Comment: Hooking Kieran Donaghy for Paul Geaney was a masterstroke by Fitzmaurice
WITH the notable exception of Fungi, it is difficult to identify a citizen of Kerry who might have revelled in this biblical ferment. Eamon Fitzmaurice chose instead to turn to the Dingle dauphin.
Paul Geaney has for some substantial time now been regarded as a potential heir apparent to Colm Cooper, a game-changer, a forward with both the polish and erudition to take a mammoth contest and bend it to his will.
Here, with a cloudburst of Tyrone intensity to match the meteorological commotion, Kerry found themselves in urgent need of an injection of new life.
Geaney would arrive from a bench stacked with A-list panache, to deliver the infusion of game-changing class.
Mickey Harte’s side has taken half-time refuge from the tempest a point adrift but with significant momentum; converting the chips piled high on their shoulders into a high-octane craving, they set about belying their 4/1 outsiders tag.
The Kingdom – with Colm Cooper struggling to gain a foothold, and their defence repeatedly exposed by Tyrone’s jugular-seeking surges – led, yet there was a tangible apprehension, a chaos of doubt to their play.
Had Tyrone converted either of two goal chances, the champions might have been on life-support.
It is in moments such as these, with a fever of concern spreading, that managers of real substance illustrate their worth.
Fitzmaurice, with one of those fearless, cold-eyed flourishes that have become a hallmark of his reign, hooked his captain Kieran Donaghy.
He surveyed his available shock troops: Darren O’Sullivan, Paul Galvin, Tommy Walsh, Bryan Sheehan, Barry John Keane; but chose to hand the Broadway stage to Geaney.
It was an audacious, pitiless call from Kerry’s sideline superintendent.
Donaghy had endured a difficult first half under Justin McMahon’s asphyxiating attention, but a trademark catch-and-kick point with virtually the last thrust of the first half seemed to certain to earn the skipper a stay of execution.
Fitzmaurice, though, favours the ruthless, reptilian approach employed by Joe Schmidt: No player, regardless of reputation, enjoys immunity from prosecution. Not even the captain, last year’s late summer talisman.
And so Geaney was handed a foam extinguisher and instructed to douse the spreading forest fire of Tyrone intent.
It would be wrong to say the 24-year-old snuffed out the Ulster inferno on all his own.
But he provided Kerry – five first half points from Johnny Buckley and Stephen O’Brien having acted as a critical early firewall – with a new dimension.
Dragging Tyrone’s sweeper Colm Cavanagh out of his lair, central to Kerry’s high press which forced Niall Morgan to go long with his kick outs, and oozing that uncomplicated Kingdom artistry, Geaney changed the narrative.
He kicked three points as the title holders moved through the gears. There were flickers of invention from Cooper, a breath-taking save from Brendan Kealy, lung-bursting endeavour from Donncha Walsh; O’Sullivan and Keane offered notable late thrust.
Still, Tyrone showed a limpet-like quality, and when Peter Harte’s 60th minute penalty was quickly followed by an equaliser from Mark Bradly they were more than just hanging on. They were closing in to deliver the killer blow.
All those dark, haunting losses of the Noughties to Mickey Harte’s side were suddenly planting seeds of doubt among the Kerry section of the 53,000-plus audience.
But Fitzmaurice’s side – aided, it must be said, by Darren McCurry and Morgan firing dead ball blanks – found a way.
With Kerry on the verge of flat-lining, Anthony Maher kicked a point and now there was a feint pulse.
Geaney arrived with the defibrillator, a lovely score from play followed by a free – Keane would follow up with a glorious, curling insurance score – restoring Kerry’s heartbeat, silencing Tyrone at last.