Kerry take on Donegal at their own game to claim 37th title

All-Ireland decider fails to enthral but victory will be as sweet as ever for Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s side


Kerry 2-9 Donegal 0-12

It might be the most unlikely All-Ireland of Kerry’s illustrious history but few can have tasted as sweet. Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s young side clawed their way to the county’s 37th title here after the hardest of hard-fought victories over Donegal.

After two – well, three – semi-finals of riotous colour, this one never managed to shake itself of grey. It was a tactical arm-wrestle, both sides nipping and tucking and shifting and shaping all over the pitch.

We wondered how Kerry were going to set up to combat Donegal’s system – the answer was to copy it. They funnelled numbers back just as much as Jim McGuinness’s side did, making for what was essentially a basketball game.

And early on, it looked like it might suit them. On a day when sights at goal were always going to come few and far between, Kerry managed one inside the first minute. With all the talk of the threat posed by Kieran Donaghy and James O’Donoghue, it turned out that Paul Geaney was the one who popped up to grab it. Left alone in front of goal with only Paddy McGrath for company, Geaney caught a long ball in from Stephen O’Brien after 50 seconds and swivelled brilliantly to finish.

Kerry clearly believed there was no percentage in just leaving Donaghy and O’Donoghue in front of goal so both of them came foraging out around the half-forward line in search of ball. When a Johnny Buckley effort soon after the goal came down off the top of the post, Geaney was able to feed a ball back to the onrushing Donaghy who popped a point to make it 1-1 to 0-0 before Donegal had even visited the Kerry half of the pitch.

Eventually the game settled into a rhythm, albeit a bitty one. Donegal gradually found their way back into it, Michael Murphy potting three frees and Colm McFadden one of his own. Aidan O’Mahony was making Murphy’s life a misery, jostling and jabbing at him off the ball and on. The Donegal captain was getting ratty, complaining to referee Eddie Kinsella to no avail.

Bit by bit, Donegal found themselves. Darach O’Connor could have had a goal, sent in by Rory Kavanagh in the 25th minute. But his clever shot through the legs of Brian Kelly caught the inside of the Kerry goalkeeper’s thigh and dribbled wide. Donegal didn’t even get a 45 out of it.

At the other end, Geaney had a glorious chance to double down on his early effort but blasted over when in on Paul Durcan. It put Kerry 1-3 to 0-4 ahead but when Donegal finished the half with points by Karl Lacey and Odhrán MacNiallais, it meant the sides were level at the break.

It also meant that if you took out the opening five minutes, Kerry had scored just two points. It looked for all the world that this was turning into a game that was being played on Donegal’s terms and that they were enjoying it more than Kerry were.

But the second half was theirs and theirs alone. Murphy kicked the opening point of the second half to put Donegal into the lead but it was the only time all day they were able to say that and it lasted less than a minute. Kerry wing-back Paul Murphy sallied forward to kick a massive point from the Cusack Stand sideline and made it 1-4 to 0-7.

From there on out, Kerry turned the screw. But for all their dominance around the middle and all their probing, they kicked wide after wide to keep Donegal in the game. Paul Geaney, Michael Geaney, Donnchadh Walsh and Anthony Maher were all guilty and but for their wayward shooting, Kerry would have been out the gate long before the end.

When the turning point came, it was a mistake that brought it about. Durcan, normally so reliable from kick-outs, chipped a short one straight to Donaghy and the comeback story of the year got its closing chapter with a smooth finish.

Though Donegal came back and kicked the next three points – two from Patrick McBrearty and an inspirational one from Neil McGee – they couldn’t draw level. Buckley kicked Kerry’s first point from play in 18 minutes, Donaghy battled his way to grab a high one and fist his second of the day, Barry John Keane kicked a couple of frees.

Brick Molloy and Christy Toye gave Donegal’s last kick but there was still three in it going into injury-time. The last scare of Kerry’s year came right at the death when McFadden dived to palm an effort off the butt of the post. With that, Kerry were home and dry.

KERRY: 1 Brian Kelly; 2 Marc Ó Sé, 3 Aidan O’Mahony, 4 Fionn Fitzgerald (capt); 5 Paul Murphy (0-1), 6 Peter Crowley, 7 Killian Young; 8 Anthony Maher, 9 David Moran; 12 Donnchadh Walsh, 10 Stephen O’Brien, 11 Johnny Buckley (0-1); 13 Paul Geaney (1-2, one free), 14 Kieran Donaghy (1-2), 15 James O’Donoghue.

Subs: 18 Michael Geaney for O’Brien (half-time), 21 Barry John Keane (0-2, frees) for P Geaney (49 mins), 17 Shane Enright for Fitzgerald (55 mins), 19 Declan O’Sullivan for Walsh (57 mins), 20 Bryan Sheehan (0-1, free) for Moran (68 mins), 23 Kieran O’Leary for Donaghy (73 mins)

DONEGAL: 1 Paul Durcan; 3 Neil McGee (0-1), 4 Eamonn McGee, 4 Paddy McGrath; 5 Anthony Thompson, 6 Karl Lacey (0-1), 7 Frank McGlynn; 8 Neil Gallagher, 26 Rory Kavanagh; 9 Odhrán MacNiallais (0-1), 11 Leo McLoone, 12 Ryan McHugh; 15 Colm McFadden (0-1, free), 14 Michael Murphy (capt; 0-4, three frees), 17 Darach O’Connor.

Subs: 10 Christy Toye (0-1) for O’Connor (28 mins), 13 Patrick McBrearty (0-2) for McHugh (46 mins), 24 Martin McElhinney for MacNiallais (52 mins), 18 David Walsh for McLoone (57 mins), 20 Dermot Molloy (0-1) for Kavanagh (64 mins).

Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Laois)

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