Kerry win the battle despite slow start against Cavan

NFL Division 1 Round 3: Cavan 0-13 Kerry 0-16

Paul Brennan

A good start is half the battle but a strong finish usually wins the fight, and so it was that Kerry - sluggish and sloppy in the first half - got the best out of themselves in the second half to out-manoeuvre a very decent Cavan team and win that second period by 0-9 to 0-2 to make it two wins from two at the start of the Peter Keane era.

Maximum points from two games neither guarantees Kerry a place in the League final nor safety from relegation, but what it has done is afford them a little breathing space going into the next couple of fixtures, while also giving the new players valuable confidence in themselves and the established players legitimate confidence in the new management.

Of course, events next Saturday against Dublin could burst that early bubble of optimism but for now Kerry backed up the win over Tyrone with another against Cavan with plenty of positives to take into next weekend's fixture with the reigning League champions.

Keane wasn't biting at the notion that these back-to-back wins will mean much in terms of taking momentum in the Dublin fixture but again he acknowledged that it's better to be winning games than losing them, and this was a game Kerry could have lost as easily as they won.

Trailing by four points at half time, and having not played particularly well, it could have gone one of two ways for the visiting team to Breffni Park. Cavan certainly had their tails up coming out of that first half but the interval seemed to puncture their rising confidence and instead it was Kerry that took a firmer grip after the restart and bossed the game on the scoreboard and the pitch.

The introduction of Dara Moynihan (pictured) and Tommy Walsh gave the Kerry attack a little more purpose to it but more than that, as Keane alluded to afterwards, it was as much a change in attitude and application as personnel that got Kerry back into this contest. A more orthodox system, whereby more Kerry forwards played as forwards, helped too, although Keane also suggested that a firm wind against Kerry in the first half played a part in those forwards dropping back very deep and leaving very few outlets for the defence and midfield to play into.

A very withdrawn forward unit that left Kerry fairly toothless in attack in the first half was just part of the problem, the other being that it enabled the Cavan half back line to press forward, and when their three half backs had four points kicked from play by half time it was time for a change of tactic, even allowing for the whatever wind advantage there was going Kerry's way after the turnaround.

Walsh and Moynihan certainly offered more than Killian Spillane and Jonathan Lyne had in the first half but this win was mostly built on the brilliance of Sean O'Shea, not just in the 12 points (two from play) he scored, but in his contribution from general play in which he linked defence and attack and increasingly brought his fellow forwards into the game.

Paul Geaney didn't score Kerry first point from play until the 27th minute, which made it 0-7 apiece, but O'Shea had already converted five frees and a '45' by then, which had brought Kerry back from a 0-6 to 0-2 deficit after 16 minutes. Cavan had dominated that opening quarter with their half backs of Niall Murray, Ciaran Brady and Conor Rehill steaming forward, and Murray (2) and Brady firing over consecutive points to help open up that four-point lead.

Geaney's point had tied the contest but within minutes Dara McVeety and then Rehill opened up a two-point lead, and then in added on time Conor Madden and Jack Brady (from a mark) doubled Cavan's lead to four at the break.

Four more O'Shea scores and one from Stephen O'Brien made it a 0-12 tied game after 62 minutes but Kerry were playing with 14 men at that stage with Tom O'Sullivan in the sin bin and looked in trouble, even though most of Cavan's first half cut and thrust had seeped away. Mark Griffin - only minutes on the pitch - kicked a fine point to edge Kerry into the lead for the first time after 68 minutes before another Shea O'Shea free - his eighth - doubled their lead at the start of eight additional minutes.

Geaney's second score gave Kerry a slightly more comfortable lead but Madden beat Shane Ryan to the ball to flick it over the bar, which was as near as Cavan came to a goal. Fittingly it was O'Shea who landed the day's final score to hand Kerry an important 'on the road' win to set them up for what will most definitely be a much tougher game against the Dubs.

CAVAN: R Galligan (0-1, f); J McLoughlin, K Clarke, P Faulkener; N Murray (0-1), C Brady (0-2), C Rehill (0-1); T Galligan, P Graham; M Reilly (0-3; 2f), D McVeety (0-1), P Smith; C Mackey, J Brady (0-1), C Madden (0-3). Subs: L Fortune for McVeety (39 mins), S Smith for J Brady (51), S Murray for C Brady (61), M Argue for Graham (67), C Bradley for Mackey (72).

KERRY: S Ryan; P Crowley, J Sherwood, B Ó Beaglaioch; T Morley, P Murphy, T O'Sullivan; J Barry, A Spillane; D O'Connor, S O'Shea (0-12; 9f, 1 '45'), J Lyne; K Spillane, P Geaney (0-2), S O'Brien (0-1). Subs: D Moynihan for K Spillane (35 mins), T Walsh for Lyne (h/t), G O'Brien for A Spillane (46), M Griffin (0-1) for O'Connor (64), D Moran for O'Brien (71).

Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford)