Category: Archive

Fitzgerald’s heroics save Kerry

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Mark Jones

Armagh 2-11, Kerry 2-11

DUBLIN — Maurice Fitzgerald takes the whole notion of a cameo role to the limit. Indeed, he came off the bench to thump home a goal which seemed to have cleared Kerry’s path to another All-Ireland final and then a hit nerve-tingling, injury-time free to save his county’s hide. Fitzgerald might have only been in the game for half an hour, but what a contribution.

Last Sunday’s tantalizing drawn football semifinal at Croke Park left a range of emotions in its wake: Armagh’s frustration that the referee saw fit to play four minutes of added time and Kerry’s relief at a second chance. But that was just for starters. Elsewhere, we had Kerry bursting into an early lead and looking like sure winners, then Armagh’s revival, followed by a second bout of Kingdom supremacy, before the Ulster champions roused themselves for one more fightback.

It might not have been a technical delight, but for sheer drama this swaying, lurching contest had everything.

“We’re still in it, thanks be to God for Maurice Fitzgerald,” was Kerry goalkeeper Declan O’Keeffe’s analysis. Certainly, Fitzgerald’s 40-meter free to level matters wasn’t the hardest kick of his career, but it had to be the most pressurized.

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Some 70 minutes earlier, the likelihood that Fitzgerald would have been called on to keep his county alive was unthinkable. Kerry came flying out of the traps to open up a 1-3 to nil lead and there were signs everywhere that Armagh would have to endure another wait before reaching September’s big occasion.

Yet Armagh’s dogged and skillful resistance meant that they were the team in pole position going into the dying seconds. Andy McCann roamed forward to drive in a goal that squared the scores at 2-10 and then Kieran McGeeney also surged through from the halfback line to clip over a point which had the Armagh supporters among the 50,000-strong crowd in dreamland.

“I was hoping the referee would blow it up at that stage,” said Armagh joint-manager Brian Canavan, “but he’s the man with the stopwatch. It was likely that Kerry were going to get a last chance and they took it. I suppose a draw was fair enough in the end.”

As for Canavan’s counterpart, Paidi O Se, there was more a sense of relief that Fitzgerald had come to the rescue.

“They got their goal at a very good time, but I’m very proud of our players, the way they brought the ball back up the field to salvage the oul’ draw,” O Se said. “There’s an amount of work for Kerry to look at, but we’re delighted to be still left in the championship.”

Kerry’s early onslaught came courtesy of a Dara O Cinneide penalty — although John Crowley appeared to be fouled outside of the large rectangle — and points by Mike Frank Russell and Crowley. But Armagh settled and when Barry O’Hagan replied with a goal following a Paddy McKeever assist the contest really came to life.

Kerry’s advantage was just two points at the break, but the Ulster champions began to turn the screw during the second half and if it hadn’t been for a disappointing total of nine wides, they would now be preparing for a first final appearance since 1977.

John McEntee and Paul McGrane began to dominate at midfield and, for a sustained period, Kerry were under pressure. If Armagh’s poor shooting was the main reason why they were never able to pull clear, Seamus Moynihan’s brilliant defensive performance was also a factor. While he may not be a natural fullback, Moynihan stifled Armagh time and again with a series of blocks and interventions.

Supremacy wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard and Armagh paid the price when Fitzgerald soloed across the defense to fire in a magnificent left-footed shot, which gave Kerry a 4-point advantage against the run of play.

“It was a good goal all right,” admitted McGeeney. “He came in with his right foot and hit it with his left. But it was still a bit soft from our point of view. Myself and Kieran Hughes were there and he still got a shot in without a tackle.”

With the Ulster side still wasting chances, another revival looked unlikely, but McCann slipped through the middle to score Armagh’s second goal with a shot that went under O’Keeffe in the Kerry goal and when McGeeney popped over a point in the first minute of injury time, his team had the lead remarkably for the first time in the game.

It looked like the winning score, until Fitzgerald set up a replay at Croke Park a week from Saturday. The rollercoaster was over — until the next time.

Armagh: B. Tierney; J. McNulty, G. Reid, E. McNulty; K. Hughes, K. McGeeney (0-1), A. McCann (1-0); J. McEntee, P. McGrane (0-1); C. O’Rourke (0-3), B. O’Hagan (1-1), P. McKeever (0-1); S. McDonnell, T. McEntee (0-1), O. McConville (0-3). Subs: D. Marsden for McKeever, 41 mins.; A. O’Neill for McDonnell, 51 mins.

Kerry: D. O’Keeffe; K. Burns, S. Moynihan, M. McCarthy; T. O Se, E. Fitzmaurice, T. O’Sullivan; D. O Se (0-1), D. Daly (0-1); A. MacGearailt (0-1), L. Hassett, N. Kennelly (0-1); M.F. Russell (0-3), D. O Cinneide (1-2), J. Crowley (0-1). Subs: M. Fitzgerald (1-1) for Hassett 40 mins.; D. O’Dwyer for MacGearailt, 51 mins.; M. Hassett for Burns, 51 mins.; E. Galvin for Kennelly, 63 mins.

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