By Mark Jones
Kerry 0-17, Galway 1-10
DUBLIN – You don’t normally get a second chance in the white-knuckle atmosphere of the All-Ireland championship. Kerry had a reprieve when they were lucky to survive in the closing stages of the drawn final, and the lessons were clearly learned as they wrapped up yet another football title with a convincing win over Galway in last Saturday’s replay at Croke Park.
This time the Kingdom came and delivered. The double threat of Padraic Joyce and Michael Donnellan was mostly held in check, the Kerry defense got out of the habit of giving away frees, and with super-sub Maurice Fitzgerald pulling the strings in the last 20 minutes, even the most blinkered of Galway supporters had to agree that the better team had carried off the Sam Maguire Cup.
True to form, Kerry gave their faithful several gut-wrenching moments. The damaging tendency of fading out of games that has dogged Paidi O Se’s players all summer long resurfaced during the second half when Galway popped over four unanswered points. The winners shot four wides during the same period and, suddenly, the contest was on a knife edge again.
Kerry steadied themselves again, but when Kevin Walsh scored a point with 13 minutes left, the Connacht champions trailed by only a point. O Se must have been thinking about the first final when Galway stormed through in the dying minutes, but this time Kerry were ready. Of the seven scores that were left in the game, the green and gold plundered five to settle the issue.
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"On the day things worked out for us," O Se said. "Our decisions at the back in tying down Michael Donnellan and Padraic Joyce, but I won’t be drawn on talk of a tactical battle. The people who won this game were out there on the pitch."
There can be little doubt that the improved collective performance of Seamus Moynihan, Mike Hassett and Mike McCarthy in holding the Galway attack scoreless from play was crucial. Tom O’Sullivan’s excellent marking job on Donnellan also made a massive difference and, despite several wides, Aodan MacGearailt improved significantly from the drawn game.
With the normally lethal trio of Derek Savage, Padraic Joyce and Niall Finnegan struggling against the Kerry defense, it was left to Donnellan alone to provide a spark for Galway and the task for one player was simply too much.
"I thought we might be able to go on and win it when we were level in the second half," said Galway manager John O’Mahony. "But a few things went against us and I’ve no qualms about the result."
Although Kerry played most of the stylish football before the interval, it was Galway who got off to a blistering start when Declan Meehan fired home the goal of the season after just seven minutes. The movement began when Dara O Cinneide’s 45 was blocked by Kevin Walsh and John Divilly started an intricate passing movement down the left wing. Eventually, Padraic Joyce switched the play to the center from where Paul Clancy delivered a brilliant pass over the defense to Meehan. The wingback’s angle was narrowed by the advancing Declan O’Keeffe, but his shot across the goalkeeper was perfection.
Instead of kickstarting Galway’s attack, Meehan’s stunning effort was the best they produced throughout the game and Kerry quickly took control as Darragh O Se and Donal Daly began to mop up possession in centerfield. Galway’s cause wasn’t helped when the influential Walsh had to depart with a knee problem — he returned midway through the second half in place of Sean O Domhnaill — and inspired by the arrival of Maurice Fitzgerald, Kerry were 0-8 to 1-3 ahead at the changeover.
"Maurice if the Mick O’Connell of our era," Mike Frank Russell said. "I’m sick of thanking him for all the passes he’s given me. I’m sure he’s getting tired of it himself." Galway’s goalscorer, Meehan, was also quick to acknowledge Fitzgerald’s influence. "When he came into the game, they started to stroke over a few points," he said. "We missed a few chances at the other end, so we can have no complaints."
Replacing Noel Kennelly in the 26th minute, Fitzgerald was inexplicably sent in at full-forward, where his impact was reduced, but once O Se moved him out, only one outcome looked likely.
Galway began the second half with renewed intent as Donnellan, Tommie Joyce, Padraic Joyce and Sean Og de Paor all contributed scores in quick succession, but that was their final fling as Kerry finished strongly. The impressive Liam Hassett hit his third point, Fitzgerald, Russell and MacGearailt all found the range and the Kingdom were four clear and coasting to victory.
Manager O Se has had his share of detractors — especially in his home county — but now after two All-Ireland successes, a National League title and two All-Ireland Under 21 titles, he is surely entitled to be regarded as a great manager. Trouble is, they’ve become so accustomed to success in Kerry that O Se is being judged by different standards.
Kerry: D. O’Keeffe; M. Hassett, S. Moynihan, M. McCarthy; T. O Se, T. O’Sullivan, E. Fitzmaurice (0-1); D. O Se, D. Daly; A. MacGearailt (0-3), L. Hassett (0-3), N. Kennelly; M.F. Russell (0-2), D. O Cinneide (0-4, all frees), J. Crowley (0-3). Subs.: M. Fitzgerald (0-1) for Kennelly, 28 mins.; T. Griffin for O’Sullivan, 67 mins.
Galway: M. McNamara; T. Meehan, G. Fahey, R. Fahey; D. Meehan (1-0), J. Divilly, S. Og de Paor (0-1); K. Walsh (0-1), S. O Domhnaill; P. Clancy, M. Donnellan (0-2), T. Joyce (0-1); D. Savage, P. Joyce (0-1), N. Finnegan (0-2, 2 frees). Subs.: J. Bergin (0-1) for Walsh, 18 mins.; K. Walsh for O’Domhnaill, 54 mins.; J. Donnellan for T. Joyce, 66 mins.; S. Walsh (0-1) for Clancy, 70 mins.
Referee: B. White (Wexford).