Comfortable win if no classic against Derry
THIS, we assumed, wasn't going to be easy.
And, of course, it wasn't. Not in the first half at any rate.
The Kingdom were without Brendan O'Leary on the half-forward line and it showed. Without their go-to-man up there Kerry struggled to get their hands on quality possession.
Without quality possession they struggled to bring Shane Nolan and Aidan Boyle into the game. With neither Nolan nor Boyle really in the game they struggled to get enough scores to push home the wind advantage they had into the Horan's End in the first half.
After twenty minutes their lead was a scanting two points. They weren't playing with their usual confidence and zip. Their marking was loose and for the first time this year they seemed unable to cope with the physicality of their opponents.
Derry were big and strong and got out of the blocks fastest. Paddy Henry, from the placed ball, and the impressive Brendan Rodgers, wearing number ten but operating at full-forward, fired them into a two point lead before a couple of Shane Nolan frees levelled it up by the tenth minute.
A long distance free from Nolan gave Kerry the lead for the first time and when Darren Dineen doubled that advantage with a fine individual score – claiming the puck-out and taking the responsibility himself to shoot for the posts – the stage was set for the Kingdom to push on and get the lead they needed before half-time.
It just didn't happen. Not immediately at least. Nolan and Rodgers swapped points to leave it 0-5 to 0-2 after 22 minutes. That, surely, wasn't going to be enough against the breeze. Not nearly enough. Kerry desperately needed to up their game.
They did. The laxness, the looseness, was eradicated from their game. Kerry tightened up significantly. They put Derry men under pressure all over the pitch. They weren't allowed to carry the ball out of defence as easily anymore.
Kerry fought. Derry coughed up frees. Shane Nolan did as Shane Nolan does and popped them over with the minimum of fuss. From distance. From left. From right. From in front of the sticks. He hit three in-a-row and Kerry had five point lead.
Good but not good enough given the breeze. Four, surely, wouldn't be enough and that's what it was when Rodgers drew a free from Liam Boyle that Henry popped over. It was a score against the run of play and didn't halt Kerry's progress.
They could have had a goal before half-time. When Darragh O'Connell was fouled in front of the sticks he sniffed blood. A goal at that stage would have been a huge boost. He stepped up and stuck it well. Daral McDermott directed it over the bar.
Kerry led by five. Six by the time the whistle blew, Shane Nolan hit one last, beautiful, point from play to give Kerry a reasonably substantial lead at the break.
There was still a fear that their tardiness out of the box, along with their eight first half wides, would come back to haunt them.
Rodgers and Hinphey caused Kerry serious bother at times in the first half and that was despite limited possession. When Michael Kirkpatrick, who was Derry's star when they visited Tralee during the league, came off the bench early in the second half it made sense for the faithful to be concerned.
Tactically Tom Howard and co got the second half spot on. They dropped men deep. They crowded out the Derry forwards, who couldn't get in space, who could barely get on the ball, who only managed four points with that breeze behind their back.
Gary O'Brien roared into the game. John Egan dropped back to midfield and, when the fat was really in the fire in the final ten or so minutes, Aidan Boyle dropped back and acted as a, very effective, sweeper.
Kerry maintained their lead. Egan scored a point that was universally acclaimed by the Kerry support. Colm Harty got a point that showed he's also on the way back to his best.
After twenty second half minutes Kerry had, actually, managed to extend their lead.
Derry were out of ideas. Kerry were well on top. They were never going to score freely against that breeze, but they looked lively. They looked hungry. They looked inventive. If Derry were going to get back into this game they needed a goal.
They had a few chances in the first half. Kerry had a few chances at the beginning of the second half. When the game was slipping away from them Derry were left cursing their missed chances (not to mention the fine save made by Bernard Rochford from Paul Cleary).
Last week Tom Howard criticised the manner in which his team left Down back into a game they should have won more comfortably. There was no repeat of that in Tralee.
Yes this team continues to learn. Continues to improve.
Roll on the semi-final.
Kerry: Bernard Rochford, Rory Horgan, Liam Boyle, Paud Costello, Darragh O'Connell (0-1), Tom Murnane, Darren Dineen (0-1), John Griffin, Daniel Collins, John Egan (0-2), Gary O'Brien, Colm Harty (0-1), Willie O'Dwyer, Aidan Boyle, Shane Nolan (0-9, 7f). Subs: Padraig Boyle for W O'Dwyer
Derry: Daral McDermott, Michael Warn, Paddy Kelly, John McCloskey, Ruairí McCloskey, Liam Hinphey, Malachy O'Hagan, Chris Convery, Brendan Quigley, Brendan Rodgers (0-2), Alan Grant, Kevin Hinphey (0-1), Paul Cleary, Oisin McCloskey, Paddy Henry (0-4, 3f). Subs: Michael Kirkpatrick for C Convery, Shane Farren for B Quigley, Conor McSorley (0-1) for P Cleary
Referee: Pat Casey (Waterford)