Paul Brennan reflects on the League campaign and picks out the positives and negatives from Kerry's seven group matches
TRAILING 0-7 to 0-5 at half time, Darran O'sullivan's second half goal - set up by newcomer Patrick Curtin - helped Kerry turn that half time deficit into a full time victory against Dublin. This rematch of the AllIreland final in Croke Park failed to live up to September's epic but it was important that Kerry put that defeat behind them, and there was much to be positive about in Kerry's performance. Kerry led by three points early before a second quarter volley of points put Dublin ahead at the break. The third quarter was nip and tuck until O'sullivan's chipped goal threw the contest open, and the closing minutes were notable only for Eamon Fennel's late and high elbow on Bryan Sheehan, which earned the Dublin substitute a red card.
Positives: Newcomers Brian Mcguire and James O'donoghue looked particularly comfortable in the team and at home in Croke Park. Patrick Curtin also came in off the bench and made a telling contribution. That said, Tomás ó Sé gave a man of the match performance
Negatives: Seamus Scanlon started at midfield but was well of the pace, and was substituted off at half time. Sean O'sullivan's return to the team, coming out of retirement, was also somewhat underwhelming.
Round 2 Kerry 0-10 Armagh 2-8
IF Kerry were in anyway up in the clouds after their win in Dublin, the visit of Armagh to Tralee certainly brought Jack O'connor's team back to earth with a bang. Whether it was complacency, over-confidence or the wrong attitude, a lethargic and sloppy Kerry team paid the price of defeat for a well below performance that drew strong criticism for some players engaging in to much verbals with the match officials. Brian Mallon's goal propelled Armagh into a 1-3 to 0-0 lead after 20 minutes and the visitors were good value for their 1-4 to 0-3 half time lead. A minute after the restart John Kingham flicked the ball past Brendan Kealy to put Armagh seven points clear. Thereafter Kerry continued to play with little shape or conviction, and the closing moments saw Tomás ó Sé red carded for a petulant dig at Ciaran Mckeever, while Finnian Moriarty walked for Armagh after a second booking.
Positives: There wasn't much to take from this performance except for a very solid display by young Brian Mcguire at wing back and the place-kicking of Bryan Sheehan. The fallout of criticism of certain Kerry players badgering the referee led to a stern talking to from the management, which was needed.
Negatives: The concession of two goals, and particularly the manner of the second one, highlighted the continuing concerns over the defence, especially the full back line. The match also saw Sean O'sullivan substituted for the second week running, and soon after the Cromane man removed himself from the panel for good.
Round 3 Down 0-8 Kerry 0-14
A POTENTIALLY tricky visit to Newry was dealt with quite comfortably, even though the hosts provided a few scares along the way. Kerry led 0-5 to 0-3 at half time and only led by a point after 45 minutes but a trademark collective push from the visitors saw them pull away convincingly with Declan O'sullivan to the fore. Bryan Sheehan added a couple of frees as Down's challenge petered out, and Kerry recorded their first ever senior football win on Down soil.
Positives: The poor attitude that had sank Kerry against Armagh was replaced by a much more professional one. Daniel Bohan was tried at full back and didn't look out of place there, while up front James O'donoghue continued to show great skill and maturity.
Negatives: A sluggish start was perhaps unhderstandable, but as Kerry eased into a five-poinmt lead heading into the last 10 minutes the dangerous tactic of lateral and backward passing crept back in, inviting the opposition onto the Kerry players, and a better team than Down could have taken greater advantage.
Kerry 2-16 Donegal 1-8
THE much anticipated visit of Donegal to Killarney never materialised into the kind of attritional battle most people
expected. Famed for the all engulfing defensive tactic adopted last year, Donegal simply had no answer to Kerry's powerful performance here, as they took the game to Jim Mcguinness' team with total football. Patrick Curtin's brilliantly executed goal put Kerry 1-8 to 0-6 ahead at half time, and an early second half penalty converted by Bryan Sheehan all but ended any hope of a Donegal resurgence.
