Donegal 0-13 Kerry 1-9
Life after Michael Murphy. There might indeed be one for Donegal.
The man charged with taking over the captaincy pulled a match-winning score that could have been plucked straight from Murphy’s extensive back catalogue. In the depths of winter, it had the grace of summer.
In the 74th minute, and at the end of some patient Donegal build-up play, Patrick McBrearty took possession in a central position just inside the 45-metre line and dropped over a wonderful left-footed point.
It was his first score all afternoon at a windswept and rain-drenched MacCumhaill Park, but that moment of brilliance was the difference between Donegal and the reigning league and All-Ireland champions in Ballybofey.
“I knew there was a big performance in the team, particularly the fact that the lads are only getting to know us and we’re getting to know them,” said new Donegal manager Paddy Carr.
“At this time of the year, you want to know what kind of character, passion and purpose that is in the lads and until you go out in a game like that, that’s where you find out.
“We’ve told lads umpteen times not to be afraid, the biggest mistake is to be worrying about making a mistake. I just thought they played with a good bit of freedom there and they were trying to play good football in difficult conditions. It was very satisfying to see that.”
Kerry, who started with five players from last year’s All-Ireland final – Graham O’Sullivan, Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan, Tadhg Morley and Jack Barry – had the benefit of a diagonal crossfield wind at their backs in the first half, and they led 1-6 to 0-6 at the interval.
However, they managed just three points in the second half, registering six wides and dropping another short.
Apart from the opening quarter of the game, Kerry struggled to create any real momentum. They led 1-6 to 0-3 after 24 minutes but Donegal scored the next seven points – three at the end of the first half and four at the start of the second – to hit the front.
Donegal started with three debutants in Mark Curran, Caolan McColgan and Johnny McGroddy. McColgan’s finishing was superb, he ended the game with three points, though the second of those was disputed by Kerry afterwards.
His 30th-minute effort was initially waved over but when the validity of it was questioned by the linesman, referee Liam Devenney went in and spoke with his umpires. Ultimately, the white flag was waved once again, leaving the score 1-6 to 0-5.
“Donegal had a point there that was blatantly wide,” said Jack O’Connor afterwards.
“Everyone in the stand could see that. That was a yard wide but anyway, look, sure it is what it is, you don’t get many breaks when you come to away grounds like this.
“I felt we deserved a point out of it at minimum. But that is it, we go down the road with our tails between our legs and we will go and try and regroup for next week.”
Dara Roche was Kerry’s sole starting debutant and he finished the game with 0-3.
The sides were separated at the break by Moynihan’s 14th-minute goal when Donegal got caught in possession and gifted the visitors the ball. The score highlighted the risk that comes with the modern roaming goalkeeping role. After taking a short kick-out to Mark Curran, Patton moved out of his goal to make himself available for a possible return pass.
Curran gave a short handpass to Brendan McCole inside the D, but he was seized upon by Moynihan who disposed the Donegal full back and the Kerry centre forward had an empty Donegal goal at which to place his left-footed shot, 1-2 to 0-2.
Donegal were guilty of getting turned over too often in the first half but after the break they were cuter in possession. Daire Ó Baoill, Conor O’Donnell and Jamie Brennan kicked some good scores early in the second half as they reeled in Kerry.
There was always only the kick of a ball between them during the last quarter and a fisted point by Donal O’Sullivan following a purposeful run in the last minute of normal time looked to have salvaged a draw for Kerry.
But McBrearty had other ideas. With the game entering the last of the four minutes of injury-time that had been announced, Donegal were prepared to be patient and play the ball around, waiting for an opportunity to present itself.
And, on this day of all days, it was fitting the ball should end up in the hands of Donegal’s new captain. Despite the circumstances, he stroked the ball with a calmness of a man that said, ‘I’ve got this.’
Michael Murphy would have approved.
The show goes on.
DONEGAL: Shaun Patton (0-1, one 45); Mark Curran, Brendan McCole, Caolan Ward; Caolan McColgan (0-3), Stephen McMenamin, Martin O’Reilly; Caolan McGonagle, Jason McGee; Daire Ó Baoill (0-2), Hugh McFadden, Johnny McGroddy (0-1); Conor O’Donnell (0-3), Patrick McBrearty (0-1), Jamie Brennan (0-1).
Subs: Luke McGlynn (0-1) for McFadden (42 mins); Jack McKelvy for McGroddy (64)
KERRY: Shane Murphy; Graham O’Sullivan, Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan (0-1); Mike Breen, Tadhg Morley, Paul Murphy (0-2); Jack Barry, Barry O’Sullivan; Micheál Burns, Dara Moynihan (1-0), Arian Spillane; Tony Brosnan, Darragh Roche (0-3), Killian Spillane (0-1).
Subs: Ruairí Murphy (0-1) for Spillane, Pádraig Warren for Breen (both 48 mins); Stefan Okunbor for Barry O’Sullivan, Donal O’Sullivan (0-1) for Burns (both 55); Greg Horan for Moynihan (61).
Referee: Liam Devenney (Mayo).