Kerry 2-9 : Donegal 0-12, Croke Park
It might not be the most star-studded Kerry team to win an All-Ireland title but that will not bother the men from the Kingdom in the slightest. Éamonn Fitzmaurice will deservedly take much of the credit for turning this young Kerry side into champions, something Kieran Donaghy was happy to point out to Joe Brolly during an interview after the final whistle.
The match will certainly not be remembered as a classic. Many star players on both sides failed to shine on a day where defensive systems came to the fore. For a long while it looked as though Kerry had kicked the game away as they squandered chance after chance in both halves, but in the end Donegal struggled to get out of 1st gear for large parts of the game and Kerry were just about worth their victory.
From the beginning, Kerry virtually copied Donegal’s tactics of keeping many men behind the ball and counter-attacking. Kerry got off to the perfect start. Stephen O’Brien’s weak effort at the posts dropped short on the square, Paul Geaney won the tustle for possession with Paddy McGrath and turned sharply to expertly guide the ball in the corner of the net passed Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan. Geaney then set up Kieran Donaghy for a point after a Johnny Buckley effort came back off the post to make it 1-1 to 0-0.
Kerry failed to capitalise on this early advantage and Donegal slowly settled into the game. The Ulster champions were struggling to create scoring opportunities from open play with Kerry filing large numbers behind the ball. Michael Murphy slotted 3 free kicks and Colm McFadden added another to haul Donegal back into contention.
Donegal finally found a gap in the Kerry defence after 25 minutes when Darach O’Connor was sent through on goal by Rory Kavanagh but his rushed attempt glanced of the Kerry goalkeeper’s leg before being helped wide by a Kerry back. The referee and umpires somehow managed to miss this blatant 45 and awarded Kerry a goal-kick.
By this stage, the early free-flowing tempo had died down and the quality of football from both teams was nothing short of awful. Kerry were becoming wasteful in possession and their forwards lacked confidence in front of the posts, often opting to lob aimless balls down in front of the Donegal goal. Geaney had a chance to snatch another goal but he lost his composure after stepping inside the Donegal defence nicely before blazing a left-footed effort over the bar from close range.
Donegal responded with their most dominant period of the game. Karl Lacey began to dictate proceedings for Donegal and finished off a fine move to register Donegal’s first point from open play. Odhrán Mac Niallais added another moments later to leave the sides level at the interval.
Despite his side struggling to find their rhythm, Jim McGuinness would have been the happier of the two managers at the break. Éamonn Fitzmaurice would have been disappointed that his side never managed to push on from their early lead.
Michael Murphy kicked an impressive score from distance after the restart to give Donegal the lead for the first, and what would ultimately be the last time, in the match. The Donegal captain was being tightly monitored by the experienced Aidan O’Mahony and was not being allowed to influence the game as Donegal would have liked. Paul Murphy responded for the Kingdom with an inspirational score to level the game once again. Kerry could have gone out of sight at this stage but for some wayward shooting. Anthony Maher, Paul Geaney and Donnchadh Walsh all saw efforts fail to hit the target.
In such a tight contest mistakes were always going to be costly and the turning point in the game came from a sloppy error. Paul Durcan lost his concentration from a Donegal kick-out and passed the ball straight to Kieran Donaghy who used all his experience to guide home Kerry’s second goal of the day. Only Durcan will know how he managed to miss the 6 ft 5 giant standing in front of him. Despite what Jim McGuinness said in his post-match interview, this would prove the deciding factor of the game. Donegal responded almost immediately with three scores. Paddy McBrearty was brought off the bench and scored twice, which asks the question of whether or not he should have started. Neil McGee then charged up the field from full-back to fire over a fine score but Donegal failed to draw level again. Brian Sheehan was introduced in the dying moments and held his nerve to slot over a free for the Kingdom. Despite never finding their usual pattern of play Donegal could have sneaked a draw right at the death. Michael Murphy charged through several Kerry backs before his blocked shot dropped to Colm McFadden who punched the ball off the bottom of the posts and with that the game was over.
It was a great day all-round for the people of Kerry. Their minors defeated Donegal in the early match to claim their first minor title in 20 years. Winning a minor and senior All-Ireland title is a fine achievement. It was an emotional day for Colm Cooper who watched from the stands. It could well have been the worst Kerry team to win an All-Ireland, which might make this their sweetest victory of all.
Team Line Ups:
DONEGAL (SF v Kerry): P Durcan; E McGee, N McGee, P McGrath; A Thompson, K Lacey, F McGlynn; N Gallagher, O MacNiallais; C Toye, L McLoone, R McHugh; P McBrearty, M Murphy, C McFadden.
Subs: M Boyle, D O’Connor, D Walsh, D Walsh, D Molloy, H McFadden, L Thompson, L Keaney, M McElhinney, M O’Reilly, R Kavanagh.
KERRY (SF v Mayo): B Kelly; M Ó Sé, A O’Mahony, F Fitzgerald; P Murphy, P Crowley, K Young; A Maher, D Moran; S O’Brien, J Buckley, D Walsh; P Geaney, K Donaghy, J O’Donoghue.
Subs: B Kealy, S Enright, M Geaney, Declan O’Sullivan, B J Keane, B Sheehan, Darran O’Sullivan, K O’Leary, J Lyne, M Griffin, P Kilkenny