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Kerry hit back to kick losing habit

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James O'Donoghue goes flying under
pressure from Aidan Branigan at Pairc
Esler

James O'Donoghue goes flying under pressure from Aidan Branigan at Pairc Esler

James O'Donoghue goes flying under pressure from Aidan Branigan at Pairc Esler

By his own admission, Jack O'Connor is not a doyen of GAA history but in Kerry the texture of the past is so rich that it is impossible to ignore.

Kerry's dismal championship record against Down is one of the GAA's most eye-catching and baffling statistics. What's much less known however has been the blank drawn by Kerry teams in the League on Down soil. The best they have mustered before yesterday was a draw in Newry in the 1980s. Admittedly, meetings have been sporadic but still, for a Kerry team licking its wounds after losing at home to Armagh three weeks ago, it was an added tonic.

Had they lost, that weight of history would have pressed harder on their shoulders. Defeat for Kerry was never in question though. From start to finish they were never less than comfortable, controlling the game against a home side that has really lost elevation in the last 18 months since their All-Ireland final defeat to Cork.

Down manager James McCartan did his best to dress it up afterwards, crediting the fact that his team had conceded no goals after shipping four in Cork in the last round.

But it was a small comfort on a day when their main attacking architects were far too peripheral. Benny Coulter made no impact while Danny Hughes, admittedly making his way back from injury, contributed only fleetingly.

No wonder McCartan and his management team were locked in talks in the middle of an empty Pairc Esler some 50 minutes after the game's conclusion. Down supporters can now legitimately ask what has gone wrong since 2010.

Therapy for Kerry has been quick however. An attitude adjustment, a few positional adjustments, a flourish of youth and Kerry were back down the M1 from a county they had never won competitively in before with their League campaign very much back on track.

"We weren't happy with the way we played against Armagh, we were very disappointed, so above everything else we wanted to put in a performance, up our attitude and our work-rate and I think overall we achieved that," said O'Connor, who felt the victory would be "good for morale."

"We played Dublin under lights in the first game of the League and it was a big game. Fellas might have just dropped their guard a small bit against Armagh. If you stand off any team and let them play, then they will play," he reflected.

The big tactical adjustment for Kerry was the deployment of Kieran Donaghy at wing-forward with Declan O'Sullivan sitting back in at full-forward. Overall, it was a success with Donaghy putting serious pressure on the Down kick-out, and getting back to make important interceptions.

Down played Dan Gordon on him for the duration and that worked for them too with Gordon hitting two fine points. But with O'Sullivan picking off three wind-assisted points in the third quarter that really fastened the victory, Kerry's adjustments paid off.

"We played him (Donaghy) there for 20 minutes in the All-Ireland and everyone thought we were mad. He can play out there. Above anything else he gives us great leadership out there because he's a good talker. And Declan did very well at full-forward. That's a very natural position for him too, so it's good to have that option."

O'Connor can also be happy with the contribution of Barry John Keane who wasn't slated to start but replaced Darran O'Sullivan -- who took a knock to the head at training -- at centre-forward and finished with four points.

Application

As valuable as the scores however was his application and energy which, combined with Paul Galvin's diligence, completed Kerry's most effective line. Bryan Sheehan and Anthony Maher at midfield and Peter Crowley at wing-back were other points of success for the visitors who led by 0-5 to 0-3 at the break after playing against the wind. By then the seeds for victory had been sown.

"We were a couple of points down at half-time when really we needed to be a couple of points up," conceded McCartan whose team are now among the relegation favourites.

"We knew this was the end of the table we were most likely going to be looking at. Everyone is scrapping for it. I wouldn't be critical of too many of the performances of the Down players. I'd be happy with them. Division 1 is a cruel place. There is nobody going to hand out points."

Gordon's second point on 44 minutes brought Down to within one point, 0-7 to 0-6, for the second time in that third quarter but Kerry's response was four unanswered points as Sheehan stormed into the game, scoring two points (one free) with O'Sullivan and Patrick Curtin also on target for a 0-11 to 0-6 lead. The crowd sensed closure at that stage and within a few minutes the Down team had too. There was still time for the game's most bizarre incident when referee Damien Brazil showed Conor Laverty a yellow card and then a red on 59 minutes on the assumption that he had already shown him a yellow.

Laverty came over to the sideline in a perplexed state and appealed to the linesman Derek Fahy while McCartan consulted the fourth official. There had been no previous booking and after consultation the player was re-instated. The swiftness of that action rightly drew praise from McCartan afterwards.

"In fairness to the officials, they saw the mistake and tried to rectify it. I think that's a plus because it looked for a while like they didn't want to rectify it, that they were going to be entrenched in their decision.

"I would hold my hands up and say that the fact they were able to rectify the situation was a plus. I'm not sure who is supposed to keep a record of red and yellow cards apart from the referee, but I know there were plenty of people telling me that it wasn't them!"

Four minutes later, Down's Conor Garvey was sent off and stayed off, however, for a second yellow card.

Man of the Match: BJ Keane (Kerry)

Scorers -- Kerry: B Sheehan 0-6 (4f, 1 '45), BJ Keane 0-4, Declan O'Sullivan 0-3, P Curtin 0-1. Down: M Poland 0-4 (3f), D Gordon 0-2, D Hughes, A McConville (f) 0-1 each.

Kerry -- B Kealy 7; D Bohan 7, K Young 7, M O Se 7; P Crowley 8, A O'Mahony 7, B McGuire 6; A Maher 7, B Sheehan 8; P Galvin 7, BJ Keane 8, K Donaghy 7; J O'Donoghue 7, Declan O'Sullivan 8, P Curtin 5. Subs: E Brosnan 6 for O'Mahony (58), D O'Callaghan 5 for Curtin (58), M Geaney for O'Donoghue (68), S Scanlon for Maher (71), J Lyne for McGuire (71).

Down -- B McVeigh 7; D McCartan 7, C Garvey 6, O Costello 5; D Gordon 8, D Turley 5, A Branigan 6; P Turley 6, K King 5; D Hughes 6, B Coulter 5, C Maginn 5; M Poland 7, A McConville 6, C Laverty 6. Subs: G McCartan 6 for Costello (32), A Rogers 6 for P Turley (50), E McCartan 5 for Maginn (50), A Carr 6for McConville (58), K McKernan for King (62).

Ref -- D Brazil (Offaly)

Irish Independent