Seeing the Sam Maguire in the hands of a Kerry man once more stirred a sense of familiarity within me. The prospect of meeting Kerry on all Ireland Final day has always been an unsettling one. At only nineteen years old, cure my generation has seen Kerry win six previous titles, Sunday’s victory bringing them to a record haul of 37.
For five long years however, Kerry had lost their golden touch. The 2011 final saw the Kingdom come within inches of glory, only to be denied by Stephen Cluxton’s nerves of steel. In only the first year of his tenure, Eamon Fitzmaurice has reversed the trend, joining Kerry legends such as Jack O’Connor and Páidí Ó Sé in the history books. Jim McGuinness however, will have to content himself with his legendary status, his entry into GAA folklore will have to wait another year at least.
The hype surrounding the game was palpable. The semi-finals saw Donegal dismantle the seemingly unstoppable Dublin, whilst Kerry had slugged it out with Mayo over one hundred and sixty bruising minutes. Yet the highly anticipated free flowing football, as witnessed three weeks ago, was not forthcoming, making way for an unmemorable battle of attrition.
Sunday’s opening salvos were full of promise as Kerry’s two man full forward line sprang into life. UCC captain Paul Geaney dispatched the ball past Durcan into the Donegal goal with only fifty seconds played following a fine fetch over the head of Paddy McGrath. Donaghy stretched the lead to four points within moments. Yet that is where the excitement ended. Geaney went on to record Kerry’s remaining two points of the half.
Donegal were being marshalled by the tightest of Kerry marking, and subsequently relied on the dead ball mastery of Michael Murphy. The Glenswilly talisman kept Donegal in the game with three converted frees, yet like so many others he was denied the freedom to perform on the most public of stages. A further free from the anonymous Colm McFadden accompanied singles from Karl Lacey and Odhrán Mac Niallais to level matters going into the break.
A pair of Murphy points heralded in the second half. The first a long range strike from Micheal, and the second an equally impressive effort from Kerry’s wing back Paul.
Barry John Keane and Paddy McBrearty entered the foray and upped the ante for the Kerry and Donegal forward lines respectively, injecting some much needed vigour. Keane scored a free for Kerry upon arrival, the subsequent kick out was one to forget for big Paddy Durcan. The Donegal stopper dropped the ball into the hands of Donaghy who needed no invitation to bear down on goal and find the net.
McBrearty will have left many questioning Jim’s choice not to start him as he responded to the goal concession with two scintillating scores. Neil McGee further reduced to gap to one.
Much to their credit, Kerry refused to panic and weathered a late storm in the form of Dermot Molloy and Christy Toye points. Even the goal post was on Kerry’s side as it denied McFadden a last gasp leveller.
Barry John Keane displayed the utmost petulance in kicking away Durcan’s teed up ball in extra time, highlighting the new cynicism in Kerry’s play. Is this really how GAAs greatest honour should be won, or is it the natural progression of our great game?
(photo credit to independent.ie)