“I had spent my money, I wasn’t going to leave anything in the tank, you can’t afford to on a player like Graham Canty,” admitted Kennelly.
“If I went into the game saying I was going to try and save my legs, Graham would have soaked me up in the first 20 minutes. I just played my heart out as long as I could and I was quite happy, I did my day’s work and Donnacha came on and did his.”
The early five-point deficit failed to upset Kerry, with Kennelly pointing out that the game-plan allowed them plenty of scope to get back in the game.
“We talked about before the start of the game, we had a plan and Darragh Ó Sé and Jack were saying to stick to it no matter what happened throughout the game.
“We went five points down and ended up being three points up at half-time. It’s the great character of the team, we stick to the plan and stick to what we know.
“Look, it’s a great experience and a great bunch of lads out there, their was an awful lot thrown at them, they were knocked throughout the years and knocked this year. So to do what we have it’s absolutely unbelievable.”