KERRY 0-17 GALWAY 1-10 WE knew Kerry had all the jigsaw pieces, but right up to 4.30 on Saturday evening, questions remained as to whether they would be able to fit them neatly together and complete the beautiful All-Ireland picture they had outlined in sketch form all season.
Galway were leading by 1-7 to 0-9 thirteen minutes into the second half and really had thrown down the ultimate challenge. It was character assessment time for Kerry and they responded impressively, out-scoring Galway by 0-8 to 0-3 in the final 18 minutes to coast home comfortably and secure the Kingdom's 32nd All-Ireland title.
They were thoroughly deserving winners, a fact graciously acknowledged by Galway afterwards. Indeed, nobody can dispute Kerry's right to be regarded as the top side in the country this year because, over the five hectic months of Bank of Ireland championship action, they reached levels which none of the other contenders - including Galway - could achieve.
Kerry's ascent to the throne was made harder than it should have been by an inexplicable tendency to fade out at times when they seemed to have games safely tied up, but it was different in Saturday's replay. This time, they were stable and solid right through the 70 minutes, including the period just after half-time when Galway turned a three-point deficit into a one-point lead.
Galway's enterprising burst between the 39th and 48th minutes - during which they scored four unanswered points - raised their fans' expectation levels to such a degree that they really were beginning to believe that the All-Ireland dream would come true. It was easy for Galway to get carried away but, beneath the top layer of euphoria, reality lurked.
Kerry shot four wides in the same period as Galway were kicking four points so, in terms of opportunities, there was no difference between the sides. Crucially, Kerry were still winning more possession than Galway and while their finishing was letting him down, the chances were that it would eventually come right.
It did. Aodán MacGearailt, who had earlier shot four wides, steered over the equaliser in the 52nd minute. It was hugely significant score, not least for MacGearailt himself, who showed commendable self-confidence in continuing to shoot for goal after so many earlier efforts had gone astray.
Kerry's dominance of the closing quarter was almost as pronounced as their superiority in the opening 25 minutes of the drawn game 13 days earlier. Quicker and sharper to every breaking ball, they worked the gaps and angles perfectly.
Nobody did it better than Maurice Fitzgerald, who came on as a sub for Noel Kennelly after 28 minutes. The debate about whether or not he should have started the game can end here and now. He is still a front line player for Kerry, as he proved with a wonderfully intelligent contribution in the final 20 minutes.
Fitzgerald sees gaps whether other see roadblocks and while he may lack the speed and energy of some younger Kerry colleagues, his subtlety and poise more than compensate. Indeed, it is the perfect topping in an exciting Kerry attack.
Galway became increasingly remote and uncertain in the final quarter and were unable to devise any way of picking Kerry's defensive locks. Indeed, as Galway battered and bore to no great effect, the impact of Jarlath Fallon's absence was very apparent.
Fallon, whose season was wrecked by a knee injury, would have brought a whole new dimension to a Galway attack where Michael Donnellan tried hard to do fill everybody's shoes.
More than anybody, he would have benefited from Fallon's presence on a day when Galway's vaunted full-forward line completely misfired.
Derek Savage, Padraig Joyce and Niall Finnegan, made little progress against the Kerry full-back line, managing just one point from play between them. Quite simply, no team can expect to win an All-Ireland final with such a low return from their full-forwards.
The truth is that Galway's case would have been well tried much earlier than the final ten minutes were it not for the stabilising influence of Declan Meehan's wonder goal after six minutes. It sustained them through the first half, but Kerry had a whole lot more going for them when they took a lead of 0-8 to 1-3 into the interval.
Galway had lost Kevin Walsh with a knee injury in the 17th minute - he re-appeared midway through the second half - and his absence for 35 minutes enabled Kerry to build a solid platform around midfield. Darragh Ó Sé and Donal Daly produced far more consistent effort this time and with their half-backs and half forwards driving on to loose ball, Kerry were always that bit more convincing.
The shooting statistics provide all the necessary evidence to support the theory that Kerry were, by some way, the better side. They scored 17 times to Galway's 11 and shot 16 wides compared to Galway's five. Combine the two and it's pretty obvious where the balance of power and possession lay.
Once again, Kerry had a supreme leader in full-back, Seamus Moynihan, whose command of his goal area represented only part of his game. He also got forward on a few occasions with darting runs which were psychological wrecking balls for a Galway side who sorted out some of the problems from the first day, only to find them replaced by others.
For instance, Richie Fahy did a good marking job on Mike Frank Russell, but Tomás Meehan struggled against John Crowley in the other corner. Sean de Paor was stretched to near breaking point by Aodán MacGearailt's relentless foraging, while Derek Savage and Padraig Joyce, who were so inventive first time out, were well tied up this time.
Kerry's defensive marking was controlled and disciplined, as instanced by the fact that Galway managed just two points from frees, whereas Dara Ó Cinnéide landed four for Kerry. Galway were unhappy with some of Brian White's decisions and certainly had one justifiable case for complaint when Paul Clancy was fouled at least twice in the 59th minute, only to have a free awarded against him for over-carrying.
That incident apart, White gave a good performance but then it was a relatively easy game to control as both sides came with the right attitude and didn't deviate, even when the exchanges were at their most intense.
Incredibly, Kerry, who had been the goal kings of this year's campaign, failed to find the net in 140 minutes against Galway, who themselves had worries about their defensive reliability. Kerry had one excellent goal chance on Saturday, but Liam Hassett drove over the bar from close range in the first half.
It might have been a costly miss on another occasion but, with Kerry holding the vital edge in so many departments, they could afford the occasional indulgence. They came mighty close to being squeezed out by Galway's spirited revival in the drawn game but, having survived, they were determined to showcase their talents on a more consistent basis. They achieved that on Saturday with a degree of style and authority which was probably not reflected in the final scoreline. The winning margin could - and should - have been a whole lot more.
Man of the match - Séamus Moynihan (Kerry).
SCORERS - Kerry: D Ó Cinnéide 0-4 (4f), J Crowley, A MacGearailt, L Hassett 0-3 each, M F Russell 0-2, M Fitzgerald, E Fitzmaurice 0-1 each. Galway: D Meehan 1-0, M Donnellan, F Finnegan (2f) 0-2 each, T Joyce, P Joyce, J Bergin, S de Paor, K Walsh, S Walsh 0-1 each.
KERRY - D O'Keeffe; M Hassett, S Moynihan, M McCarthy; T Ó Sé, E Fitzmaurice, T O'Sullivan; D Ó Sé, D Daly; A MacGearailt, L Hassett, N Kennelly; M F Russell, D Ó Cinnéide, J Crowley.
Subs: M Fitzgerald for Kennelly (28), T Griffin for O'Sullivan (65).
GALWAY - M McNamara; T Meehan, G Fahy, R Fahy; D Meehan, J Divilly, S de Paor; K Walsh, S Ó Domhnaill; P Clancy, M Donnellan, T Joyce; D Savage, P Joyce, N Finnegan.
Subs: J Bergin for K Walsh (17), K Walsh for Ó Domhnaill (53), J Donnellan for T Joyce (65), S Walsh for Clancy (68).
REF - B White (Wexford).