Austin Stacks march on to Munster decider as tight defence sets the tone

Darragh O’Brien and Kieran Donaghy make the most of accurate long balls up front

Austin Stacks (Kerry) 1-15 Newcastle West (Limerick) 0-8

Seeking their first provincial title in seven years, Kerry senior football champions Austin Stacks proved too strong for Limerick counterparts Newcastle West on their home turf in Tralee as they advanced to meet Cork’s St Finbarrs in the Munster final. A controlled opening quarter put them in control of their destiny and derailed the Newcastle challenge before it could even begin.

While the scoreboard would suggest that the difference between the sides lay up front, the outcome was decided first of all by a superbly disciplined Stacks rearguard that barely gave the opposing attack a sniff of an opening before the break.

Led by the faultless contribution of skipper Dylan Casey, they swarmed like locusts around any potential threat, throttling the Limerick side’s confidence right from the get-go as they were forced into overplaying the ball up front and hesitating to make the break that would open up the channels.

That composure also allowed the Rockies to launch the quick move from deep and get the long ball quickly into a full-forward line where the ball-winning abilities of the evergreen Kieran Donaghy and Darragh O'Brien left their markers struggling throughout to contain.

Midfield was the only sector where both sides slugged it out and provided the platform for a brief Magpie revival after the break when Cian Sheehan and Iain Corbett threatened to get their side back into contention. But it was always going to be a long shot given they were coming from a 10-point deficit and whatever chance they had of building on it disappeared when Brendan O'Sullivan grabbed the game's only goal off a flashing return from the kick-out.

Early Newcastle attacks failed to open up the space for a shot before they fell behind to Seán Quilter’s free. Another pair were converted by Darragh O’Brien as the Magpies’ rearguard struggled under the long delivery and, with the ice broken, Brendan O’Sullivan and O’Brien struck to give Stacks a lead of 0-5 to 0-0 by the water-break.

Newcastle fared better when play resumed and Eoin Hurley’s free got them off the mark but it only spurred a Rockies reply. Mixing runs up the centre with the long ball, Donaghy, O’Brien’s free, Donaghy again and another O’Brien free moved their lead out to 0-9 to 0-1 by half-time.

The hosts stretched their legs further on the restart as O'Brien struck from a free and from play to move the gap out to 10 but, just when it appeared that that was that, a Newcastle move dropped the final delivery into Stephen Stack to get behind the backline. While his shot was smothered by the advancing Wayne Guthrie, he drew a free for Hurley to punish.

It spurred the Magpies to give it a lash. Mike McMahon from a mark, Diarmaid Kelly and Corbett ignited a faint glimmer of hope. But the moment the momentum stuttered, the clearance found Greg Horan in enough space for an untroubled reply.

Whatever hope of there still being a game in it were quenched when Quilter ran on to the break from the kick-out and his handpass found O’Sullivan to fist to the net. He then followed up with a point to wipe out the entire burst of Magpie scores and leave them trailing 1-13 to 0-5 at the second water-break.

Play opened up in the final quarter as the subs trooped on and the clock wound down. Sheehan’s solo effort was met by Shane O’Callaghan and Hurley’s free by O’Brien before Kelly signed off the scoring.

AUSTIN STACKS: Wayne Guthrie; Colin Griffin, Dylan Casey, Jack O'Shea; Paul O'Sullivan. Conor Jordan, Barry Shanahan; Joseph O'Connor, Greg Horan (0-1); Michael O'Gara, Fiachna Mangan, Brendan O'Sullivan (1-2); Seán Quilter (0-1, free), Kieran Donaghy (0-2, one mark), Darragh O'Brien (0-8, five frees).

Subs: Armin Heinrich for Jack O'Shea (inj, 40 mins), Shane O'Callaghan (0-1) for Fiachna Mangan (43), Michael O'Donnell for Kieran Donaghy (50), Jack Morgan for Paul O'Sullivan (53), David Fitzmaurice for Michael O'Gara (54).

NEWCASTLE WEST: Andrew Ruddle; Michael O'Keeffe, Darren O'Doherty, Brian O'Sullivan; Eoin Murphy, Steven Brosnan, James Kelly; Cian Sheehan (0-1), Iain Corbett (0-1); AJ O'Connor, Shane Stack, Brian Hurley; Bryan Nix, Mike McMahon (0-1, mark), Eoin Hurley (0-3, three frees).

Subs: Diarmaid Kelly (0-2) for Brian Hurley (27 mins), Seán Murphy for Steven Brosnan (ht), Thomas Quilligan for Shane Stack (39), Lee Woulfe for James Kelly (45), Donnchadh Woods for Mike McMahon (51).

Referee: Seán Lonergan (Tipperary).