Kerry looking sharp but Donegal’s late surge gives food for thought
Éamonn Fitzmaurice can return south happy with a job well done and with finesse
Kerry’s Paul Geaney celebrates his second goal. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Inpho
Kerry 2-17 Donegal 1-17
One hundred different stories lie within the goal separating Northwest v Southwest. The joy of opening day is that any one of them may be true.
There were times during this end-to-end encounter when Kerry looked so irresistible and crisp that it was easy to picture the perpetual contenders as likely contenders on the third Sunday in September.
At times, it looked as if they would overwhelm Rory Gallagher’s very young Donegal team through physical power, clean direct passing and the sharp finishing for which they are famed.
The stats for Kerry’s full-forward line – 2-10 from play, with Paul Geaney hammering 2-4 over what was a monumental shift – suggest a torrid day for Donegal’s full-back line.
In a way, it was and Donegal certainly would have chosen a different Sunday for Neil McGee, there resident fullback, to be struck down with a vomiting bug. But the improvised back three were under enormous pressure from the variety and number of Kerry’s runners from deep: Tom O’Sullivan, in particular, could hardly believe the space he was given and Donnchadh Walsh did his usual thing of making it seem as if there were at least four Donnchadh Walsh’s on the field.
Kerry had conspired for 2-15 with only 45 minutes gone and several of the official attendance of 6,320 had made for the consolations of Letterkenny’s main drag. It was hard to believe then that the home team would be pushing hard for an equalising score in the last minutes of injury -time.
“Think it was eight at one stage,” laughed Rory Gallagher, when asked how he felt when his side trailed by seven.
“And we were saying that it could go one of two ways. But look, we fought back and showed great courage and conviction to come back at them, 1-17 most days would get you over the line most days. So as I said we are changing the way we play football over the last number of years. We are trying out a number of new players and there are going to be days like that so we are trying to marry the two together. With the forward line Kerry named we could make a decision to camp in our own half and try and get a result. But we have to look at the bigger picture and that is what we tried to do.”
The argument seems fair. Donegal have shown in recent years that they are adept at circling the wagons. They could have done that here and learned nothing. In the first half, they made several sparkling attacking incisions fuelled by Marty O’Reilly’s outrageous sprinting with the ball from half back and the best of those resulted in the 24th penalty which Michael Murphy dispatched to give the home team a very brief lead. Crucially, Kerry ran the ball the length of the field with Jack Barry finding Geaney for his opening goal.
“It was a great reaction to get up the field so quickly and to get a goal straight away because we had started quite well and the penalty seemed to be against the run of play but it brought them back into it. But we responded then and we kicked on from there,” Éamonn Fitzmaurice said as his reserves ran sprints in the waning sunshine.
The Kerry manager must have been pleased by the razor sharp form of O’Donoghue while David Moran ran the world from midfield until Donegal finally brought Murphy out there. But in a way, it was encouraging that Donegal declined to use Murphy has a fire-stopper and stuck to their plan.
They have some really silky ball carriers and got fine returns here from Naomh Conall’s Ciarán Thompson and Darrach O’Connor, back after two years of very little football.
Donegal reeled off 0-6 without reply in the closing 11 minutes and had a shout – well, a yelp – for a penalty during the exciting closing act. Anything other than a Kerry win here would have been downright bizarre and yet . . .
The game was a useful illustration of just how deceptive the league can be. Late in the first-half, Kerry went on a five-point scoring burst during which the home team seemed to dissolve as a unit.
The seven minutes of injury-time were a result of the long delay when Shane Enright was stretched off after colliding with Murphy.
“It was a head injury – we haven’t got any news on him yet,” Fitzmaurice said afterwards. “By the time he had left here to go to hospital he was conscious and he was talking and he just got a bad bang to the head so we’re hoping it’s not something too major but we have no news on him yet.”
Kerry’s scores in that late first-half surge were beautifully direct but much too easily acquired: it was literally an exhibition. Fitzmaurice knows he won’t face a sweeper-less Donegal should the teams meet in the summer. But this is as sharp as his teams have looked in February and the performance as well as the result made the thought of the long journey along the Wild Atlantic Way more agreeable.
KERRY: B Kelly; J Foley, M Griffin, S Enright; P Crowley, K Young, T O’Sullivan (0-1); D Moran (0-1), T Morley; J Lyne (0-1), P Murphy (0-1), D Walsh (0-2); J Savage (0-3 , two frees), P Geaney (2-4, two frees); J O’Donoghue (0-3). Subs: J Barry (0-1) for S Enright (8 mins), M Geaney for J Lyne (48 mins), BJ Keane for J O’Donoghue (52 mins), B O’Sullivan for P Murphy (58 mins), C Geaney for J Savage (62 mins), Barry O’Sullivan for D Walsh (68 mins).
DONEGAL: MA McGinley; C Ward, E Ban Gallagher, P McGrath; F McGlynn, M O’Reilly (0-1), P Brennan (0-1); J McGee, H McFadden; C Thompson (0-3), M Langan, R McHugh (0-1); P McBrearty (0-4, three frees), M Murphy (1-3, 1-0 pen, 0-3 frees), J Brennan. Subs: E McHugh (0-1) for F McGlynn (26 mins), C Gibbons (0-1) for M Langan (42 mins), D O’Connor (0-2) for C Thompson (48 mins), E Doherty for P McGrath (49 mins ), E O’Donnell for M O’Reilly (59 mins), S McBrearty for H McFadden (62 mins).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).