Kerry minor footballers on verge of historic five-in-a-row
After close call against Monaghan, stage is set for a record fifth All-Ireland in succession
Kerry celebrate after their semi-final win over Monaghan in Croke Park on August 12th. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
Every team, player or manager will tell you they’re only as good as their last game. Which for the Kerry minor footballers was the dangerously close escape against Monaghan, 1-16 to 2-11, in the All-Ireland semi-final, scoring the last three points of the game to ensure their narrow passage.
This, however, was no ordinary victory. After 29 championship games, unbeaten since their All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Tyrone in 2013, Kerry are now on the verge of history and a record fifth All-Ireland title in succession – unprecedented at either minor or senior grade, football or hurling.
That close call against Monaghan was a timely reminder of the perils of this quest, with only Galway standing in the way of that five-in-a-row in Croke Park on Sunday. Kerry were the last team to stand on the verge of similar history on the senior football stage, before Séamus Darby and Offaly broke their hearts in the 1982 All-Ireland final.
The Kilkenny senior hurlers also stared such history in the face, before Tipperary ended their five-in-a-row hopes in the 2010 All-Ireland final. A worthy nod here to the Kerry women’s football team, who won nine All-Irelands in succession in the 1980s, but what already sets this minor achievement apart is that Kerry have achieved their historic run with five markedly different teams each season.
Indeed, no team had ever won four-in-a-row All-Ireland minor titles until last year, when Kerry took apart Derry in the 2017 final, 6-17 to 1-8, a certain David Clifford showing them the way. Given the drop in the minor age bracket this year, from under-18 to under-17, Kerry minor manager Peter Keane has brought through an entirely different team, only with plenty of their winning trademarks of the last four years.
It’s notable too that before going on this winning streak, in 2014, Kerry hadn’t won an All-Ireland minor football title in 20 years, former senior All-Ireland winning manager Jack O’Connor guiding back to the top in 2014, and again in 2015, before Keane took over in 2016.
Galway come suitably armed to end Kerry’s hopes and dreams, having come through Connacht unbeaten, and since taking out Clare and then Leinster champions Meath, 3-13 to 2-9, arguably the more impressive of the All-Ireland semi-finals. They also lost the 2016 minor final to Kerry.
Sense of faith
What Keane and his players can draw on going into Sunday’s final is the sense of faith, or indeed fate, that got them past Monaghan. They were level going into injury time, and Monaghan moved ahead for the very first time when Donnacha Swinburne pointed, only for Kerry, reduced to 14 men, to rise again: two points from Paul Walsh, from frees, and the late insurance point from substitute Jack Kennelly nailing that final date.
Keane later praised the “guts, heart and resilience” of his team, especially given the lower age grade. “They’re closer to 16 than 18 and there’s a tendency to make an odd mistake, but I’ll tell you one thing, they showed great character, they showed great fitness and they showed football at the end to get out the gate.
“They gave a wholesome performance. We might not have helped ourselves with some of the mistakes we made but that’s the nature of the new grade of minor football.”
Kerry’s All-Ireland minor titles: 1931, 1932, 1933, 1946, 1950, 1962, 1963, 1975, 1980, 1988, 1994, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
Last 4 finals
2017: Kerry 6-17 Derry 1-8
2016: Kerry 3-7 Galway 0-9
2015: Kerry 4-14 Tipperary 0-6
2014: Kerry 0-17 Donegal 1-10