Kerry denied place in National League final as Galway get necessary and deserved win in Salthill

Defending champions end Division One campaign in fifth place after goalkeeping error proves costly in two-point loss to the Tribesmen

The ball ends up in the net after slipping through the hands of Kerry goalkeeper Shane Murphy resulting in Galway's first goal during the Allianz Football League Division 1 match at Pearse Stadium in Galway. Photo by Sportsfile

Paul BrennanKerryman


Galway 1-13

Kerry 0-14

Four games – eight teams – went into the blender for the final round of a sometimes tasty, oftentimes insipid, Division One season, and when everything was juiced down the end product is a League final with a distinct Connacht flavour: Mayo will play Galway next weekend, after the latter did the necessary and got the win they needed at home against Kerry.

For their part, Kerry finish just below the half-way mark in the division – in fifth place – which means the defending champions will pass on their title next week, and reflect on a campaign of what-might-have-beens.

From their opening game loss away to Donegal – remember Caolan McColgan’s point that the Kerry management were adamant was wide – to this last hurrah in a surprisingly benign Pearse Stadium in Salthill, Kerry won games they might have lost, and lost games they might have won but the upshot of it all is that the defending League champions finish up with where their manager Jack O'Connor more or less suggested they would at the start of it all: mid-table.

Quite what the desire was for either team here to go full tilt for the win – with the provincial championships hurtling down the tracks for both – we might never know, but it was evident as the game unspooled that Galway looked the more up for it side, or at least better equipped to win it.

Whether or not they were more motivated by avenging last summer’s All-Ireland Final loss to Kerry, or by a Croke Park crack off their neighbours Mayo next week, is a moot point. They achieved both of those things with a two-point win that was, in large part, shaped by the game’s only goal, coming from an unfortunate error by Shane Murphy when he dropped Paul Conroy’s long-range kick for a point after the Kerry goalkeeper collided with the goalpost.

Between the teams they fielded 15 of last year’s starters in the All-Ireland final – seven for Galway, eight for Kerry – and while this game, naturally, didn’t carry the risk or reward of that July meeting, it nevertheless zipped along with enough energy to suggest both counties were keen on revisiting the big house before the Championship presumably brings them up there.

The home side were never behind in a game that produced plenty of good, fast football, even though the long lingering notion that these two ‘traditional football counties’ always produce entertaining games is fanciful. Still, a welcome calm day down by the sea, coupled with astute refereeing from Niall Cullen, made for ideal conditions for the teams to put their best foot forward, or at least try to.

Galway were two points to the good before Tom O’Sullivan slung over a trademark score off the outside of his boot, but by the 19th minute the home side were 0-6 to 0-2 ahead and full value for their lead.

Kerry were doing plenty of good things, but a couple of statistics jump out. Their conversion was poor – less than 50% – and it says much for a miss-firing attack that five of their eight points from play came via the defensive eight. By game’s end none of Kerry’s inside forward line had scored from play – David Clifford’s two converted frees a meagre return from what should have been the sharp end of their attack.

Indeed, it was the 25th minute before Kerry got a score of any sort from one of their six forwards, Paudie Clifford scoring from a tight angle from Ruairi Murphy’s perfectly weighted pass.

Johnny Heaney had stung Shane Murphy’s hands with a goal-bound shot in the first minute, and Paudie Clifford had cracked a shot right into the midriff of Bernard Power in the Galway goal in the tenth minute, and then in the 26th minute Kerry created another goal chance when David Clifford put the ball across the Galway goal but Tom O’Sullivan miss-controlled the initial possession and the Dingle defender had to settle for a point.

Kerry had halved that earlier four-point deficit to 0-7 to 0-5 just after the half hour mark, but then in the 34th minute Murphy made that simple but costly error – gathering Conroy’s shot but backing into the post and forcing the ball from his grip and over the goal line to help Galway to a 1-7 to 0-7 at the interval, with Gavin White and Sean O’Shea (free) getting those late first half scores for Kerry.

Two early second half points from Sean O’Shea cut the gap to one point, and with the prospect of a Kerry win, suddenly the interest in Tyrone’s and Roscommon’s games, and the scoring differences that were emerging took hold, but Kerry could never get ahead, or even draw level, to bring all those things into sharper focus.

Damien Comer came on for Galway and kicked a point that had the home support out of their seats and the Kerry management convinced the ball had drifted wide.

At the other end Paudie Clifford took aim at Power’s goal but was blocked brilliantly by Dylan McHugh at the last second.

Sean O’Shea converted a ‘45’ and David Clifford a free to make it a one-point game, 1-9 to 0-11 after 50 minute.

On the hour mark it was 1-12 to 0-12 after Galway sub Rob Finnerty scored from a brilliant counter-attack move.

And so it went, with just enough happening in the game to keep everyone engaged, one eye on the action before them, the other eye on happenings in Roscommon town and Omagh.

In the 71st minute a bit of pinball in the Galway goalmouth led to a ‘45’ that Sean O’Shea converted to make it 1-13 to 0-14 just thereafter Galway were just that bit more savvy and comfortable on the ball, running the clock down, relieving Kerry of the League title and setting themselves up for a chance of winning it next week.

Kerry might have fancied an extra game next week, but much like last year’s League final, there is no guarantee that Mayo – who face Roscommon in the championship the following weekend – will bring their A-game to Croke Park next Sunday.

Instead, the Kerry squad will jet off for a warm-weather training camp over the Easter break, where the focus will flip quickly to a Munster Championship quarter-final on the weekend of April 22/23.

With the League done and their Division One status secured, it’s almost time for the boys of summer to come out to play.

GALWAY: Bernard Power, Johnny McGrath, Sean Kelly, Sean Fitzgerald, Dylan McHugh, John Daly 0-1, Cian Hernon, Paul Conroy 1-0, John Maher 0-2, Matthew Tierney 0-1, Johnny Heaney, Peter Cooke, Tomo Culhane 0-1, Shane Walsh 0-5 (5f) Cathal Sweeney 0-1. Subs: Jack Glynn for C Hernon (ht), Damien Comer 0-1 for T Culhane (43), Robert Finnerty 0-1 for J Maher (54), Daniel O’Flaherty for J Heaney (72)

KERRY: Shane Murphy, Dylan Casey, Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan 0-2, Paul Murphy, Tadhg Morley, Gavin White 0-1, Jack Barry, Barry O’Sullivan 0-2, Ruairí Murphy, Seán O’Shea 0-5 (2f, 2 ‘45’), Paudie Clifford 0-2, Tony Brosnan, David Clifford 0-2 (2f), Dónal O’Sullivan. Subs: Diarmuid O’Connor for B O’Sullivan (temp, 32-34), Dara Moynihan for R Murphy (ht), Diarmuid O’Connor for B O’Sullivan (40), Killian Spillane for D O’Sullivan (46), Graham O’Sullivan for D Casey (52), Paul Geaney for P Murphy (66).

REFEREE: Niall Cullen (Fermanagh)