A dramatic victory in this senior Football “A” semifinal seemed highly unlikely in the early stages of this match as Westmeath utterly dominated the Kingdom.
The match began like another installment of the P.J. Ward show, as Westmeath’s powerful and skillful corner forward notched 0-4 from play and placed balls while Westmeath eased out to a 1-6 to 0-1 halftime lead.
David Fitzgerald picked up Westmeath’s three-pointer, neatly sidestepping Kerry keeper Finbar Flood after a high bounce sent “Fisher” in alone and Fisher neatly slotted home.
Westmeath were dominant in every way in the opening half as the scoreline indicates. David Hughes was in great form at cornerback, and the halfback line, led by Aiden Canning, were snuffing out Kerry’s halfhearted attacks. At center forward Derryman Enda Muldoon was a force and P.J. and Shane Ward were having their way in the full forward line.
But the match was being decided in front of the Westmeath goal, where fullback Kieran McCusker, another Derryman, was dominating Kerry full forward Pauric Joyce, the Galway intercounty star. Joyce’s free was Kerry’s lone first-half point, but that was his only positive impact in the opening half.
Kerry were a dispirited, disjointed, disorganized, and disappointed side, heading into the final 35 minutes and surely this match was over.
Still, the second half still had to be played so both sides came back out. Bingo O’Driscoll, nowhere to be found in the first half, opened with a Kerry point, but Kerry’s hearts sank when Westmeath came right back with two quick points of their own.
Kerry switched Joyce and O’Driscoll at the start of the second half and Joyce seemed happy to have more room to operate further afield and also out from McCusker’s shadow. The move paid tangible dividends when Joyce’s precision pass resulted in a penalty for Kerry. O’Driscoll’s blast made the score 1-8 to 1-2 and a game seemed to be on.
Then just when the drama began to build, Enda Muldoon made a tremendous catch and turned and belted to the Kerry net. Now Westmeath led 2-8 to 1-3. There was plenty of time to play, but 0-8 is a huge hole to climb out of in a semifinal.
Kerry got a point from Ronan McGee, but that was quickly answered by a Fitzgerald point for Westmeath. Then Joyce’s goal lifted Kerry, although at the time it seem innocent enough.
Dave McSweeney, who recovered well from a bad knock in the first half, won a ton of ball at the midfield and Ronan O’Connor and Paddy O’Connor who started this match on the bench began to turn the possession arrow in Kerry’s favor.
O’Driscoll and Joyce switched back to their starting positions and Kerry began to find Joyce with the ball. The Tribesmen knew just what to do with it. Joyce scored an incredible 1-6 in the final 25 minutes to a lone P.J. Ward free for Westmeath. Joyce scored the last 0-4 of the match as Kerry caught and overtook Westmeath.
Trailing by 0-2, Westmeath sent a ball into a massive crowd in the Kerry goalmouth as the buzzer rang to announce the end of the match. Westmeath vehemently appealed to referee John Fitzpatrick for a penalty.
After a lengthy dispute, Westmeath reluctantly trudged off the field and Kerry celebrated their return to the finals.
Man of the Match: Pauric Joyce
Kerry: Finbarr Flood, John O’Sullivan, Paul Gallivan, Paul Dillon, Derek Riney, Jonathan McGee (0-1), Ronan O’Connor, Dave McSweeney, Willie O’Donnell, Niall Horgan, Bingo O’Driscoll (1-3), Brian Collins, Jamie O’Driscoll (0-1), Brian Collins, Jamie O’Driscoll, Pauric Joyce (1-7, 3 frees), Dave McCarthy.
Westmeath: Eoin Farrell, Kieran Walsh, Kieran McCuster, Dave Hughes, Tom Quinn, Aiden Canning, Michael Jackson, Pauric Clancy, Brian Murphy (0-1), Garreth Baile, Enda Muldoon (1-2), Enda Henry, P.J. Ward (0-6, 2 frees), Shane Ward, Dave Fitzgerald (1-1).