THERE'S less than five minutes on the clock.
Finuge have the initiative. Paul Galvin is having a stormer. Maurice Corridan is pinging the ball over the bar with his left peg. James Flaherty is getting on the ball and getting on the scoreboard. The North Kerry men are well on their way towards a famous victory. Or are they? Mike O'Donoghue is on the ball now. He's bearing down on goal. He takes a shot and in a brilliant piece of last gasp defending Finuge captain Chris Allen gets in front of the ball and saves a near certain goal.
It's on such moments that games and championships turn. An early goal for Spa could have made all the difference. Instead they struggled to get into the game as Finuge continued their blitzkrieg, their shock and awe approach. Finuge had power, they had pace, they had class and guile. They ran the Killarney outfit ragged in those opening exhanges. It was five points to nil after nine minutes.
It could have been 1-5 to 0-0 had Stephen Power managed to direct his effort to the back of James Devane's net. It wasn't an easy chance, but it was demonstrative of how easy Finuge were finding it to exploit openings in the Spa rearguard. The ball was in the back of the net just a couple of minutes later through the intelligent play of John Griffin who was alive to a rebound from an Eamonn Fitzmaurice attempted point.
Finuge were just sharper. More clued in. Spa were not the Spa from the opening twenty minutes of a week previous. Then they were the ones with the bit between their teeth. We wrote on these pages last week that, having snatched their draw from the jaws of defeat, Finuge would carry the momentum into this fixture. Even those of us who fancied their chances were surprised to the extent to which that happened.
We were also surprised at just how well Finuge were playing. They were brilliant. It was simple football. It was direct football. It was tremendously effective football. The long ball into Eamonn Fitzmaurice caused Hugh O'Donoghue and co all sorts of bother, but if you think it was a simple Jack Charlton approach from Finuge then think again. Some beautiful ball was sent in towards James Flaherty too. Some of it was fifty / fifty and time and again the inter-county hurler battled out in front of his man.
Finuge dominated those early exchanges because they dominated the middle third. Andrew Garnett and Anthony O'Sullivan are two fine midfielders, well capable of winning primary possession and setting moves in train and to be fair after the early exchanges that's precisely what they did and that's precisely what gave Spa a chance of getting something out of this game. In those early exchanges, however, it was all about Paul Galvin and Maurice Corridan.
Galvin scrapped for every ball. He won it over his head. He won the breaks. Corridan, meanwhile, gave Garnett a difficult time of it when the ball was in open play. Another big plus for Finuge in that sector of the ptich was the performance of Raymond Galvin. He dropped back from cornerforward and with assumed his brother Paul's more usual scavenging half-forward role. He played it to a T.
WIng-back Conor Fitzmaurice was another man to sweep up plenty breaks, while Pat Corridan played his second magnificent game from centre-back in the space of a week as FInuge's defence more generally excelled. Or was it the case that the Spa attack misfired yet again? Probably a little from column A and a little from column B. With O'Sullivan coming into the side at midfield Mike O'Donoghue was able to stay in an offensive role for longer.
That coupled with the return of Niall O'Mahony gave one the impression that they would have the firepower to trouble Finuge, but it wasn't until late in the
day, too late in the day as it turned out, that they managed to do so. O'Mahony was substituted before then. The game clearly came soon for the Kerry panelist, who missed out on the drawn game through injury. Young guns Ryan O'Carroll and Craig Hickey failed to make as much of an impact this time around.
For the second week in-arow they had to rely on placed balls for sustainence. Six of their twelve points came from placed balls. Only one of Finuge's (a Paul Galvin free) did. Some of that can be put down to their lack of form, but it shouldn't be forgotten that Finuge gave away quite a few frees when the pressure came on. In the final fifteen minutes they coughed up four scorable frees. You could argue that it very nearly came back to haunt them. You could also argue that had they not fouled Spa would have scored anyway.
Truth be told Spa lost this game in the final ten minutes of the drawn game. They really should have hung on for victory. They'll have reason to query that late Pat Corridan point from that game. In Sunday's game, however, they'll simply have to admit they were beaten by the superior force.
Finuge, meanwhile, will be feeling pretty good about their chances in Munster this week. Croke Park is on the cards we feel.