Whether the mucky pitch or the occasion was more the culprit, free-flowing football was not on the cards. Marking was tight all over the sodden field and scores were hard won.
Donegal got the first and the second, both points from full forward Aiden Sweeney. Donegal made a key move right at the start, assigning Niall McCready the huge responsibility of curbing Kerry full forward Pauric Joyce, the Galway all-star, who wrecked Westmeath in the New York semifinal, and a repeat of that performance would leave Donegal’s three-in-a-row dream in tatters.
When all was said and done, however, McCready had done enough to knock Joyce off stride and Donegal could not have won without his efforts. Donegal went 0-3 to 0-0 up on Sean McFadden’s point. McFadden, along with Garreth Kelly and Leslie McGettigan, were looking to secure their own personal double, having played on Donegal’s Junior A champions. It took Kerry a quarter of an hour to find the target via Bingo O’Driscoll’s point.
Neither team could find any room to operate as the defensive efforts were superb. Donegal were playing two, and sometimes three, forwards in defensive roles, creating huge gaps in their half forward and midfield.
Donegal fullback Owen Cummins, playing his second final in a row after captaining Tipperary’s hurlers to glory, was feeling the effects of that effort, and would retire with leg cramps just before the half. Kerry great Seamus Moynihan was on hand playing midfield for the Kingdom, and although he showed his class, Donegal’s Martin Coll had plenty of moments of his own. Kerry led at the break 0-5 to 0-4, primarily through Joyce’s free taking.
Coll tied it all up with a great point on the restart, but Kerry came right back. Points from Bingo O’Driscoll and Joyce edged Kerry’s lead to 0-7 to 0-5 and then Eunan Doherty robbed Jamie O’Driscoll when a goal seemed certain. With scores so hard to come by, Doherty’s save was huge.
Kevin Lilly then sandwiched two long-range points around Dave McCarthy’s point for Kerry as Donegal got within 0-1. Pauric Joyce scored his only point of the day from play, but Lilly was quick to reply and again there was just a point in the difference 0-9 to 0-8, Kerry.
Donegal manager Donal Gallagher sent in the Walsh brothers, first Tom and then Pat. The two had already starred for Tipperary in the winning senior hurling final and were looking to cap their afternoon with a football championship. Both performed well, but Pat was the man of the hour when he pounced on a loose ball and stuck it in the back of the Kerry net.
Donegal were finally back in front with the finish line in sight, and the two-time defending champions would not stumble. Sweeney added another point and then he combined with Keavney to send Pat Walsh in alone on the Kerry goal.
Walsh’s second goal stretched Donegal’s lead to 0-6 and time was not on Kerry’s side. Moynihan tried to spur Kerry on the comeback trail, but Donegal were too strong and the three in a row and the double were both safe.
Man of the Match: Niall McCready
Donegal: Eunan Doherty, Mark McNeill, Owen Cummins, Brian McDermott, Donal Breslin, Anthony Lynch, Niall McCready, Dermot Hurley, Martin Coll (0-1), Kevin Lilly (0-3), Garreth Kelly, Kieran Keavney (0-1), Leslie McGettigan, Adrian Sweney (0-3), Sean McFadden (0-1). Subs: Paul Higgins, Pat Walsh (2-0), Tom Walsh.
Kerry: Finbarr Flood, John O’Sullivan, Paul Gallivan, Paul Dillon, Derek Riney, Paddy O’Connor, Ronan O’Conor, Seamus Mounihan (0-1), Dave McSweeney, Dave McCarthy (0-1), Bingo O’Driscoll (0-3), Jamie O’Driscoll, Brian Collins (0-1), Pauric Joyce (0-5 [4 frees]), Willie O’Donnell. Sub: Barry Clifford.