Kelly's heroes deliver crown
IT was thirty seconds of sheer defiance. Denis Murphy stood over the sliotár with intent.
He picked and blasted it toward goal. From the penalty spot Carlow would have expected it to rattle the net. The Kerry fans sucked the air and willed it to stay out. Tadhg Flynn ensured it did with a brilliant reflex save.
The danger not yet passed, it was scrambled out for a '65. Fingers crossed and Kerry breath still held, Richard Coady opted to drop it into the box. What other option did he have? Carlow needed a goal, they needed it right at that moment.
The odds were against it. Just as the odds were against Wicklow as they chased down a seven point deficit going into added time against Tipperary in the football league match which preceded this one. Three goals later and a two point victory secured, Wicklow proved that nothing can ever be taken for granted.
Kerry didn't take anything for granted. Shane Nolan didn't. When the ball came his way he reacted with the reflexes that serve him so well at the other end of the pitch to bat the ball from the danger zone. Only now could the faithful breathe out.
Relieved and elated at a victory that we scarcely thought possible. A victory we didn't even consider a possiblity at the start of the year. We're quickly beginning to realise that this Kerry team and this Kerry manager mean business.
For John Meyler it can't have been an easy defeat to take. So much of his good work over the years came back to haunt him on Sunday. Long he championed the causes of Bryan Murphy and Colm Harty. Both proved why on Sunday afternoon.
Murphy was a contender for man of the match by the finish. He's more than at home in the full-back line. Strong and tenacious and going just as strongly in the 70th minute as the first. Harty, meanwhile, oozed class on the half-forward line. One-two from play, a decisive intervention.
Another Meyler protégé, Darragh O'Connell, dominated the half-back line. Seán Weir, another who would have passed through his hands, was equally impressive on the other wing. The value of that Under 21 three in-a-row is now staring us in the face.
That Eamonn Kelly was bequeated a fine panel isn't open to question, but the Tipp man has harnessed that potential and brought them to another level. Others have tried, few have been nearly as successful.
This is the hungriest Kerry hurling team we can recall. They fight for absolutely everything. They work hard. They're a team in their manager's image. That's what the captain John Egan says. That's what our own eyes tell us.
A simple game plan, Egan modestly called it on Sunday, built on hard work. To use a rugby term their line speed is exceptional. This Kerry team get in their opponents' face. This Kerry team hassles and harries. It hooks and it blocks. It gets the results from all that hard work.
"It's great, it's probably exceeded our expectations at the start of the year with the lads," Kelly says.
"They've trained very hard, we are very fit. We felt that if we were within striking distance with fifteen minutes to go having the breeze we'd have a fair chance at it, but the goal after half-time was great. We'd left ourselves a huge hill to climb after giving away the three goals in the first half, but they finished well. I'm delighted with them.
"They were driven. They were focussed in the second half. We spoke about it at half-time, we said the only thing that we wanted today was to get our own performance right. We didn't do it in the first half.
"They felt at half-time they didn't do it justice, 'let's go out now in the second half and give it one right go. Then look in the mirror and say could you have done any better' and I think they can all do that. They fought right to the finish. "
Kelly's men deserved this victory. The better team certainly won out. Not that they didn't make things difficult for themselves, conceding those three first half goals. That put huge pressure on Kerry. That they were able to absorb that pressure and come back even more strongly tells a tale.
They have confidence in themselves, they have confidence in their game plan and in their manager. When Kelly opted to return John Egan to the side at the last minute, when he opted to give John Griffin his first start of the year, they knew that he knew what he was doing.
Those of us who feared that Griffin couldn't possibly be up to the speed required for a league final were soon shown our folly. Egan took his time to stamp his authority on the game, but once he did, scoring a goal and earning a penalty, it made all the difference.
Kelly's changes on the line made all the difference too. Kerry were struggling to contain Carlow's full-forward line before he introduced Thomas Casey. Afterwards Carlow barely got a sniff at Flynn's goal.
This is a victory that will live long in the memory of anybody who was present. Players, fans and management. The April sun, the fresh breeze, the excitement, the drama. A game writ large, a game painted in technicolor.
"I couldn't believe it the roar that went up when we got the goal," Kelly says
"It was fantastic. You see the amount of people that were here today to witness it, also a shame that the football game was going on at the same time, that's a pity, but listen we're happy at this stage."
This victory sets up a clash this Saturday evening with Offaly. Kingpins of yore, a fading power, but a power that should still carry a punch at this level. At the same time in the space of a few days Antrim were able to turn a twenty-one point drubbing into a four point victory against them.
Things are not going as well as people would like them to in the faithful county. Where the Kingdom go into this game bouyed up and confident and with the momentum of six successive victories in their back pocket, it wouldn't be hugely suprising if Brian Whelahan's men are a little deflated.
Kerry have every chance of upsetting the odds here, but let's not get too carried way. Offaly made life quite difficult for Cork on O'Connor Park. They even managed to snatch a draw with Donal O'Grady's Limerick, the reiging Munster champions.
It's not as though they've forgotten how to hurl in the midlands all of a sudden. They've still got plenty of quality. Joe Bergin, Brian Carroll, Shane Dooley, Rory Hanniffy, James Rigney. Then again that they managed just two points in the entire second half against Antrim hardly augurs well.
"Do you know what?" Kelly said on Sunday.
"I've not thought for ten seconds about Offaly. All we looked at was Carlow today. Maybe Carlow were looking at Offaly, I don't know. We'll regroup now, we'll have a chat and we'll see where we'll go."
By the time he leads his men out in Semple this weekend he'll have thought plenty about Offaly. You can bank on that.