Kerry thrive with a more even tempo

 

The Finely-Balanced scales of this year's All-Ireland tipped decisively against Galway and in favour of Kerry on Saturday afternoon at Croke Park. The Bank of Ireland football final replay was a fast, exciting match kept alive (somewhat against the odds) by Kerry's poor shooting and Galway's resilience. But in the end the verdict was clear and the Munster champions deservedly clocked up the county's 32nd title.

Unlike the drawn match, or indeed virtually any of Kerry's previous outings, this was a steadily played 70 minutes. There were none of the extremes of performance so evident two weeks ago.

Probably the most impressive aspect of the victory was the manner in which Kerry sustained their pressure despite a number of demoralising setbacks. There was never a period in which they weren't creating chances of some sort, but at times, and particularly in the third quarter, the finishing was abysmal. Yet they fought on.

Aodhan MacGearailt deserves mention in this regard. All afternoon he worked hard and gobbled up a stack of possession but the Fates were unkind. He either used the possession poorly or lost it. Still, he worked hard and continued to contest the breaks very effectively. His luck deservedly changed and he ended with two points.

The first was significant because it brought Kerry level going into the final quarter. Galway were never again in front and chased the remainder of the match as Kerry moved steadily away from them.

After the plaudits of the drawn match, Galway manager John O'Mahony had no answer for his year's most implacable foe - misfortune. It struck again in the 18th minute when Kevin Walsh, one of the key influences in the drawn match, had to retire with a twisted knee. There was a mocking symmetry to his departure which came at almost exactly the same time as his influential entry into the first match.

His injury turned out to be less serious than feared, but by the time he was re-introduced, the tide had turned in Kerry's favour. In Walsh's absence, Joe Bergin was given a shot at redemption which the talented 19-year-old largely took. But the Kerry pair of Darragh O Se and Donal Daly appeared less intimidated with the big Galwayman hors de combat.

Galway's other big successes from a fortnight ago didn't fire. Padraig Joyce started at full forward, but never got a grip on the game and when he was moved to the 40, he was unable to rediscover the rhythms which had made him so influential there in the drawn match. To be fair to the Galway captain, none of his attacking colleagues were fully on their game either and despite excellent approach work, they struggled to carve out the clear-cut chances of the drawn match and certainly lacked the finishing sharpness of the earlier encounter.

This problem was reflected in the statistics. Five wides indicate that the Connacht champions weren't even creating good opportunities and as a further commentary on the extent of their eclipse, the most inventive forward play came from wing back Declan Meehan. Yet only once did his verve get its just reward.

In the seventh minute, he scored the goal of the season. It started in Galway's goalmouth. Dara O Cinneide's 45 was blocked down by Walsh. John Divilly snapped up the ball and raced out to initiate an eight-pass movement down the left flank.- As the ambition of the play increased, Padraig Joyce moved the ball into the centre where Paul Clancy gathered and fired a brilliant pass over the cover and into the arms of the advancing Meehan. It couldn't have been more elegantly served up had the ball come wrapped in a ribbon.

The finish was a cherry. Meehan motored through before letting go a right-foot shot across Declan O'Keeffe and into the corner of the net. Galway maintained their challenge until near the end, but their attack wasn't again to conjure up anything approaching the deadly effect of that goal.

The difference between the teams was defined by the forwards. None of Galway's played particularly well. Half of Kerry's did. Liam Hassett worked tirelessly and kicked three points to mark another fine display in what has been a great year for him. John Crowley's lively display and three points stood as further rebuke to the decision to substitute him two weeks ago.

Maurice Fitzgerald entered the fray early. With the match delicately poised, it was if Paidi O Se decided he wasn't going to be hanged for leaving the Cahirciveen virtuoso on the bench any longer. Again, though, the wrong option was persisted with and Fitzgerald laboured fruitlessly at full forward until the overdue decision to move him out was taken in the second half.

At the controls of the team, Fitzgerald had a significant impact. He won ball, used it well and in the space of two minutes pushed Kerry decisively in front. Niall Finnegan had just wasted a good scoring opportunity set up by the tireless Meehan when Fitzgerald won the restart and supplied Hassett for his third point. The match entered its final 10 minutes and with the margin again down to one thanks to a Finnegan free, Fitzgerald again caught the kick-out and soloed through for a point.

Kerry were well served throughout the field, but the full back line was exceptional. Mike Hassett expunged the memories of three years ago with a tight and controlled display on Finnegan. Mike McCarthy learned enough from the drawn match to curtail Derek Savage and made a fabulous block on the Galway corner forward in the 48th minute.

And then there was Seamus Moynihan. All year he has given amazing displays in the alien environs of the full back position. Again on Saturday he was immense in his attention to defensive detail. The team has lost out on his presence further out, but it was significant that just after Galway's goal, the Kerry captain made a galvanising burst from the back to set up a point in reply.

All season his performances have been touched by that ability to respond when the team's need is greatest. His influence has been the single biggest determinant in the success of this memorable campaign.