Kerry 7-16 Kildare 0-10
A nearly perfect afternoon for Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice saw the champions rack up a record score for an All-Ireland quarter-final and produce major impact off the bench, as well as a resounding return to Croke Park for Colm Cooper, who made an unscheduled start and finished with 2-3, all but a point from play, and all of this despite the absence of captain Kieran Donaghy who was a late withdrawal with a groin strain.
The only significant concern was an injury to Footballer of the Year James O’Donoghue, who sustained a knock suspiciously reminiscent of the shoulder damage that required surgery and kept him out for over six months after last year’s All-Ireland final.
Fitzmaurice was hopeful that the injury hadn’t been a dislocation but scan results will be anxiously awaited.
Otherwise it was a fine performance even if Kildare’s challenge evaporated after half-time. They plugged away in a largely featureless first 35 minutes, showing sharper scoring instincts and assembling a functional seven-point lead without the exchanges ever suggesting that the match was about to turn into a rout.
Kildare manager Jason Ryan must wish that they had been able simply to cash out in Thurles the week before after surprising Cork, deciding to take the winnings and leave the table with something to show for a season that has seen them concede a championship total of 12-34 in two Croke Park visits against Dublin and Kerry.
They started feisty enough, defending with vim, vigour and caution, as Kevin Murnaghan played a sweeping role and Ollie Lyons was having a good tussle with O'Donoghue. They also had plenty of possession and Tommy Moolick and Paul Cribbin showed some of the energy and mobility that had been so impressive against Cork.
There were however two main problems. Firstly, Kerry chipped away on the scoreboard gradually building a total like a careful cricket innings. O'Donoghue and Paul Geaney threatened whereas Cooper played deep at times but it was Stephen O'Brien who provided an unexpected cutting edge, shooting four points in the first half.
A difficult and gusting wind made conditions awkward but it appeared to undermine Kildare to a greater extent. They dropped shots short, spilled ball and kicked wides and each error asked increasingly hard questions of their resolve. At first they responded well and had even reduced the margin to two, 0-3 to 0-5 by the 21st minute with Niall Kelly feinting and shimmying his way to a couple of points but that this meagre score ended up as their first-half total tells its own story.
They weren't entirely waterproof at the back either, as Geaney nearly got past Fitzpatrick for an early goal chance after a clever ball by Cooper and in the 28th minute O'Donoghue was one-on-one with goalkeeper Mark Donnellan, who dispossessed him and in the ensuing tumble the Kerry forward was injured.
There are a few ways in which a match can disintegrate as a contest but if any team is planning to make it happen, six goals in 17 minutes is as good a recipe as any. In fact it can be distilled down to five in nine.
The green-flag rush began with an element of misfortune - Donnchadh Walsh reacting to the rebound from Ciarán Fitzpatrick's fine block on his original shot to fire home the match's first goal - and continued to run on the high-octane fuel of Darran O'Sullivan's introduction to the match.
The 2009 All-Ireland winning captain’s trademark game is energetic and fast running at defences and this proved extraordinarily effective, teeing up a slap-in 45th-minute goal for Cooper and supporting the latter who returned the compliment for the third two minutes later.
The sequence continued with Barry John Keane, O'Donoghue's replacement whose fine form continued with 1-3 from play, Cooper again after a good ball from Anthony Maher, who with David Moran had thoroughly imposed Kerry's domination at centrefield, O'Brien and finally O'Sullivan with his second for a personal tally of 2-1.
Kildare were terribly disappointing. The wind that had filled their sails in Thurles blew out and left them becalmed. The careful and diligent defensive work of the first half fell apart, leaving defenders exposed and Kerry were able to tear the flimsy cover to shreds, creating and executing their devastating goal chances.
Walsh’s opening goal gave Kerry a nine-point lead, 1-10 to 0-4, but in the whirlwind that followed, that deficit trebled in the remaining half-hour.
Fitzmaurice acknowledged that Kerry had been trying to generate greater impact off the bench and he had reason to be delighted.
An array of former All Stars joined the fray and made useful contributions, even aside from O’Sullivan’s and Keane’s accumulated 3-4.
There were two especially significant returns, one by 2009 Footballer of the Year Paul Galvin, who came on for the final 15 minutes and the other by Tommy Walsh, who has had a harder time than expected recovering from the horror-injury he sustained in the AFL last year and who spent the last 10 minutes plucking high ball from the sky after replacing Maher.
The timing of Kerry’s run into form and momentum is spot-on and they will wait for a week to see whether they face Ulster champions Monaghan in an All-Ireland semi-final with ancient resonance on the 30th anniversary of the counties’ epic replayed contest at the same stage or resume their most confounding modern rivalry, against Mickey Harte’s Tyrone.
Either way, they’ll be up for it.
KERRY: B Kealy; P Murphy, S Enright, M Ó Sé; A O'Mahony, K Young, J Lyne; A Maher, D Moran; S O'Brien (1-4), B Sheehan, D Walsh (1-0); C Cooper (2-3, one fee), P Geaney (0-2), J O'Donoghue (0-3, one fee).
Subs: BJ Keane (1-3) for O'Donoghue (31 mins), Darran O'Sullivan (2-1) for P Geaney (42 mins), P Crowley for Ó Sé (50 mins), PGalvin for Walsh (54 mins), J Buckley for Sheehan (54 mins), T Walsh for Maher (60 mins).
KILDARE: M Donnellan; O Lyons (0-1), C Fitzpatrick, M O'Grady; K Murnaghan, E Doyle (0-1), E Bolton; T Moolick, P Cribbin; C McNally, E O'Flaherty (0-1), P O'Neill (0-2); E Callaghan (capt), A Smith (0-2), N Kelly (0-2).
Subs: P Kelly for Callaghan (43 mins), F Conway for Murnaghan (51 mins), P Fogarty for N Kelly (54 mins), M Sherry for McNally (57 mins), F Dowling (0-1) for Moolick (62 mins), G White for Bolton (67 mins).
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath).