Donaghy adds spark to Kingdom
ALL YOU wanted to know about Kerry's reaction to yesterday's championship opener at Semple Stadium was visible for everyone to see on the pitch immediately afterwards.
They had just won by six points, but Jack O'Connor quickly gathered his charges around him in a tight huddle and, judging from the jerky movement of his baseball cap and hand, it wasn't their post-match meal choices he was discussing.
Their stature in the game means that everything Kerry footballers do inevitably comes under the microscope and, by their own standards, this was a pretty unconvincing performance that will need serious dissecting.
The scoreline alone was an effective barometer.
For the last two years Kerry have beaten Tipperary by double figures, but it was a lot closer this time.
At one stage, Kerry led by five points, but there was only a point between the teams seven minutes into the second half.
There's no doubt that Tipperary's recent football progress was a factor.
Peter Acheson, one of Tipp's 2010 Munster U-21 winners, gave the Kerry midfield some flashes of deja vu and, at full-forward, they featured Michael Quinlivan, one of last year's historic All-Ireland winning minors.
Kerry's starting forwards only provided five points from play, but more worrying was the lack of leadership or hunger shown in the face of such stout opposition.
That surely will change dramatically when Cork jerseys hover into view next month, but yesterday Kerry were beaten to the ball surprisingly often, while men with far glitzier reputations couldn't seem to find any fluidity or momentum. One of the few Kerry players who actually looked fired up for this one was Kieran Donaghy, whose omission from the starting line-up had raised eyebrows beforehand.
Asked exactly why Donaghy did not start Connor said: "Ah sure look we won't go picking the team here again now will we, after it being picked already? We'll leave that one off now."
He felt his side's rustiness could be attributed to the six-week layoff since the league semi-finals.
Whatever the reason for that or Donaghy being dropped, the big Tralee man more than made up for it when he did arrive for Paul Galvin in the 46th minute.
Kerry had just needed a Bryan Sheehan free to pull them back two points clear and immediately improved.
Bar one misplaced pass, Donaghy didn't put a foot wrong, winning frees in one goalmouth and clearing defensively in the other, while covering vast amounts of ground in between from the half-forward position.
Where exactly he will be positioned for the rest of this summer will be heavily debated, but he certainly wasn't found wanting, in his fielding or effort yesterday and that was more than could be said for many of his team-mates.
O'Connor emptied his bench quickly when it was needed and James O'Donoghue was another who did well when they needed to kick on, but, as the Kerry boss admitted "we weren't as fluent as we should have been and we gave away an awful lot of ball."
The sides were level after 22 minutes before Kerry found their rhythm and pulled five points clear (0-9 to 0-4) on the half hour, with Tomas O Se, Darran O'Sullivan and Colm Cooper delivering some gorgeous trademark scores and Galvin a busy provider.
But this was largely because they had an open prairie at midfield and once Tipp tightened up there things got interesting.
Acheson's agility and the excellent free-taking of Alan Maloney helped them to cut the lead to just three (0-9 to 0-6) at half-time, with the wind advantage to come.
Within nine minutes of the restart, two points from Maloney (one free) and another off a great run from Hugh Coghlan, left just a point between them.
At times Kerry seemed to be 'forcing' the play through full-forward Declan O'Sullivan, but Tipperary's full-back line, where Ciaran McDonald did an excellent job on the Gooch and full-back Paddy Codd held O'Sullivan to just a 56th-minute point, was also a factor and Brian Fox was also outstanding in a defence that lost Robbie Costigan to injury.
The reality is that Tipp could have been even closer. They took some dreadfully wild shots in their 10 wides (six in the second half) as manager Peter Creedon admitted.
Considering he's only been involved with them for the past seven weeks they did him proud, but he confessed to "mixed emotions. Really happy with the performance but a little bit disappointed that we weren't a couple of points closer."
He wasn't happy with referee Marty Duffy, alleging that "it seems that marquee forwards on the well known teams get greater protection."
After losing to Kerry for the third year in a row he admitted to a preference for an open draw, with the top 16 teams in one championship and the others in a second-tier.
"If you're good enough you stay in the top 16, but if not, you stay in the second tier.
"There's too much money being pumped into GAA teams to have one or two games and you're out," he said.
That's the kind of candour that will be needed in the Kerry dressing-room in the coming weeks.
Scorers -- Kerry: B Sheehan 0-6 (5f), C Cooper 0-4 (2f), T O Se, A Maher, Darran O'Sullivan, Declan O'Sullivan, K O'Leary, J O'Donoghue 0-1 each. Tipperary: A Maloney 0-4 (3f), P Acheson 0-2, M Quinlivan 0-2 (2f), H Coghlan, P Austin 0-1 each.
Kerry -- B Kealy 8; S Enright 6, D Bohan 8, K Young 6; T O Se 7, E Brosnan 5, P Crowley 6; A Maher 6, B Sheehan 7; P Galvin 6, Darran O'Sullivan 7, K O'Leary 6; C Cooper 7, Declan O'Sullivan 6, P Curtin 5. Subs: K Donaghy 7 for Galvin (46), B Maguire 6 for Young (inj, 48), BJ Keane 6 for Curtin (50), J O'Donoghue 7 for O'Leary (50), A O'Mahony 6 for Brosnan (62).
Tipperary -- P Fitzgerald 7; A Morrissey 7, P Codd 7, C McDonald 7; A Campbell 6, R Costigan 6, B Fox 7; G Hannigan 6, H Coghlan 7; S Scully 5, P Acheson 8, L Egan 5; P Austin 7, M Quinlivan 6, A Maloney 7. Subs: D Leahy 6 for Costigan (inj, 26), R Ryan 6 for Scully (48), D Lynch 6 for Egan (60), B O'Brien 6 for Quinlivan (64), A Matassa for Hannigan (71).
Ref -- Marty Duffy (Sligo).
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.