Kerry reclaim Sam Maguire as late surge helps them overcome valiant Galway

Fascinating duel between Shane Walsh and David Clifford distinguishes absorbing final

KERRY 0-20 GALWAY 0-16

The persistent sense of destiny about Kerry this season was ultimately vindicated in Croke Park on Sunday when a surge in the last 10 minutes took them clear of Galway in a fascinating All-Ireland final.

This Atlantic rivalry stretches back through various eras of championship football over the past century and it lived up to its heritage in a match in which Galway threatened to upstage the Munster champions for much of the afternoon.

Their talismanic forward Shane Walsh seized the platform of his first All-Ireland final to deliver a wonderful performance, four points from play and place kicking unerringly until the frantic minutes of injury-time when he took on a hugely difficult free from the Cusack Stand side and it drifted wide.


For a long period though he had done so much to position his team for a surprise 10th All-Ireland but the prospects of the prize ebbed away.

There was too little support from the other forwards and whereas Cillian McDaid had a heroic match, pushing up from centrefield, he was at times stretching for scores to supplement a creditable 0-4 from play.

It says a great deal about David Clifford that, although somewhat overshadowed, he scored nearly as much as Walsh and provided lifelines for Kerry when they weren’t going well in another display of leading from the front that surely copper-fastened the 2022 Footballer of the Year citation.

In the end Kerry hit the sort of markers they needed, almost doubling Galway’s turnovers but their opponents made counter-attacking difficult with a tight defensive set that saw just one other player, apart from David Clifford, score from play in the first half.

Galway probably needed a bigger half-time lead than a point, 0-8 to 0-7, and on the restart Jack O’Connor made the big call to replace his two most experienced players, David Moran and Paul Geaney. Kerry’s display tightened and was less susceptible to Galway’s rapier thrusts through the defence.

They also improved their scoring efficiency and the combined effect tilted the balance of the contest as the match wore on. There was also the impact of their bench, which included Killian Spillane striking for a couple of points plus a converted free and Micheál Burns, who brought great energy to their endgame, transitioning from defence into attack.

So, it came to pass. The most pressurised appointment imaginable – effectively come back with the All-Ireland or don’t come back – ended in ringing vindication for Kerry’s O’Connor, as he for the third time delivered Sam Maguire to the county in the first year of a managerial term.

But it looked a potential nightmare in the first half. Kerry started poorly with captain Seán O’Shea drastically wide from an early free. He showed gumption though to track his marker Liam Silke, who had a good afternoon on him, and block for a 45, which Walsh converted for the first score.

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Galway picked some gorgeous lines of attack with deft kick passes into space to open up opportunity. In the eighth minute, Johnny Heaney characteristically ghosted in for a goal chance that ended up taking a deflection for a point.

Kerry, crucially, kept afloat. David Clifford showed for ball and Stephen O’Brien had a hard-working afternoon until being withdrawn in the last quarter. Graham O’Sullivan performed well on Rob Finnerty but also lasered in some excellent kick passes for his forwards, Geaney and Clifford taking much needed scoring marks.

The sense that Galway might be in luck hardened when they got away with a botched defensive free routine between Connor Gleeson and John Daly, who otherwise once again showed fantastic accuracy in feeding his team’s attacks.

O’Connor acted at the break and his changes helped to turn the tide. Kerry were tighter at the back as well, making it harder for Galway to release runners into space.

Conversely Kerry began to find more space. Paudie Clifford after a quiet first half due to diligent marking by Jack Glynn, found openings and Diarmuid O’Connor, who had productive spells got on the scoreboard shortly after the resumption.

It all remained in the balance even after David Clifford kicked Kerry in front in the 42nd minute at which point it felt as if the match was draining from Galway but they rallied and reclaimed the lead with McDaid extending it to two in the 47th minute.

From there on, though, the match moved away from them and they were outscored 0-2 to 0-8 in the 20 minutes-plus that followed. Wides crept into their game after a first half of extraordinary economy – just one.

They still couldn’t get their forwards other than Walsh meaningfully into the game. McDaid kicked a couple of wides looking to make good the deficit but also drew a free for Walsh to cut the deficit.

Comer had come deeper to try and get into the proceedings and took a fine mark around centrefield, which McDaid turned into an equaliser as late as the 65th minute.

Thereafter their bolt was shot. The decisive scoring burst started controversially with Daly being penalised for fouling Spillane while in possession. It ended symbolically with the fourth point of the lead in the fifth minute of injury-time.

O’Shea kicked a free for the last score of the afternoon after Gleeson – lucky not to have been black-carded in the 49th minute for taking down Killian Spillane – fouled Joe O’Connor to tee up the final act.

Eight years in the waiting, Sam Maguire is heading back to familiar territory.

KERRY: 1. Shane Ryan; 4. Tom O’Sullivan, 3. Jason Foley, 2. Graham O’Sullivan (0-1); 5. Brian Ó Beaglaíoch, 6. Tadhg Morley, 7. Gavin White (0-1); 8. David Moran, 9. Jack Barry; 10. Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1), 11. Seán O’Shea (capt; 0-3, frees), 12. Stephen O’Brien (0-1); 13. Paudie Clifford (0-2), 14. David Clifford (0-8, 0-3f, 0-2m), 15. Paul Geaney (0-1).

Subs: 18. Killian Spillane (0-2) for Geaney (half-time), 19. Adrian Spillane for Moran (half-time), 20. Micheál Burns for O’Brien (56 mins), 17. Paul Murphy for Ó Beaglaíoch (63 mins), 21. Joe O’Connor for P Clifford, (73 mins).

GALWAY: 1. Connor Gleeson; 7. Kieran Molloy (0-1), 3, Sean Kelly (capt), 4. Jack Glynn (0-1); 5. Dylan McHugh, 2. Liam Silke, 6. John Daly; 8. Paul Conroy, 9. Cilian McDaid (0-4); 10. Patrick Kelly, 11. Matthew Tierney, 12. Johnny Heaney (0-1); 13. Rob Finnerty, 14. Damien Comer, 15. Shane Walsh (0-9, 0-4f, one 45).

Subs: 23. Finnian Ó Laoí for Finnerty (47 mins), 19. Cathal Sweeney for Conroy (58 mins), 24. Eoin Finnerty for Heaney (63 mins), 20. Niall Daly for Tierney (74 mins).

Referee: Seán Hurson (Tyrone).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times