By Mike Fitzpatrick
Donegal 0-12, Kerry 0-8
For the first time since 1992, Donegal are champions of New York. In what was essentially an anticlimax to the finale of the football season Sunday afternoon at Gaelic Park, the Ulstermen triumphed over their Munster rivals, reigning champions Kerry, to gain revenge on their final defeat from 1999.
This was by no way a classic game, especially for a final, but to paraphrase GAA president Monty Moloney in his speech after the game, Connie Molloy’s Donegal boys will have no problem with that, as they left the ground in possession of the trophy that has eluded them for so long. Having reached numerous finals in those long eight years, and entered many of those championship seasons as favorites, the boys from the Northwest finally achieved what they had been threatening to do for so long.
Donegal opened the tie as the more attack-minded of the teams, with the excellent Martin Coll firing in a low shot that somehow swerved wide of goalkeeper Finbarr Flood’s right post. The minutes wore on, and the scores remained off the board. Indeed, it was 15 minutes before a single point was registered from either side. Donegal could not break down the stingy Kerry defense, marshaled superbly as usual by the terrier-like Paddy O’Connor.
Kerry themselves, meanwhile, had trouble finding ways past Owen Cummins and Co. in the Donegal backline, and when the first score of the afternoon did arrive, it came in the form that so many that followed it did: from a dead ball situation. Bingo Driscoll’s free sailed over the bar to give Kerry the slenderest of leads after a quarter of an hour gone.
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Donegal, however, equalized soon thereafter with one of the plays of the game. Kieran O’Hare, latching on to some great work from Paddy McConigley and Dave McSweeney, shimmied past the Kerry backline to snatch a fine equalizer. Midfielder Mick Moran scored a second for Donegal to move his side in front for the first time, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that this would be a low-scoring game.
Michael Russell leveled for the Kingdom, and O’Hehir’s free put Donal Breslin in space to give Connie Molloy’s men the lead once more. Mark Fitzgerald for Kerry, and a J.P. Boyle free finished off the scoring in the first half to leave Kerry trailing by 0-4 to 0-3.
Kerry, obviously with stinging words of encouragement ringing in their ears from their halftime pep talk, came out attacking immediately once the game resumed. A fabulous save from New York All-Star Eunan Doherty in the Donegal goal from Mike Carmody prevented Kerry taking a 2-point lead, although Paudi Mulvihill’s point leveled proceedings after the ball had been passed four times between the Kerry forward line a short distance from the Donegal goal line.
Donegal upped the ante and, finding themselves in scoring positions, received three successive free kicks in almost identical spots not far from the Kerry posts. All three were converted by O’Hehir to give Donegal a 3-point lead. Russell sent a free wide to the delight of the Donegal support, and Mulvihill was again denied by a great catch from Doherty on the goal line.
The mood of the Kerry crowd, though, did lift considerably when Sean Og O’hAilpin, who has played some fabulous this year, scored one of the points of the game from a great distance to cut Donegal’s lead to 2 points. Breslin and Boyle scored to move Molloy’s Boys further ahead, and Johnny Driscoll and Russell reduced the deficit to two once more.
The introduction of midfielder Gary Dowd into the Donegal lineup gave the Ulster side a lift that they needed. Dowd, though, having endured a great season for his club, had suffered a recent injury, and it was not thought that he would have made the field of play at all. Three more frees followed for Donegal, and with Kerry’s expert marksman Bingo Driscoll having been sent off, things looked bad for the Kingdom. Boyle (2) and O’Hehir (1) converted to compound Kerry’s misery.
The introduction of Dave McCarthy and Jake Rooney gave fresh legs to Kerry’s cause, but it seemed to be too little, too late for the Munster men. A late Johnny Driscoll point reduced the deficit to 4 points, but it was to be Donegal’s title.
Kerry, the side who came from nowhere last year to clinch their first title in more than 30 years, were to go home disappointed. But they shouldn’t. They have provided a massive amount of excitement at Gaelic Park over the last two seasons, and having come up from the second division last year to win the title in their first year back says a whole lot about this club in general.
You can bet that you haven’t seen the last appearance by Messrs. Driscoll, McSweeney, O’Connor and Co. in a New York final. The image of Kerry man Paddy Kearney and the Donegal supremo hugging after the game said a whole lot. It was as if Kearney was telling his old rival, "Welcome to the champions’ club."
Kerry: Finbarr Flood, Adrian Riney, Paul Gallivan, Paul Dillon, Paddy O’Connor, Johnny Driscoll (0-2), Adrian Finn, Dave McSweeney, Sean Og O’hAilpin (0-1), Mike Carmody, Willie O’Donnell, Bingo Driscoll (0-1), Mark Fitzgerald (0-1), Michael Francis Russell (0-2), Paudi Mulvihill (0-1). Subs: Dave McCarthy, Jake Rooney.
Donegal: Eunan Doherty, Mark McClafferty, Owen Cummins, Paddy McConigley, Gerry Kelly, Anthony Lynch, Adrian McClafferty, Mick Moran (0-1), Martin Coll, Donal Breslin (0-2), Niall McCready, Kieran Keaveney, Kieran O’Hehir (0-5), John Paul Boyle (0-4), Keith Murray. Subs: Edmund Cleary, Gary Dowd.