Kerry class wins out in the rain against a spirited Tyrone
Kingdom book place in All-Ireland final but were made to work by Ulster side
Kieran Donaghy clashes with Tiarna McCann during the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship semi-final between Kerry and Tyrone at Croke Park. Photo: Donall Farmer/INPHO
Matthew Donnelly tries to block Kerry’s David Moran at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Grealy/Inpho
Kerry 0-18 Tyrone 1-11
For a match that ended much as most people believed it would, this All-Ireland semi-final provided a riveting contest. Ultimately Kerry’s quality showed in the greater facility with which they took scores but Tyrone posed a more serious threat to the champions than is apparent from the scoreline.
That four-point cushion would have seemed like a mirage to Kerry supporters after an hour’s play by which stage an seemingly emphatic five-point lead had unravelled.
Points from Colm Cavanagh and Mark Bradley in the 56th and 62nd minutes sandwiched a penalty, converted by Peter Harte and awarded for a foul on Barry Tierney, to leave the teams almost inexplicably level and the momentum swinging viciously against Kerry.
Somehow they stilled the maelstrom and patiently pieced together four more scores with Colm Cooper prominent with an assist for Anthony Maher’s lead point and getting fouled for a free converted by replacement Paul Geaney, who had come in for captain Kieran Donaghy at half-time and did well – jumping to take a great catch and kicking the second of the late sequence.
Barry John Keane added the insurance point in injury-time, swerving over a great kick from the left wing.
There was another penalty shout in the closing minutes but referee Maurice Deegan was sufficiently unimpressed not alone to refuse the penalty but also to show Pádraig McNulty a yellow card for diving.
On the basis of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger Kerry will have benefited from the scare but it looked for those fleeting minutes as if it could indeed kill their ambitions.
Mickey Harte had blighted Kerry’s ambitions so memorably and often in the past that there had been a curious sense of unease about the task facing Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s team – despite the apparent gap between the two counties at the moment.
Kerry are champions and have moved unbeaten through the season, whereas their opponents had picked their way through the sometimes perilous highways and by-ways of the qualifiers before shrugging off Ulster champions Monaghan.
Entertainment tax The game plan had been based on defence and swift counter-attack and given Kerry’s pragmatic instincts when faced with such tactics, few would have feared the imposition of entertainment tax in the run-up to the match.
That was another aspect of the semi-final that bucked the consensus. It was a fast-moving, always engaging football match, albeit one hampered by the ceaseless rain, which led to players losing balance and contributed to a high rate of turnovers on both sides.
Tyrone’s angst at letting the late opportunity slip will have been intensified by the ease with which they created goal chances. Four fell their way – two in either half – and were kept out by great defending when Marc Ó Sé blocked Connor McAliskey in the second minute and a good save by Brendan Kealy in the 44th.
Ó Sé was black-carded for pulling McAliskey down in the 16th minute and although it had the feel of a potentially watershed moment, Fionn Fitzgerald replaced the team’s most experienced defender without mishap. Black cards as is their wont caused some controversy. Ronan McNamee picked one up for fouling Colm Cooper in the 54th minute but a few minutes later Shane Enright was shown a yellow for a foul on Harte that looked a certain black.
McAliskey capitalised on a loose pass by Jonathan Lyne to race in on goal, ignore Darren McCurry on his right and blaze the ball over the bar in the 25th minute and Tiernan McCann – a fortnight of controversy behind him – pulled on a loose ball, sweeping it wide in the 46th.
There were other missed chances. Goalkeeper Niall Morgan’s place kicking went on the blink after an early success and some of his kick-outs also got the team into trouble with Cooper scoring twice in a minute because of an intercepted re-start.
Collective threat Kerry for their part never opened up Tyrone in the same way but their forwards were more creative and posed a greater collective threat. James O’Donoghue betrayed few signs of his recent shoulder injury and was busy and useful, even if his accuracy wasn’t 100 per cent.
Fitzmaurice’s changes worked well in general. Johnny Buckley, in for Bryan Sheehan, started in a force-field of energy, scoring the team’s first three points from play. Peter Crowley marked Seán Cavanagh effectively and if Donaghy was replaced by Geaney at half-time, the latter went on to have a good match. All the Kerry forwards scored from play.
The match was, however, at least as much about work-rate – exemplified by wing forward Donnchadh Walsh – and the champions didn’t disappoint in that regard either, maintaining their defensive shape and covering up and down even if the openness to Tyrone’s running will have caused some concern.
Donaghy’s last act before being replaced was an important one, restoring a lead that Kerry had lost a bit casually at the end of the first half when Mattie Donnelly exploited a Cooper turnover to equalise.
Kerry should have put the match to bed when stretching into a five-point lead by the 55th minute.
Overall it was an ideal semi-final for Kerry: victory over significant adversaries for which they had to work and which also leaves plenty of room for improvement in the weeks before they face Dublin or Mayo in this year’s All-Ireland final.
KERRY: 1 Brendan Kealy; 3 Marc Ó Sé, 6 Peter Crowley, 4 Shane Enright; 2 Paul Murphy, 5 Jonathan Lyne, 7 Killian Young; 8 Anthony Maher (0-1), 9 David Moran; 10 Stephen O’Brien (0-2), 11 Johnny Buckley (0-3), 12 Donnchadh Walsh (0-1); 13 Colm Cooper (0-2, one free), 14 Kieran Donaghy (0-1), 15 James O’Donoghue (0-4, three frees, 0-1 45). Subs: 22 Fionn Fitzgerald for Ó Sé (black card, 17 mins), 19 Paul Geaney (0-3, one free) for Donaghy (half-time), 18 Bryan Sheehan for Moran (55 mins), 21 Darran O’Sullivan for O’Brien (60 mins), 17 Aidan O’Mahony for Crowley (62 mins), 20 Barry John Keane (0-1) for Walsh (70 mins).
TYRONE: 1 Niall Morgan (0-1, free); 3 Ronan McNamee, 6 Justin McMahon, 4 Cathal McCarron; 10 Tiernan McCann, 5 Ronan McNabb (0-1), 2 Aidan McCrory; 8 Colm Cavanagh (0-1), 9 Mattie Donnelly (0-1); 11 Mark Bradley (0-2), 7 Peter Harte (1-0, pen), 12 Conor Meyler; 13 Darren McCurry (0-3, one free), 14 Seán Cavanagh, 15 Connor McAliskey (0-2). Subs: 24 Pádraig McNulty for Meyler (47 mins), 26 Barry Tierney for McCrory (55 mins), 19 Conor Clarke for McNamee (black card, 55 mins), 25 Ronan O’Neill for McCurry (66 mins).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).