Kerry 0-17 Donegal 1-10
So ends the longest drought in Kerry’s football history. They finally delivered a record 12th minor All-Ireland title here, mixing their traditional style with understandable nerves coming off the last bend.
Donegal came right alongside them with Lorcán Connor’s pointed free in the 55th minute but the response of three wonderful points ensured they reclaimed the Tom Markham Cup.
“Ah sure these fellas weren’t even born when we won this last,” said Jack O’Connor, who has now managed four Kerry teams to All-Ireland titles (this includes the Hogan Cup).
“It’s just fantastic. The bottom line is it’s 20 years since we won it; a lot of good teams have come and gone since then and haven’t won it. That was a good Donegal team and as you saw yourself when we were six points up and looking like we were home – they put it up to us.”
They certainly did but there will be regrets. Too many times a young Donegal footballer bore down on goal only to leave with nothing.
Shane Ryan’s excellent shot-stopping abilities had a lot to do with this but the points were on every time.
"Yeah, possibly," said Donegal manager Declan Bonner. "But I can't fault the lads. They have been brilliant all year."
Kerry were also guilty of leaving a good few scores behind. It happens with teenagers playing in such a tense environment. It happened more than usual today but there was still some great point gathering from the likes of Killian Spillane while O'Connor must be lauded for the use of his bench; Jordan Kiely arrived after half-time and clipped two points. As did Liam Carey.
Caolán McGonagle didn’t have his best day with placed balls but he put Donegal 0-3 to 0-2 ahead after nine minutes. Kerry responded with the next three scores. It was a lead they would not surrender.
Spillane was the marquee forward on show. He raised a thrilling white flag on 23 minutes, curling the ball over the bar while leaning back like a man sailing the high seas.
Carey had already replaced Cormac Coffey but it was the introduction of Kiely that changed the game's dynamic. His point just after the break stretched them three clear, 0-9 to 0-6. Down the other end Connor had a goal chance, which he missed, as Barry O'Sullivan immediately put Kerry four clear.
Carey registered a bad wide – he’s probably never missed from such close range and probably never will again – but this was not a major moment. Jamie Brennan’s miss was. The Bundoran attacker peeled off his man only for his shot to strike the butt of the post. The point was on.
“You have to take those chances on All-Ireland final day,” Bonner lamented.
Carey instantly re-established the four-point margin.
Defending won this match. Mark O’Connor was a colossus in this regard.
Kerry had their lead and seemed content to play down the clock. They very nearly lived to regret this but when Ryan’s 43-metre free went over with 10 minutes remaining their lead was out to six.
Donegal refused to go quietly, running harder than they ever have and Brennan got what footballers rarely get in Croke Park; a chance for atonement. His rasping shot made it 0-14 to 1-8.
Niall Harley, the Donegal captain, made a brief but important cameo from the bench to kick a point soon after. The Ulster champions were pouring forward now, Kerry so clearly wounded.
What happened next decided the outcome. A two-point game, Connor got sight of goal, the point was on, he went for glory, Ryan blocked the low shot and Kerry survived. Take your point, always take your point.
Donegal faded thereafter as Tom O'Sullivan raided up from wing back to make it a two-point game once again. Then Kiely whipped over his second brilliant point. In between this Ciaran Diver slashed a shot across Ryan's goal. Again, the point was on.
Spillane put Donegal to bed with Kerry’s 17th point as injury time arrived. He punched the air and roared at the green and gold that dazzled from Hill 16. They roared back. Donegal had another goal chance before the the finish but Cian Mulligan’s effort was stopped, yet again, by Ryan.
“Winning breeds success and breeds confidence,” said O’Connor. “In the 90s we won the minor in ’94 and we won three under-21s between ’95 and ’98 and that fed the Kerry team for 10 or 12 years after that and we’re just hoping that the same happens now.”
And what about Jack himself, who has All-Ireland titles as a manager with Kerry seniors, under-21s, Coláiste na Sceilge and now the minors?
“I did it arse-ways! I did it back to front – like the wedding after the honeymoon. It’s great – I always enjoyed coaching at this level. I cut my teeth with the colleges for eight years and I’m delighted for these guys because they’re young and they’re raw and they take advice.”
Wonder what he’ll do next.
KERRY: S Ryan (0-1, free); D O'Donoghue, B Ó Beaglaoich, C Coffey; B Sugrue, A Barry, T O'Sullivan (0-1); B O'Sullivan (0-2), M O'Connor; M Burns (0-2), B Rayel, M Flaherty (0-1); K Spillane (0-5, three frees), L Kearney, T Ó Sé (0-1). Substitutions: L Carey (0-2) for C Coffey (28 mins), J Kiely (0-2)for L Kearney (half-time), R Wharton for B Sugrue (39 mins), S O'Sullivan for T Ó Sé (49 mins), I Parker for B Rayel (60 mins).
DONEGAL: D Rodgers; D Monagle, S McMenamin, C Gillespie; E Bán Gallagher, T McCleneghan, C Kelly; M Carroll, C McGonagle (0-1, free); C Mulligan (0-1), S McBrearty (0-2), E O'Donnell; J Brennan (1-1), J Campbell (0-2), L Connor (0-2, two frees). Substitutions: N Harley (0-1) for C Kelly (36 mins), G McBride for E O'Donnell (47 mins), C Bonner for E Bán Gallagher (50 mins), C Diver for N Harley (56 mins).
Referee: F Kelly (Longford).