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No footballing feast but Kerry end their famine

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Kerry and Donegal supporters on Hill 16 before the game

Kerry and Donegal supporters on Hill 16 before the game

Daniel and majella

Daniel and majella

Kieran Donaghy

Kieran Donaghy

SPORTSFILE

Kieran Donaghy scores Kerry's crucial second half goal

Kieran Donaghy scores Kerry's crucial second half goal

Colm Cooper, Kerry, celebrates with the Sam Maguire cup after the game

Colm Cooper, Kerry, celebrates with the Sam Maguire cup after the game

SPORTSFILE

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Kerry and Donegal supporters on Hill 16 before the game

Kerry weren't supposed to be within an asses' roar of Croke Park, come the end of September. They were a team 'in transition', an uncertain hotch-potch of veterans and new recruits, said the talking heads.

And they were a team bereft of their golden giant, Colm 'the Gooch' Cooper, felled by a cruciate injury, way back in the gloomy grip of February. Nor was he the only soldier missing in action this season - the teak-tough warriors Paul Galvin and Tomas O Se had hung up their boots.

For the Kerry team, the 2014 road to Croker had been diverted to a trip into the football wilderness, where they were supposed to hunker down, lick their wounds and watch Dublin rampage to victory again.

And yet here they were, thundering out of the tunnel and onto the emerald sward of GAA HQ, skipping past the gleaming vision of Sam - an old friend who has passed 36 times over the border and into Kerry.

But they weren't facing the team from the capital for a chance to avenge the last-gasp defeat of 2011. Kerry were up against the big men from Tir Conaill who had blown past the Dubs and catapulted Donegal into the final - again confounding the wisdom of the talking heads.

And so every corner of Croke Park was a riot of green and gold, as if autumn and winter hadn't happened, and it was Spring again and the land was awash with sunshine and daffodils and fresh foliage.

But it wasn't simply that both teams were sporting their similar colours - it was expected that there wouldn't be much to choose between them when the whistle raised the curtain at 3.30pm.

Nobody could make up their minds who would be lifting Sam as the sun sank over the stadium, though Kerry found themselves to be in the unfamiliar role of underdogs - albeit a pack of hungry hounds.

Both teams were fired up. Donegal had won the Battle of Hill 16 which was a carpet of their county colours. A loud cheer went up when the cameras panned past a large inflatable yellow and green kangaroo bobbing about on the terrace - the proud possession of Donegal man Conor Quinn who had made the 48-plus hour pilgrimage from Australia to Glenties to Croker not once, but twice this summer, in the hopes of seeing Sam pilgrimage to the north-west.

In the Hogan stand, one wise Kingdom owl, Tralee man Eamon Kenny wasn't expecting a classic. "I think Kerry will win, but it'll be a tight and careful game."

For the opening few minutes, it looked as if Eamon's prediction was wrong. There wasn't a minute gone on the big clock, when Paul Geaney flashed a goal past Paul Durcan. The Kerry fans erupted. The Donegal team reeled.

Could a classic be unfolding? After all, for a county so accustomed to having Sam to dinner, a five-year famine must've felt like a lifetime.

Alas, no classic awaited. What followed was a dour, defensive game. Points clicked up slowly. There were misses galore. Donegal racked up points to rectify their horrible start, but there were few passages of play to dazzle the 82,000-strong crowd.

As Sam edged closer to the Kerry border an uncharacteristic error by Donegal goalie Paul Durcan gave Kieran Donaghy the chance. He took it. When Donaghy was substituted in the dying minutes, the Kerry supporters rose to their feet. On the sideline, the team's babyfaced manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice briefly stopped pacing and clapped too.

Kerry held their nerve and kept the ball, indulging in a bit of time-wasting. They know all the tricks, these veterans of so many All-Ireland final scraps. As the final seconds ebbed away, Donegal summoned the last reserves of their strength and launched a last attack, only for an agonised Colm McFadden to see his attempt hit the post.

And then Kerry arms were in the air, and Donegal players were slumped on the ground. Kieran Donaghy, his eyes hopping from his head, settled a quick score in his post-match interview. "Joe Brolly told us the production line was finished in Kerry - well, Joe Brolly, what do you think of that?" he hollered happily.

In the Hogan Stand, a couple of Kerry TDS, Labour's Arthur Spring (who was with his father Arthur Snr) and Fine Gael's Brendan Griffin, were joined in jubilant celebrations.

"I couldn't be happier," beamed Arthur. "Kerry football's on an upward trajectory, just like the economy," he declared.

Brendan beamed. "We're off back to the Promised Land. With Sam," he said. It'll be like he never left.

Irish Independent


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