Well we thought last week was feisty! Compared to events in Austin Stack Park, the Mayo game looked like an underage squabble set against the often brutal fare on show yesterday.
Kerry, from the get-go, were intent on showing Donegal that this was their home patch and they don’t always take kindly to guests. A crowd of Ulstermen stepping off the visiting bus usually gets that kind of reaction from the locals.
While Donegal wouldn’t be known to shirk a challenge, having three league wins banked prior to throw in possibly meant that the minds weren’t totally in tune. The hosts took advantage of this, getting some early points on the board and despite losing a man in the midst of the first set of melees, it didn’t deter them too much as the scores kept coming.
Donnchadh Walsh, one of the key men in this Kerry team, was hugely influential in the opening period. The wing forward rarely seems to have a bad outing, his work rate and composure is terrific and as he showed with his final tally of three points, he’s an accomplished finisher.
That first flashpoint started with a hop ball between the totemic forces of Michael Murphy and Kieran Donaghy. When Murphy didn’t release the ball after a free was awarded against him, Donaghy took matters, as well as Michael’s throat, into his own hands and flung him to the floor. Mayhem ensued around midfield and within seconds another skirmish began in front of the Donegal goal. Neil McGee got a box to the nose after he had been making a nasty nuisance of himself in testing out the flexibility of new Kerry full forward Alan Fitzgerald’s fingers.
The red card shown to Fitzgerald by Eddie Kinsella was the only big punishment meted out and the man who started it all, Donaghy, got away scot-free.
The Kingdom carried on regardless and kept the scoreboard ticking over whereas Donegal struggled to make any headway against a severe wind. Murphy and McBrearty did hit the target but such was the stiffness of the breeze, shooting from any kind of distance was ambitious. The slickness, fluency and pace of previous games wasn’t quite there and Kerry’s defence were effective in shutting out Donegal.
There were a couple of excellent passages of patient possession, the ideal tactic when battling against the elements. Any Kerry effort from inside 80 yards could be deemed as score able so starving them of the ball was the right thing to attempt. Donegal were unlucky with a couple of shots that rebounded off the upright - the efforts of Rory Kavanagh and Hugh McFadden would have been apt rewards for the tiring, energy-sapping periods of keep-ball.
The second major commotion saw Leo McLoone shown the line and he was quickly followed by a pair of Kerrymen who left the field having been brandished black cards. Leo’s red seemed harsh, reprimanded for a swinging arm which wouldn’t have earned a point in a boxing ring while others on both sides got away with jabs and punches.
The short whistle had four points between the teams but in truth with the gust at their backs, Kerry may have felt that they could have been further ahead. They used very little of their traditional long ball but with Neil Gallagher entering the fray at the break, Donegal were quick to try it out.
Almost immediately, McBrearty brought a good save from goalkeeper Brian Kelly after collecting a punt from out the field. Frees from the KIlcar man and further scores from the Glenswilly duo of Gallagher and Murphy had Donegal level but all that good work was undone after the team fell asleep at a free kick. Bryan Sheehan dropped a quick ball into Donaghy and Peter Crowley was allowed to ghost in on goal unmarked, finishing well to put some daylight between the teams.
The home team kicked on again and added to their lead, the pick of the bunch a gloriously flighted placed ball from Sheehan.
An infuriating aspect of the match from a Donegal perspective was the number of times Kerry had frees moved up by Kinsella following mouthing from the visitors. With an expert such as Sheehan on the opposing side, a free closer in is a gift. A similar situation arose in last year’s league encounter with Dublin, Dean Rock the beneficiary on that occasion and it played a vital part in The Dubs securing a win. As tetchy as the game was, the team has to keep its cool; conceding gimmies is inexcusable.
Now six points in arrears, Donegal looked dead and buried but they used the long ball again to good effect, as Murphy crashed home a fabulous goal to put life back into their challenge. Michael and his men though never really clicked into any of the high gears and the game petered out thereafter to an inevitable Kerry victory.
A final tally of 1-8 included only one point after Murphy’s net buster, a poor return. Perhaps there was a certain complacency amongst the players with their passes and shooting - a strong wind always has a big bearing on a football match but it has yet to kick a score or block a goal-bound shot. It cant do the job for you but it can assist. The late wides from McBrearty, Murphy and Odhran MacNiallais were sloppy and suggested that they did not take the requisite care in taking the breeze into consideration.
The main worry that would have occupied Rory Gallagher’s mind on the long trip home was how for the second week running Donegal were outdone at centre-field for lengthy spells. The speed, or lack of, at which the restarts were taken, was the primary reason for this.
Peter Boyle, in all other aspects of play aside from kick outs, was excellent; he pulled off a brilliant save down low to his left from Sheehan early on and also dealt expertly with one particular high ball into his square, getting a crucial fist on the ball ahead of two Kerry attackers.
The main differentiator at inter county level for the modern ‘keeper is how quickly he can deliver his kicks and how varied they can be. Boyle is a relative newcomer to this level and it will take him time to become accustomed to the demands of the position.
The thoughts and Summer plans of one man in Qatar will become more and more significant as Championship draws closer. Paul Durcan will of course be back on Irish soil inside a fortnight, as he takes to the sacred turf of Croke Park on All-Ireland Club Final Day with Ballyboden. Rory will be hoping that it wont be his last trip home of the year.
Ironically, Dublin also found the going tough this weekend and that was because their machine was shorn of its most prominent and vital cog, Stephen Cluxton. He and Durcan are the standard bearers for the likes of Boyle, Rory Beggan and Cluxton’s deputy Michael Savage - its only when the duo are missing from their respective teams is their full worth revealed.
Roscommon roll into town next week on the back of three straight wins and their tales will be up. However, there’s nothing like a bit of annoyance and thickness to get a team to perform and while the points weren’t overly important in Tralee, the bruising manner of the defeat will ensure a response from Donegal next Sunday.