Donegal were brought back down to earth in Killarney today; after last week’s impressive display against Cork, they were on the receiving end of a Kerry team in full flow, showing off their full array of skills and illustrating all of their forward power. The visitors didn’t do an awful lot wrong in the first half, yet still found themselves five points down at the break.
The start was very encouraging with Patrick McBrearty, Anthony Thompson and Michael Murphy all on target in the first five minutes. Bryan Sheehan then scored three frees in succession and he was majestic all day from placed balls. A goal from youngster Patrick Curtin and suddenly Donegal were chasing the game.
Michael did his best, adding a further two scores before the break but Kerry had brought their shooting boots. Anthony Maher scored a huge effort from the centre of the field while Kieran Donaghy scored two carbon copy points, both from the right wing with the outside of his boot; the Tralee man excelling in his wing forward berth, just as he did to such good effect early in the All Ireland Final last year.
Both teams set up similarly as regards defensive structures - both half forward lines dropped deep leaving three men inside. But Kerry pushed up high on Donegal instead of sitting back and indeed it seems the obvious ploy when faced against a deep lying team but very few actually do it. In last year’s semi final Dublin played a similar game to us, leaving three men back marking Colm McFadden when it seemed that pushing their forwards onto Donegal would have broken the deadlock. It certainly worked for Kerry today as Donegal struggled to get out of their half at times.
Whatever tactics Kerry play though, a key trait that has held true over the years has been to let the ball do the work and they can conserve so much energy with how they do this. They played at their own pace throughout while Donegal had started brilliantly but ran out of steam somewhat and indeed they looked as though they lost a bit of focus following some flash points before half time.
As Leo McLoone made a burst forward and laid off a ball he was caught high by Paul Galvin and Leo’s team mates were incensed that the referee waved play on. Galvin was eventually booked but in the very next attack McLoone was again the target of a high tackle, this time from Sheehan, and again he needed treatment.
The Naomh Conaill man of course suffered that horrendous injury in the club championship last year, fracturing a cheek bone and any high challenges he faces, never mind two in two minutes, cant bring back any good memories. This may have been behind Jim McGuinness’ decision to take him off at the interval.
If Donegal lost a bit of composure at that point, Kerry had plenty of it and less than a minute after the restart the game was put to bed when Sheehan stroked home a penalty - that gave them an eight point lead and it was effectively game over.
Donegal responded after the penalty but their finishing let them down, four wides in quick succession would prove costly as they were just too far behind to take advanatge when Murphy drilled home a penalty.
Soon after that, another pivotal turning point when Eamonn McGee was shown a second yellow and that was definitely that. Kerry enjoyed the last quarter and showed all the flair you’d expect of them as they racked up a score that you wouldn’t expect a McGuinness side to concede.
Neil Gallagher did well at midfield for Donegal, winning some fine fetches but overall the hosts won far more breaks around the middle and Galvin and the O’Sullivan’s, Darran and Declan, were quick to feed the inside forwards.
Michael can be pleased with his own performance - up against Marc O’Se for much of the game he scored 1-5 on the limited ball that came his way. Kerry even brought on a sub in the shape of Aidan O’Mahony to sit as a sweeper in front of Michael for the closing stages for fear that he would add to his tally.
One Kerryman showed no fear or indeed manners though as the crowd made its way out of Fitzgerald Stadium - despite a few hundred people walking up the Lewis Road one gentleman decided to relieve himself rather than using the stadium’s excellent toilet facilities - and they call us Donegal wans a rare breed!
There’ll be none of that next week as we’re back home again - Mayo come to Ballyshannon where it’ll be back to the drawing board and a win next week is vital for our Division One survival prospects. The table is looking very tight with plenty of teams vying to avoid the drop - hopefully a positive result next week can take the Messiah’s troops out of that bracket.