On-fire Conor Cox powers Kingdom to a famous third All Ireland in succession
All Ireland JFC Final: Kerry 2-19 Meath 1-14
It's fitting that two of the great Kerry success stories of recent years were part of the double header in Portlaoise last Saturday as the Kerry Juniors replicated the Kerry minors in claiming a third consecutive All-Ireland title with the added sweetener of going atop the competition roll of honour with an eighteenth title in total.
Meath provided Kerry with the physical challenge expected and did threat the rear-guard on several occasions. However, Kerry played with a purpose and resilience that saw them able to cope with whatever the Royal County threw at them.
Kerry started off with the first three points and Johnny Lynch the Meath goalkeeper needed to be at his best to stop Conor Cox from point blank range early on. Lynch will be kicking himself for the manner in which he gave Cox what was essentially a gift for Kerry's first goal in the 14th minute as a kick-out went straight in Cox's path for a goal that had Kerry 1-5 to 0-3 in front.
Meath didn't fall apart despite that setback, however, as they found some nice scores themselves at the other end. Ben Brennan put over some impressive efforts from both play and placed balls (two '45s) that had them right in the thick of it and Kerry would be most grateful to Pa Kilkenny and goalkeeper Tomas Mac an tSaoir for two strong interventions before half-time.
Kilkenny blocked Meath midfielder Adam Flanagan from close range before another opportunity in the 24th minute would come for Neil Shortall. He forced a point-blank save out of Tomas Mac an tSaoir to keep Kerry ahead as the game appeared to delicately poised at 1-8 to 0-7 at the interval.
Both sides were continuing to trade scores after the restart but they were a sense that Kerry were managing to cope well with what Meath were throwing at them and in the 43rd minute came the moment that Kerry started to press home for victory from.
A very solid Phillip O'Connor sent a speculative ball into the full-forward line that Tomás Ó Sé decided to make his way towards. Ó Sé managed to make the fisted connection necessary to beat Lynch and put Kerry on their way to victory with a 2-12 to 0-9 lead.
Cox would go on to finish with 1-8 as despite the air of inevitability, Meath did try hard to restore some pride. They finally breached the Kerry rear-guard late on when Sean O'Reilly managed to get by Mac an tSaoir, but another great second-half save showed the Kerry goalkeeper was not wavering in any way.
Éanna Ó Conchúir would see red before the end, but there was no doubt about the result at that stage as Kerry could start to savour another success at this level. Eight points was probably a fair reflection of the difference between the sides on the day as while Kerry did not have to go to the well as much as they did in the dramatic Munster Final success over Cork they still had to keep their wits about them on Saturday. Roibeard Ó Sé and Brendan O'Sullivan once again proved dependable in keeping Kerry in control of midfield.
There isn't the glamour associated with winning this All-Ireland title as much as the others but there is an appreciation for the work and effort that goes into it especially when there are other commitments for the players to fit around it with their clubs and districts.
How many of the 2016 side will re-emerge next year remains to be seen. However with so many possible candidates coming through from the underage successes, Kerry's dominance at this level should continue provided the competition stays in the format that it is and indeed has a future!
Kerry: Tomás Mac an tSaoir (An Gaeltacht); Eamon Kiely (Brosna), Jack McGuire (Listowel Emmets), Brian Sugrue (Renard); James Walsh (Knocknagoshel); Pa Kilkenny (Glenbeigh/Glencar, 0-1), Dan O'Brien (Glenflesk); Roibéard Ó Sé (An Gaeltacht), Brendan O'Sullivan (Valentia); Phillip O'Connor (Cordal, 0-3), Jeff O'Donoghue (Glenflesk), Éanna Ó Conchúir (An Gaeltacht, 0-1); Killian Spillane (Templenoe, 0-3), Conor Cox (Listowel Emmets, 1-8, 3f), Tomás Ó Sé (An Gaeltacht, 1-2) Subs: Liam Carey (Beaufort) for O'Donoghue, Micheal Foley (Ballydonoghue) for Kilkenny, Stephen O'Sullivan (Templenoe) for Cox, Ivan Parker (Churchill, 0-1) for O'Sullivan, PJ Mac Laimh (An Gaeltacht) for Walsh and DJ Murphy (Gneeveguilla) for Kiely
Meath: Johnny Lynch; Adam Lynch, Luke Moran, Michael Flood; David Toner, Damien Healy (0-1), Willie Carry (0-1); Adam Flanagan, Conor Farrell; Neil Shortall, Kevin Ross (Castletown, 0-1), Cathal McConnell; Jason Scully, Daire Rowe (0-1), Ben Brennan (0-6, 2 '45's, 1f) Subs: James Conlon (0-4) for Scully, Stephen Coogan for Ross, Seán Reilly (1-0) for Farrell, Ciaran O'Rourke for Carry, Conor Moriarty for Shortall and Jason Scully for Rowe
Referee: John Hickey (Carlow)
The Game in 60 seconds
Both James Walsh and himself joined a unique club in claiming three All-Ireland medals at this level, but Conor Cox proved that on his day he can be lethal as any forward out there with his sense of conviction in registering 1-8. What other counties would give for a player with his talent?
Kerry's second goal was the clincher in the 43rd minute in going nine points clear. Phillip O'Connor might have intended a point initially, but Tomas Ó Sé latching onto it was the next best thing you could hope for in such an instance.
Kerry's fourth All-Ireland Junior title this decade saw another county defeated this time in Meath after Mayo were the side Kerry beat in all three of the other deciders. All four Finals have been won in the alternate blue jersey as well to make the successes a small bit unique!