Kildare 0-13 Kerry 1-10
There’s nothing like January football to make you wonder why you were pining for football in January. This game was the full Simon Coveney - cold, hard to love and littered with mistakes. The Kildare crowd harooed at the end having dug out the draw. Kerry got back on the bus not entirely sure whether they’d dropped a point or gained one.
In a way, it was entirely appropriate that this game finished with a corner-back pulling on a loose ball 25 metres out from the opposition goal and twanging it 10 metres wide of the posts. Tom O'Sullivan had put in a decent day's work, loping forward for a neat score in the opening half but finding Jimmy Hyland the usual handful going the other way.
The chance to be the hero wasn’t a gimme - the ball squirted out to him from a ruck and the rain meant his footing couldn’t have been the best. But for a two-time All Star, it was a particularly inelegant lash he took. The afternoon couldn’t have ended any other way.
Kerry didn’t win despite having a five-point lead in the run-up to half-time. Kildare didn’t win despite having nine more shots at goal than Kerry in the second half. In a game of handling errors and giveaways on all sides, Glenn Ryan’s team were probably the happier to get out of it without a defeat but it’s a marginal call at best.
“I’d be happy with the way we came back but I’d be disappointed that we had to come back,” Ryan said afterwards. “I suppose we got a point out of it and at this stage we’d be happy enough with it.
“We didn’t get the win - and if we’re happy with just the fact we didn’t get wins and we’re competitive, then we’re not going to go too far. We’ll end up in the same position again (relegated back to Division Two). We’re not going to play down the fact we got a point so we’ll take it but there are a lot of things we have to look at that we have to get right because we could have left a point behind us.”
For long stretches of the first half, they look highly unlikely to get anything out of the game. Kerry were the sharper side, overcoming the concession of two early points from Paul Cribbin and Kevin Flynn to ease into a five-point lead by the 20th minute. Killian Spillane finagled a scrappy goal on five minutes and though David Clifford was in the main well-shackled by Mick O'Grady, he still managed to flash two points out of nothing. So far, so Kerry.
Just as interesting though was the way Jack O’Connor’s side defended as a unit. Tadhg Morley was always the spare man at centre-back and Kerry gang-tackled in numbers around the middle. Any squeamishness they might ever have had about massed defending or cynical fouling has clearly been swallowed. They short-circuited Kildare’s attempts at quick breaks here with fairly ruthless gusto.
And yet, once they were on top, they failed to drive home their superiority. Gavin White had caused Kildare a world of problems in the opening 25 minutes, blazing forward to set up Spillane’s goal and drawing a free for Seán O’Shea to convert a while later. But a hamstring injury forced him off with the score at 1-6 to 0-6. Kerry only scored another four points in the remaining 47 minutes.
Instead, Kildare were the ones with all the possession in the second half. Kevin Feely came off the bench to useful effect, catching a world of ball in midfield and standing out in his determination not to waste possession. Daniel Flynn didn't manage to score but he was a constant outlet at full-forward. Playing off him, Hyland and Paddy Woodgate made gradually more and more hay as the afternoon wore on.
It was scrappy and it was bitty. Kerry’s goal advantage looked like it would be the cushion they needed to see the game out but with the home crowd roaring them on, Woodgate and Hyland scored two apiece in the closing 15 minutes to draw them level. It would have been a shame after all that to allow Kerry to pilfer it but thankfully for Kildare, O’Sullivan’s swinger never threatened the posts.
“You could make an argument for saying we were lucky to get out of here with a point, the way we played in the second half,” O’Connor said afterwards. “We basically tried to hold onto a lead with 20 minutes to go and that was never going to happen.
“Not happy with the second half performance. We played alright in the first, left a few scores after us. Paul Geaney had a chance of a point, David Clifford had a chance of a point and went for a goal. Bits and pieces - we possibly could have been six or seven up at half-time. But I felt four was never going to be enough and that’s the way it proved.”
Kildare: Mark Donnellan; Mick O'Grady, Shea Ryan, Ryan Houlihan; Jack Sargent, James Murray, Tony Archbold; Kevin O'Callaghan, Kevin Flynn (0-2); Padraic Tuohy, Paul Cribbin (0-2), Ben McCormack; Paddy Woodgate (0-3, 0-1 free), Daniel Flynn, Jimmy Hyland (0-6, 0-3 frees). Subs: Kevin Feely for O'Callaghan, half-time; Neil Flynn for McCormack, half-time; Paddy McDermott for Tuohy, 52 mins
Kerry: Shane Murphy; Dan O'Donoghue, Jason Foley, Tom O'Sullivan (0-1); Paul Murphy, Tadhg Morley, Gavin White; Seán O'Shea (0-3, 0-2 frees), Adrian Spillane; Micheál Burns, Paudie Clifford (0-2), Dara Moynihan; Killian Spillane (1-0), David Clifford (0-2), Paul Geaney (0-1). Subs: Briain Ó Beaglaíoch for White, 28 mins; Jack Savage for Burns, half-time; Tony Brosnan (0-1) for K Spillane, 48 mins; Greg Horan for Moynihan, 52 mins
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath).