Kerry deserving victors over bogey side Carlow
IT'S been a long time coming.
Victory over Carlow is a goal that's eluded the Kingdom for far too long. There were plenty of false dawns along the way. Like when they drew with Barrowsiders in Dr Cullen Park in the 2009 Christy Ring Cup semi-final. A week later, in the replay, Carlow blew the Kingdom out of the water 6-10 to 2-11. It's been a long time coming.
Ever since that day and even before the sense has been of Carlow steaming ahead and Kerry struggling to keep up or at worst going backwards. Even during the good years under the management of John Meyler and later Tom Howard, Carlow were always that little bit out of reach.
Not any more. On Sunday afternoon Kerry outplayed them. Not definitively or anything near what Carlow did on the same pitch all those years ago, but enough to suggest they've got a fighting chance in the league final in a couple of weeks time.
Carlow will be stronger then, boosted by the return of their Mount Leinster Rangers players. They'll be more focussed too. The eyes of the county were trained on Croke Park this weekend, not Austin Stack Park.
None of this should distract from a really fine performance by the Kingdom. They started the stronger. They finished the stronger. But for a fifteen minute spell up to half-time they were the ones in the driving seat.
After ten minutes they'd stormed into a seven point lead. Colm Harty was the dominant figure around the middle of the park. The passing was crisp. The lines of running direct. On seven minutes Shane Nolan picked out Harty, Harty swivelled and found Padraig Boyle in turn. Straight in front of the sticks Boyle doesn't miss. A cracking goal, a cracking team goal.
Sure the wind was at their back, but this was fantastic stuff from Eamonn Kelly's side. Carlow were struggling to get any hold on the game. Bryan Murphy, employed as a sweeper in the full-back line, cut out quite a bit of ball.
For a Christy Ring Cup side to put in a performance like this against a Liam McCarthy Cup outfit is impressive, under strength or not. On fourteen minutes Craig Wall pointed to make it 1-6 to 0-3. A sign that Carlow were beginning to get their act together.
Kerry, meanwhile, kept hurling their own game. Mikey Boyle was Kerry's chief ball winner on the half-forward line (what a boost this guy's return has been). He found Darragh O'Connell, who replied to Wall's point.
The tit for tat – James Doyle for Carlow with a point followed by one from Nolan for Kerry – gave way to increasing Carlow dominance. Bit by bit they gained control around the middle, with Doyle and Sean Murphy coming more into the game.
Bit by bit they reeled Kerry in on the scoreboard. David English brought them to within six again with a pointed free. Sean Kavanagh then fashioned a goal chance, smartly saved by Nicky Leen. With mere seconds remaining on the clock Carlow were back to within three.
Carlow had weathered the storm. Or so it seemed. Darragh O'Connell struck from distance, most likely an attempted pass, and it found its way, implausibly into the back of the net. Kerry's six point lead restored once more and against the run of play. What's that they say about luck?
They needed the goal, because Carlow's purple patch wasn't yet done. In the five minutes after half-time they looked well in control. Points from Murphy, Marty Kavanagh and David English brought them to witin two.
On other days, in other years, that would be Kerry's cue to fade from view. Not this time around. They rallied, got back on top. The switches made by the management – David Butler into the side, Shane Nolan to the inside line, Daniel Collins to the half-back line – clicked.
The worry over the next six or seven minutes was that Kerry would pay for their profligacy. Darragh O'Connell did covert, but then Nolan had a chance for goal, not taken. He missed a chance for a point and then a free. When David English hauled Carlow to within two with another free the faithful had reason to fear.
They need not have done. David Butler stroked the ball over confidently from the railway side of the ground. Nolan pointed a '45 metre free. Carlow still stood firm. They struck back with two more points.
With eleven minutes to go Kerry needed something special to kill this game off. They got it. Nolan found Mikey Boyle, who evaded his marker, turned and slammed the ball into the side-netting on the far side of the goal. An exquisite strike.
Kerry were on top. Boyle's goal simply the confirmation. Two points each over the closing minutes did little to challenge that.
It's been a long time coming.
Kerry: Nicky Leen, Bryan Murphy, Jason Casey, Thomas Casey, Sean Weir, Darren Dineen, Keith Carmody, Darragh O'Connell (1-3), Colm Harty (0-2), Mikey Boyle (1-1), Daniel Collins (0-1), Shane Nolan (0-5, 4f), Padraig Boyle (1-0), Aidan Boyle, Paudie O'Connor Subs: David Butler (0-1) for A Boyle, Philip Lucid for P O'Connor, Brendan Brosnan (0-1) for P Boyle, Tom Murnane for J Casey, Anthony Fealy for T Casey
Carlow: Kevin Kehoe, Cillian McCabe, Paul Doyle, Alan Corcoran, Padraic Nolan, David English (0-7f), Martin Doyle, Jack Kavanagh, Craig Wall (0-1), Sean Murphy (0-4), James Doyle (0-3), Shane Kavanagh, Andrew Gaule (0-1), Marty Kavanagh (0-1f), Paudie Kehoe Subs: Ross Smithers for A Gaule, Darren Dalton for S Kavanagh, Daryl Roberts for S Murphy
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)