Fifth wins puts Kerry within touching distance of NFL final

Allianz National Football League Division 1, round 5 - Kerry 0-17 Monaghan 0-13

Gavin Doogan of Monaghan and Mark Griffin of Kerry. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Gavin Doogan of Monaghan and Mark Griffin of Kerry. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Paul Brennan at Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney

Five games, five wins and only the slightest of nudges now needed for Kerry to fall into a League Final that no one thought possible a little over a month ago.

Thirteen months ago Kerry's Division 1 fixture away to Monaghan fell victim to the weather, with snow and a frozen pitch in Inniskeen seeing the February 11 match postponed.

For a time last Sunday in Killarney there were fears that the return fixture might not go ahead as snow fell heavily during the curtain-raiser, a NHL game between Kerry and Meath, with the Fitzgerald Stadium turning from green to white as that game came to a conclusion.

It was far cry from last July when the teams last met in a tar-melting day in Clones, but as the throw-in time approached the snow abated and the football got underway,

It was asking a bit much to expect anything like the drama of the Super 8 game seven months ago - for one there was no David Clifford on the pitch - but crucially for both teams Kerry got out in front when it mattered last Sunday. The win leaves Kerry on maximum points after five rounds and in need of just one more point to secure their place in the March 31 final in Croke Park.

For Monaghan this defeat leaves them pointless since their opening round win over Dublin and sees them stay in the relegation zone along with Cavan with just two rounds for the Ulster neighbours to save themselves.

It's becoming a notable trait - and a welcome one too - that this Kerry team under Peter Keane is bending games to their will in the final minutes and digging out victories with clutch plays and scores.

Last Sunday it was another late surge that got Kerry over the winning line, coming with a charge in the final ten minutes to wrestle the lead from a Monaghan team desperate for the points.

This will be a tough loss for Monaghan to swallow given that they led all the way until the 65th minute when Stephen O'Brien's point put Kerry in front for the first time. Thereafter, late scores from Dara Moynihan, Tom O'Sullivan and two from the imperious Seán O'Shea closed out the deal.

Between them in the first half the teams mined sixteen points, which was a credit to both sides as surface conditions remained difficult with intermittent rain and sleet showers through much of that opening half.

Monaghan were two to the good, 0-9 to 0-7, at the interval, with Conor McManus to the fore with six points for the visitors, with four converted frees, a pointed mark and the other from play. Gavin Doogan, Stephen O'Hanlon and Conor McCarthy chipped in with the other scores.

Kerry's first half total also came from four players, with O'Shea converting two frees and one from play, Tommy Walsh scoring from play and a mark with O'Brien and O'Sullivan also finding the target.

There's little more can be said or written about O'Shea at this stage of the league: the Kenmare man is oozing confidence and leadership, which was underlined by his audacious converted sideline kick right at the end of the game.

As for Walsh, this was arguably his best shift in a Kerry jersey since his 2009 heyday, and with four points - three from offensive marks - the O'Rahillys man played a big part in every sense in this victory.

The football wasn't of the highest quality in that opening half, but both teams tried to be positive and direct; Kerry looking to find Walsh inside and see who could feed off him, while Monaghan sought to bring McManus into the game as much as possible, with Dermot Malone and Dessie Ward looking to feed off him.

Twice in that first half the teams were level, at two points each and seven apiece, but Monaghan led at every stage otherwise after McManus pointed them into a second minute lead.

Early second half points from O'Shea (free) and Walsh had the teams level again, and it was near score for score for the next 20 minutes until Kerry finally wrestled the lead from the visitors through O'Brien in the 65th minute.

Kerry were 0-14 to 0-12 ahead when Darren Hughes was sent off for Monaghan in the 67th minute, and though corner back Colin Walshe got up to half the deficit with a fine score Hughes' absence left the Farney men stretched and allowed a Kerry team growing in confidence to find the gaps to engineer those late scores to secure the win.

Four defeats on the bounce leaves the Monaghan versus Cavan game in Clones a relegation dog-fight, with the loser headed for Division 2.

There are no such worries for Kerry, as barring some calamity against Mayo and Roscommon - and an unlikely confluence of results and maths - they're looking at a League Final in Croke Park at the end of the month.

Kerry: Shane Ryan, Peter Crowley, Jack Sherwood, Brian Ó Beaglaíoch, Gavin Crowley, Paul Murphy, Tom O'Sullivan 0-2, Jack Barry, Mark Griffin, Dara Moynihan 0-1, Sean O'Shea 0-8 (6f, 1 s/l), Gavin O'Brien, Kevin McCarthy, Tommy Walsh 0-4 (3m), Stephen O'Brien 0-2. Subs: Michael Geaney for K McCarthy (ht), Shane Enright for M Griffin (52), Graham O'Sullivan for B Ó Beagaloich (55), Tomás Ó Sé for J Sherwood (59), Jason Foley (Ballydonoghue) for G Crowley (71)

Monaghan: Rory Beggan, Colin Walshe 0-01, Drew Wylie, Ryan Wylie, Colm Lennon, Vincent Corey, Karl O'Connell, Darren Hughes 0-1, Gavin Doogan 0-1, Ryan McAnespie, Conor McCarthy 0-1, Stephen O'Hanlon 0-1, Dermot Malone, Conor McManus 0-8 (6f, 1m), Dessie Ward. Subs: Dessie Mone for C Lennon (44), Owen Duffy for D Ward (61), Jack McCarron for S O'Hanlon (63), Barry McGinn for D Malone (70)

Referee: Paddy Neilan (Roscommon)