O'Connor hails effort after jewel unearthed
Kerry captured only their second title on Saturday, when they beat a much depleted UCC side in an entertaining final played at Austin Stack Park, Tralee and Kingdom boss Jack O'Connor may well have an unearthed a young precocious forward in James O'Donoghue, who gave a man-of-the-match display on his debut.
While Kerry's squad was fairly decimated by injuries and with absent stars yet to return, UCC were unable to field their first 15, because their premier competition, the Sigerson Cup, continues on Wednesday when they play their fourth game in 13 days against NUIG.
However, Kerry got a useful workout despite finishing with only 13 players having introduced all five subs when they lost their star man O'Donoghue -- who scored 1-3, including a 10th-minute goal after a well-worked Kieran Donaghy assist -- with a foot injury late on and then Aidan O'Mahony picked up a second yellow in the 58th minute. But it mattered little as Kerry reclaimed the McGrath Cup, which they last won in 1996.
O'Connor was in a reflective rather than euphoric mood after the game, but he thought the McGrath Cup experience had been beneficial to the Kingdom. "The McGrath Cup worked out well for us really because it gave us three or four competitive games," O'Connor said afterwards.
"It is always better this time of the year to be playing competitive games rather trying to play 13-a-side or 15-a-side in training. It worked out particularly well for us this year because our panel is fairly shook at the moment.
"We were counting numbers the other day and we are down about 17 players from the squad that played in last year's All-Ireland final in Croke Park. We had to use some U-21s and some other guys and that's why the matches against outside opposition worked out well for us."
Kerry led 1-6 to 0-4 at the interval with Mike Quirke and Alan O'Sullivan dominating midfield as Paul Galvin, Donnacha Walsh and Declan O'Sullivan worked very hard up front, while O'Donoghue carved open the UCC defence at regular intervals.
Alan O'Sullivan, Declan O'Sullivan, Paul O'Connor and Donaghy also added first-half points while three Kerry players replied for UCC with Daithi Casey, Mike Griffin and David O'Callaghan finding the target.
The game lacked the competitive edge of league or championship football but Kerry moved the ball well with youngster Barry John Keane also catching the eye up front along with O'Donoghue.
UCC goalkeeper Ken O'Halloran denied O'Donoghue and substitute Keane certain goals with point-blank saves, as Kerry continued to hold sway in the second half. Midfielder Alan O'Sullivan kicked two fine points and Donaghy, and Walsh also added points from play as Kerry moved 1-11 to 0-6 clear with just eight minutes left.
UCC rallied late on with three points from Rory O'Hagen, Sean Kiely and Chris Daly as Kerry, reduced to 13 players, held on for a deserved win.
Scorers -- Kerry: J O'Donoghue 1-3 (0-2f), Alan O'Sullivan 0-3, K Donaghy 0-2, Declan O'Sullivan, D Walsh, Paul O'Connor 0-1 each. UCC: D Casey 0-2, D Gould, C Daly (1f), D O'Callaghan (1f), S Kiely, B Shanahan, M Griffin and R O'Hagen 0-1 each.
Kerry -- G Reidy; P Reidy, T Griffin, P Corridan; A Shine-O'Sullivan, A O'Mahony, K Young; M Quirke, Alan O'Sullivan; P Galvin, Declan O'Sullivan, D Walsh; J O'Donoghue, K Donaghy, P O'Connor. Subs: Paudge O'Connor for P Reidy (h-t), B J Keane for Paul O'Connor (40), S Scanlon for M Quirke (45), K O'Leary for D O'Sullivan (50), B Looney for D Walsh (50).
UCC -- K O'Halloran; L Jennings, D O'Donovan, S Enright; B Daly, A Greaney, P Crowley; B Shanahan, M Mennis; D Casey, M Griffin, D O'Callaghan; L Shorten, D Gould, C Daly. Subs: E Hegarty for S Enright (21), R O'Hagen for D Gould (h-t), S Kiely for M Mennis (50), B McPolin for K O'Halloran (57), R Buckley for D O'Callaghan (58).
Ref -- M Condon (Waterford).