Positives: Kerry showed that they still have the brains and the skills to unlock most defensive systems, and they altered their approach to circumvent Donegal's packed defence. Also, Patrick Curtin continued to adjust to senior football with great composure, while the SheehanMaher midfield partnership was solid.
Negatives: The big negative here was the injury to Daniel Bohan, who was again tried at full back. A knee injury forced his withdrawal at half time and he subsequently needed minor surgery on the problem. He hasn't played since.
Cork 0-11 Kerry 0-13
THERE can sometimes be a slightly surreal aspect to Kerry and Cork league meetings and this joust in Pairc Ui Chaoimh was no different. The game was overshadowed by the death of Kieran Donaghy's father, Oliver, a couple of days before, but the Austin Stacks man showed great courage to take his place against the Rebels. Cork were woefully inept in the first half as Kerry led 0-8 to 0-2 at the break, although the best goal chance of the half fell to Cork centre back Graham Canty. The second half saw a much improved Cork chip away at Kerry's lead, with Canty, again, having the best of the goal chances. In the end Kerry held out against a resurgent Cork but there were nervous moments for the visitors in the closing ten minutes.
Positives: Declan O'sullivan was hugely impressive in the full forward position, while Aidan O'mahony could be very pleased with his handling of Aidan Walsh at full back.
Negatives: Not for the first time Kerry let a comfortable lead slip in the last quarter and invited a lot of trouble on themselves by dropping deep and allowing the Cork half backs and midfielders run at them.
Kerry 0-20 Laois 1-13
THE scoreline suggests a close contest and certainly four points isn't a comfortable margin but there are mitigating circumstances for Kerry's struggle to overcome Laois in a sundrenched Killarney. Tomas O Se's second red card of the campaign, in the first 10 minutes, left Kerry on the back foot against a Laois team who seized the chance to derail the favourites. To their credit Kerry stuck to their gameplan and led 0-11 to 0-7 at the break. Colm Begley's goal in the third quarter put Laois ahead, momentarily, at 1-11 to 0-13, but Kerry finished strong as Marc O Se, Kieran Donaghy, Anthony Maher and Paul Galvin were brought in to steady thye ship and steal the win.
Positives: While the starting team, and the 14 players on the field, did very well against the 15 men of Laois, Kerry showed their strength in depth by springing Marc O Se, Maher, Donaghy and Galvin from the bench to see off a resurgent opposition. Patrick Curtin's four points from play also reinforced his worth to the panel.
Negatives: Indiscipline again reared its head as Tomas O Se picked up his third red card inside 10 months, and it showed that one player's rashness can cost the team dearly as a slightly better team than Laois could have nicked a win against the odds.
Kerry 1-12 Mayo 1-12
WITH Kerry's place in the semi-finals already assured, as the top team in the division, Jack O'connor sent out a somewhat experimental team to face Mayo in Tralee, with the Connacht county needing at least a draw to reach the playoff stages. Brian Mcguire filling in at full back for a spell, Peter Crowley and Jonathan Lyne in the half back line, and David O'callaghan and Johnny Buckley in an unfamiliar looking half forward line: could this be the new face of the Kerry senior team? Kerry trailed by eight points after 26 minutes but only four at the break. The introduction of Paul Galvin and Darran and Declan O'sullivan put further pressure on Mayo, and a combination of a Bryan Sheehan penalty and a Mayo sending off ensured a draw at the end of the action and a semi-final meeting seven days later.
Positives: The game saw the return of Colm Cooper to action after his extended spring break from intercounty football, while Paul Galvin again put in a very measured and mature performance, which underlined a very impressive league campaign from him.
Negatives: A poor start allowed Mayo a healthy lead and Kerry needed to call on their experienced senior players to dig them out of a hole, even if some of the newer individuals did quite well. With the numerical advantage for the last quarter, Kerry weren't able to hammer that advantage home.