KERRY’S ability to find the net in 2021 had been one of the most pleasing factors in the team’s progression into Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final with Tyrone. However, on the day that mattered most, the Kingdom drew a goal scoring blank, and with three conceded at the other end, they ultimately paid the extra-time price of championship elimination by the minimum of margins.
This wasn’t how Peter Keane envisioned his third year in charge concluding. Having blitzed a trail through the National League and the provincial campaign, Kerry were heavily fancied to go all the way this year, especially after Dublin’s shock defeat to Mayo in the last four. Understandably, the Kerry manager cut a crestfallen figure in the post-match press conference.
“It was a quiet dressing-room. Fellas are very disappointed. Obviously we came here today with an ambition of getting to a final, and that’s alluded us, so obviously there’s a lot of disappointment,” he said.
“It’s very soon after the game, but I suppose one of the things we have been doing a lot throughout the year is scoring goals. I think we had four opportunities today, and didn’t come home with anything. And I suppose you look at Tyrone. They had three goal opportunities, and came away with three. Is there in the problem? I think we had something like 33 shots at the posts and, what did we get, 22 points?”
After hammering Cork in the Munster decider on July 25, Kerry were fixed to play their All-Ireland semi-final three weeks later. Following the outbreak of Covid-19 in the Tyrone camp, however, the match was delayed for another fortnight. How did that impact on the Kingdom’s preparation?
“You set out with an overall plan at the start of the year, and you had to deviate from it. We originally thought we would have a three-week window, then it was becoming a four-week window, and then it became a five-week window. But look, that’s not offering up excuses here today.”
Were you aggrieved though? “I’m not going there,” added the Cahersiveen man.
The sight of talisman David Clifford failing to re-appear for extra-time was undoubtedly a body-blow to Kerry’s hopes, and Keane admitted that, such was the imperious form of his star attacker on the day, that the side were bound to miss the influence of the Fossa sensation.
“Of course, in the game itself, I think he had got eight points. We had 17 got. Had Seanie got seven and he got eight? Am I right? Obviously you don’t want to be losing any player who’s got that capability in front of the posts.
“It appeared to be more calf than quad, maybe even both, but I wasn’t talking to him since. No, we were working on him, but no (chance of coming back on).”
It’s never easy to analyse such a pulsating contest within a half hour of the final whistle, but the Kerry boss acknowledged that his team could never get into their rhythm, that they suffered from too many turnovers, and that they needed other players to step up to the plate and take more of the scoring burden off the afore-mentioned Clifford and Sean O’Shea.
Was the game played too much on Tyrone’s terms?
“I think we never got into a rhythm. Is that saying the same thing? Possibly yeah, but we just didn’t get into a rhythm. Even when there were black cards, there was some fella down on the ground all the time. The clock was running on them, so we never seemed to get into a rhythm.
“I’m sitting here 20 minutes, half an hour, after it, so I can’t give you a specific answer on that. Do you take your point, and go home, and regret that you didn’t get a goal? Scoring goals was an issue for us last year, we weren’t scoring them, and we went about trying to get goals this year.
“I think the turnovers are obviously a big factor. We had a high number anyway by the end of the 100-odd minutes. That’s something that will have to be analysed.
“Absolutely (Kerry needed more scorers), but that was something that had been going well for us all year. There was a nice mix around, but it didn’t happen today.”
Despite some very solid individual performances at the back, Kerry managed to concede three goals on the day, and Keane felt that coughing up possession was a real factor in those incidents, as well as in the overall trajectory of the afternoon.
“I think going back to the point regarding turnovers, they hurt us. I think two of the goals came off turnovers, so like suddenly you are going this way, and next thing the ball is turned over and you get caught the other way.
“I thought the guys did very well, and I’d have to say that I was very proud of them, and am very proud of them. For roughly 100 minutes of football, they died on their back, and they gave it everything. At the start of extra time, we conceded 1-2, and obviously that was an issue, but we fought back, and fought back, and fought back and, even at the death, had an opportunity to level it.”
With Tommy Walsh’s wide at the end, the curtain came down on Keane’s current three-year term at the helm. Saturday was not the right time to discuss his future however, and whether he would like to remain in charge.
“Of course, like I said, we came with an ambition of getting to a final, and we haven’t. We fell short by a point. Obviously the players are devastated. What do you do?
“Again a question 20 minutes after a loss here, it isn’t anywhere in the head at the moment anyway. That’s a conversation for another day.”