Kingdom see the beauty in grinding out ugly victory
Kerry 1-13 Donegal 1-8
Published 07/03/2016 | 02:30
When Colm Cooper curled over the game's last point with that trusted left foot in the third minute of injury-time it avoided a statistic that may well have been unprecedented, had it come to pass.
Cooper's score was Kerry's only kicked point from play in the 13 that they scored to haul themselves away from the trouble zone at Tralee's Austin Stack Park.
Of the other 12, eight were placed balls off the ground (one '45') from the ultra-measured Bryan Sheehan while four were fisted, three from the indefatigable Donnchadh Walsh.
It was what you might describe as 'most unKerrylike' to have such a scant return from the boot. But that wasn't the only aspect of this nasty and embittered scrap that didn't square with perception.
Kerry won ugly. At times they played ugly. Some in the county may revile such an approach but there are many more who will applaud it and acclaim it as 'meeting fire with fire.'
Who lit the flame first? As early as the fourth minute the first flashpoint erupted around a throw-in involving Kieran Donaghy and Michael Murphy.
When it settled, referee Eddie Kinsella didn't produce a card, something he may have regretted just a minute later when the next ruck kicked off.
This time Alan Fitzgerald was red-carded for throwing punches at Neil McGee in reaction to his marker taking hold of his hand and appearing to twist it as they grappled. For his troubles McGee had a bloodied face and was temporarily replaced by his brother Eamonn, not surfacing again until the second half.
The chaos didn't stop there. Leo McLoone, Murphy and Kieran Donaghy saw yellow, Shane Enright and Denis Daly picked up black cards within seconds of each other in the 24th minute before McLoone drew a straight red as more trouble broke out.
At half-time Kinsella is understood to have spoken to both managers to an attempt to bring some calm but his words had just a moderate effect. These teams have become accustomed to intolerance of each other.
By that stage the free count was 18-13 in Kerry's favour. By the end it was 32-27 to the home side. If it wasn't for advantage and a relatively liberal approach from Kinsella it could have touched 70. The spite in it was palpable.
Kinsella showed 10 cards (two red, two black, six yellow), one less than the 11 Barry Cassidy flashed in Ballybofey the week before. Yet those games are like chalk and cheese.
This was knotted and fractured for much of it. The card count didn't stack with so much of what went on.
Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney has long held a theory that Kerry's football finesse masks an underlying cynicism and that got some ventilation here.
"Our discipline must not have been exactly where it needed to be but it's something we can look at to improve on next weekend," accepted Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice.
"I don't think there was any policy by us to play a particular way, it was a game we had to win. From that point of view we are happy. If our discipline was off its something we will have to improve on.
"Any time you play Donegal its going to be a battle. Physically they ask you questions with the game that they play. Are you up for it? They ask you questions mentally in terms of your concentration levels, so of course we expected it tough.
"They'll draw a lot from it, not from the way they played but their attitude to it. They never took a step back."
Kerry led by 0-7 to 0-3 at the interval but that was a slim lead given the wind that blew behind them, and within seven minutes Donegal had wiped it out. A first win in Kerry since 1988 was really Donegal's for the taking at that stage.
But the home side didn't allow the likes of Ryan and Eoin McHugh and Paddy McGrath to build like they did against Mayo.
Sheehan brought a great save out of Peter Boyle early on but from a relatively similar position in the 45th minute wing-back Peter Crowley made no mistake to avail of good approach work from Sheehan and Donaghy, and it was the game's most important score.
Donaghy spent 60 minutes at midfield before being withdrawn and was a key member of their second-half firefighting team, joining Walsh, Aidan O'Mahony, Fionn Fitzgerald and Paul Murphy in a valiant effort to quell Donegal momentum.
They hit 1-3 in response to Donegal's four points to take a six-point lead but were then forced back by an uncharacteristic error from Cooper, whose cross field pass flew over the sideline, allowing Neil Gallagher to find Murphy with his subsequently delivery. With a quick take and shot Murphy did the rest and the gap was back to three with 14 minutes left.
Murphy added a point from a free but the well dried up after that as Sheehan (free), Barry John Keane and Cooper tidied things up.
Donegal manager Rory Gallagher wouldn't be drawn on the home side's approach though he did suggest that there should have been another red card.
"It is very difficult to referee those games, to be fair. You always think that some things could go your way," he said.
"It's very hard to see everything that is going on. I didn't see the Kerry sending-off and I didn't see Leo's but he said that he didn't do a lot. He thought it was a second yellow card."
Donegal will be disappointed with their second half after a decent containment job against the wind.
"We are disappointed that we lost, having put ourselves in a great position at seven each when playing with a strong breeze," said Gallagher. "Kerry showed more hunger. We're disappointed with our defending for the goal, disappointed with our discipline, we got a couple of frees moved in."
Scorers - Kerry: B Sheehan 0-8 (7fs, 1 '45'), D Walsh 0-3, P Crowley 1-0, BJ Keane, C Cooper 0-1 each. Donegal: M Murphy 1-4 (0-4fs), P McBrearty 0-3 (2fs), N Gallagher 0-1
Kerry - B Kelly 8; M O Se 7, M Griffin 7, S Enright 5; P Crowley 7, A O'Mahony 7, F Fitzgerald 7; K Donaghy 7, B Sheehan 8; D Walsh 8, P Murphy 7, D Daly 6; D O'Sullivan 7, A Fitzgerald, S O'Brien 6. Subs: P O'Connor 6 for Enright BC (27), C Cooper 6 for Daly BC (27). J Buckley for Donaghy (60), BJ Keane for O'Brien (60), B O'Sullivan for Crowley (67), A Walsh for D O'Sullivan (71)
Donegal - P Boyle 7; E Doherty 6, N McGee 6, P McGrath 7; E Gallagher 6, R McHugh 7, A Thompson 6; R Kavanagh 6, M Murphy 7; M O'Reilly 7, H McFadden 6, E McHugh 6; O MacNiallais 6, P McBrearty 6, L McLoone 5. Subs: N Gallagher 7 for McFadden, M McElhinney 6 for Doherty (ht), C Toye 6 for Thompson (56)
Ref - E Kinsella (Laois)