DONEGAL 0-12 KERRY 2-09
BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT CROKE PARK
THE dreams of Donegal lay upon the hallowed sod as Kerry won Sam Maguire for the 37th time.
Devastation is a word over-used in sport, but the scenes at the end were those of sheer, raw pain and hurt.
The end here was perhaps sorest when you consider that it could well be the last time some of this great team dons the green and gold. Afterwards, manager Jim McGuinness wouldn’t be drawn either on his own or his team’s future.
It was a surprise march to the final by both teams after storming semi-final wins over Dublin and Mayo. The man who turned Kerry’s season, Kieran Donaghy, was ultimately the man who ensured that Sam makes the familiar train ride back to Killarney.
Donaghy profited in a moment that will haunt Paul Durcan for eternity. Barry John Keane had just put Kerry a point up and it was at a time when the game was still bubbling nicely in the melting pot. However, it hinged on that moment when Durcan’s kickout was straight to the Tralee tower, Donaghy and he did the rest, firing a bullet past the Donegal netminder to the net.
Stunned by a goal in the first minute by Paul Geaney, Donegal had responded well, but it was an afternoon where there was a distinct lack of zip in the Tír Chonaill performance. Even after Donaghy blasted the second, Donegal still came back for more – but Kerry had the smell of victory from a good bit out and Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s men were deserving of their win.
They had to endure some late agony as Donegal piled on the pressure and Colm McFadden hit the post with the late chance that could have brought them back for round two.
But Kerry held on. It was very un-Kerry, but winning was all that mattered to Fitzmaurice. The how, to the pragmatic Kerry boss, was an irrelevance. Kerry funnelled bodies back, not unlike Donegal do and it was mirror-mirror stuff for the most part.
Goals always looked like being the deciding factor here, but many expected it to be Donegal who were landing the big scores. However, Kerry kept their sheet clean and with Geaney and Donaghy netting for them it was to be their day.
Kerry also managed to stave off Donegal’s traditional third quarter burst. The Ulster Champions would have been happy to be level at the interval – even if they’d have asked themselves hard questions about some of the first half – and when Michael Murphy inched them in front a familiar tale was being told.
The lead lasted seconds and Donegal never regained the foothold.
They had hardly time to get their bearings when Kerry rattled the cage with a goal, coming just 49 seconds into the contest. Stephen O’Brien appeared to be going for a point, but the ball hung down and Paul Geaney stole a march on Paddy McGrath before picking his spot in the far corner.
Kerry laid down the gauntlet with Donaghy converting when Geaney popped off to him after Johnny Buckley hit an upright.
Michael Murphy thumped over two long-range frees but his side survived another goal threat from Kerry in the 14th minute. Eamon McGee was dispossessed after carrying the ball out of defence and O’Brien’s long ball into the danger zone, which had too much weight for Geaney and Donaghy, flew wide when it might well have dropped in.
Murphy and McFadden (both frees) brought Donegal to within a point before they fashioned a great goal chance of their own in the 25th minute. Rory Kavanagh was strong in the build up and his ball over the top gave Darach O’Connor a sniff of goal.
The young Buncrana man’s effort deflected out off goalkeeper Brendan Kelly. No ’45 was given and Donegal had just seen their best chance trickle wide by the narrowest of margins.
Kavanagh and O’Connor were the late changes to the Donegal side from that which had been named as Christy Toye and Patrick McBrearty were held in reserve again having turned the tide for Donegal in the semi-final against Dublin.
Geaney flashed a glorious chance just over Durcan’s crossbar with the Kingdom constantly in search of a way to prise Donegal open.
By the break Donegal were back on level terms thanks to MacNiallais – with an enterprising first-time effort off the floor – and Karl Lacey. As they chewed on the first half, Donegal were level, 0-6 to 1-3 and could reflect on a first half that saw them hold Kerry scoreless for period of nine, fourteen and the final eight minutes.
Murphy kicked Donegal ahead for the first time three minutes into part two, but it was a short-lived lead. Their period in the driving seat – the only time they were ahead for the whole game – lasted less than a minute. Paul Murphy sailed over a delightful effort from the front of the Cusack Stand for another reminder of where Kerry’s minds were.
When Barry John Keane fired Kerry back in front in the 51st minute it was just a prelude to the moment that secured the prize for Kerry, Durcan’s attempted short kickout going straight to Donaghy who riffled to the Hill 16 net.
Energised now, Kerry’s players and supporters rose.
The Donegal response was to be commended. McBrearty, sprang from the bench in the early moments of the second half, scored twice in a minute, first fisting over from close range and then drilling over in style following good approach play by fellow sub Martin McElhinney.
Fifteen minutes from time Neil McGee sneaked over a fine point and it was a one-point game again, only for Buckley to land an inspirational score at the other end.
When Keane won and pointed a free, Kerry could smell blood and Donaghy twisted the dagger, winning high and palming over.
Although Dermot Molloy and Toye gave Donegal hope, Kerry – now full of the swagger and oozing with the confidence that comes with winning 36 All-Irelands – were resembling a rugby team and trying to run the clock down.
Bryan Sheehan, with his first kick after coming on, nailed the last, decisive point.
There was that late drama as McFadden hit a post in a scramble that came about after a move involving Molloy, Toye, McBrearty and Murphy.
Kerry survived and Kerry soon rejoiced but Donegal felt the haunting pang of defeat and those painful images of the tears steaming down the faces of some of this county’s greatest warriors – on what could have been a final day in combat for some – outlined that the nightmare scenario had arrived.
KERRY: Brian Kelly; Marc Ó Sé, Aidan O’Mahony, Fionn Fitzgerald; Paul Murphy (0-1), Peter Crowley, Killian Young; Anthony Maher, David Moran; Donnchadh Walsh, Stephen O’Brien, Johnny Buckley (0-1); Paul Geaney (1-2, 1f), Kieran Donaghy (1-2), James O’Donoghue.
Subs: Michael Geaney for O’Brien (half-time), Barry John Keane (0-2, 2f) for P Geaney (49 mins), Shane Enright for Fitzgerald (55 mins), Declan O’Sullivan for Walsh (57 mins), Bryan Sheehan (0-1, 1f) for Moran (68 mins), Kieran O’Leary for Donaghy (73 mins)
DONEGAL: Paul Durcan; Neil McGee (0-1), Eamonn McGee, Paddy McGrath; Anthony Thompson, Karl Lacey (0-1), Frank McGlynn; Neil Gallagher, Rory Kavanagh; Odhrán MacNiallais (0-1), Leo McLoone, Ryan McHugh; Colm McFadden (0-1, 1f), Michael Murphy (0-4, 3f), Darach O’Connor.
Subs: Christy Toye (0-1) for O’Connor (28 mins), Patrick McBrearty (0-2) for McHugh (46 mins), Martin McElhinney for MacNiallais (52 mins), David Walsh for McLoone (57 mins), Dermot Molloy (0-1) for Kavanagh (64 mins).
Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Laois).