By Mark Jones
CROKE PARK — So, the game of two halves really does exist. We saw it in all its glory at Croke Park last Sunday as the All Ireland football final spun out into an extraordinary draw.
Kerry, so dominant, so incisive for the opening 35 minutes. Galway, resurgent to such an extent after the interval that they could have, and should have, carried the Sam Maguire cup back across the Shannon.
So whose glass is half-empty and whose is half-full? Kerry let a seven point lead slip as their once-fluent engine spluttered and failed in the face of Galway’s revival. The Connacht champions might have suffered from a severe bout of stage-fright early on, but the question marks hanging over Kerry are more substantial going into Saturday week’s replay.
Galway know for sure they can perform better during the 70 minutes, while Kerry must be wondering now if they can ever put a complete performance together. They almost blew the Munster final against Cork after racing clear, and on the biggest day of the season, they once again badly ran out of tactical steam.
If the advantage has swung marginally Galway’s way, it was no thanks to the GAA which emerged from the stalemate with precious little credit. Firstly, referee Pat McEnaney only played 40 seconds of injury time when there had to have been at least two minutes worth of stoppages. When is Ireland’s largest and wealthiest sporting organization going to come out of the dark ages and invest in an automatic time-keeping system?
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With the replay set to generate a further _2 million in revenue for the GAA, cynics can’t help doubting the current subjective method of time-keeping. Nobody in the crowd of nearly 64,000 who had been consulting a timepiece during the second-half could have agreed with McEnaney’s assessment. If he had added on the correct amount of injury time, it might still have ended level, but there would have been no gray area.
Equally, with the replay now falling the day before the start of the International Rules series between Ireland and Australia, the Irish side will be deprived of six of its top players as Kerry’s Declan O’Keeffe, Seamus Moynihan and Darragh O Se, along with Michael Donnellan, P_draig Joyce and Sean Og de Paor of Galway, have to put All Ireland final duty before country.
The GAA has been promoting the series with a heavy advertising campaign and now its well-being is undermined because of shoddy organization. How must the Ireland manager, Brian McEniff, feel as his team is decimated due to unfinished business which could so easily have been foreseen by the association’s administrators.
But a draw was the farthest from anyone’s thoughts as Kerry opened up with a scoring blitz that threatened to turn the game into a rout. The Galway defense was torn asunder by raid after raid which launched the Kingdom into a 0-8 to 0-1 lead after just 25 minutes. Mike Frank Russell and John Crowley were easily winning their personal battles with Ray Silke and Tomas Meehan, while Darragh O Se and Donal Daly were having it all their own way in midfield.
The occasional Galway thrust was broken up contemptuously by the brilliant Seamus Moynihan and manager Paidi O Se’s controversial decision not to play Maurice Fitzgerald from the start appeared to be paying off handsomely as Kerry ran riot. However, if the westerners supporters were in despair, manager John O’Mahony had some crucial cards to play from the sideline.
The first important switch saw Joe Bergin called ashore from midfield after 19 minutes. His replacement, the experienced Kevin Walsh, caught the first high ball that came his way and Walsh went on to make a massive contribution to Galway’s fightback. Then Silke was taken off the dangerous Russell and moved over to mark Crowley, before O’Mahony made perhaps his shrewdest call of all.
With Moynihan cancelling out the threat of P_draig Joyce, the Galway captain was shifted out to center forward where he proceeded to exert a major influence. Seven points adrift at that stage, the Connacht champions went in at the break only three behind and suddenly, the contest had come alive. “We probably should have been five points or more up at half-time,” said Moynihan, “even though they came back a bit, we owned the ball.”
It was bizarre that despite Kerry’s almost utter dominance, the gap had closed so dramatically. As Joyce and Michael Donnellan began to feed off scraps of possession, the Kerry defense was guilty of conceding several needless frees and scores followed in quick succession from P_draig Joyce (2), Niall Finnegan, Derek Savage and Tomas Joyce.
Still, Kerry didn’t seem too perturbed as they picked off the first two points of the second-half through Dara O Cinneide and Darragh O Se to make it 0-12 to 0-7. But from then on, the Munster champions lost all momentum replacing their fast, direct football with nervous short passes and Galway gained more and more confidence.
Richie Fahy was sent on to take Silke’s place and John Donnellan was given his chance by replacing Tomas Joyce and not even the arrival of Fitzgerald in the 48th minute could ease the growing Kerry discomfort. Five points in the space of eight minutes cut the deficit to just one and even though O Cinneide scored his fourth point, a superbly taken score by John Donnellan and P_draig Joyce free put the teams on level terms for the very first time with just two minutes remaining.
Now Kerry were hanging on by their fingernails. Sean Og de Paor surged through the middle only to drop his shot into Declan O’Keeffe’s hands and then Savage had a golden opportunity to settle the game, but his attempt also fell short. But then play moved down the pitch, and Kerry sub, Denis O’Dwyer, could also have stolen it, and with time left for at least one more score, referee McEnaney decided he’d seen enough.
“I think everyone here is delighted to be still involved,” said Kerry captain Moynihan, “Galway dropped a couple of balls into our goalkeeper’s hands in the last few minutes, so someone must have been praying for us.”
In the Galway camp, there was more frustration than relief. “My feeling was one of pure disgust when I heard the final whistle,” admitted Savage, “I had a great chance at the end, but I think the legs were a bit tired. It’s back to Tuam now for more training.”
In reality, it’s back to square one for both teams. Galway on the up, Kerry wondering how it all went so wrong. But will this week’s fall-out mean anything on Saturday, Oct. 7? All anyone can say is, Play it again Sam.
KERRY: D. O’Keeffe; M. Hassett, S. Moynihan, M. McCarthy; T. O Se, T. O’Sullivan, E. Fitzmaurice; D. O Se (0-1), D. Daly; A. MacGearailt, L. Hassett (0-2), N. Kennelly (0-2); M.F. Russell (0-3), D. O’Cinneide (0-4, 3 frees), J. Crowley (0-2). Subs: M. Fitzgerald for Crowley, 49 mins; D. O’Dwyer for Kennelly, 60 mins.
GALWAY: M. McNamara; T. Meehan, G. Fahy, R. Silke; D. Meehan, J. Divilly, S. Og de Paor; S. O Domhnaill, J. Bergin; P. Clancy, T. Joyce (0-1), M. Donnellan; D. Savage (0-2), P. Joyce (0-6 all frees), N. Finnegan (0-3, 2 frees). Subs: K. Walsh (0-1) for Bergin, 19 mins; R. Fahy for Silke, 41 mins; J. Donnellan (0-1) for T. Joyce, 50 mins.
Referee: P. Enaney (Monaghan).