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Kerry prevail but defensive woes persist

Allianz NFL division 1: Kerry 1-15 Galway 2-11

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Killian Spillane celebrates scoring Kerry's winning point. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Killian Spillane celebrates scoring Kerry's winning point. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

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Killian Spillane celebrates scoring Kerry's winning point. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

When the dust had settled on a thrilling Tralee encounter, both managers were left with plenty to ponder.

Kerry won the war and earn credit for picking themselves back up to do it but the amount of defensive battles that they lost remains their primary concern if they are to take that next step.

Once more a player with pace and evasion, this time Shane Walsh, was able to glaringly expose the chinks.

New Galway manager Pádraic Joyce returned to a town where he made such a mark as a footballer with Tralee RTC (now IT Tralee) convinced they'd need 20 points to win but fell short of that target by three.

They created six clear goalscoring opportunities though, taking one in either half, as they cut open the Kingdom rearguard at will at times.

"We left too much behind us. That's down to some of the players that played, we are not sharp enough yet. We left a minimum 2-6 behind us," Joyce suggested.

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David Clifford of Kerry in action against John Daly of Galway. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

David Clifford of Kerry in action against John Daly of Galway. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

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In the end, Killian Spillane's winner franked Kerry resurgence after they had lost their way in the second half, failing to score from play for 24 minutes until they conjured a goal for Paul Geaney to finish from close range after an enterprising move in the 71st minute.

The impact that the new 10-minute sin-bin penalty will have on the game was clearly evident here. Galway wing-back Cillian McDaid was black-carded on 63 minutes for hauling down an opponent after he had been dispossessed.

Galway had seized momentum at that stage but without a full complement of legs on the field and all their substitutes used, those with depleted reserves really felt it and as the clock ticked down Kerry regained the initiative, getting that equalising goal and winning point while McDaid waited to come back in.

Both managers felt it was pivotal, Joyce being more forensic about it as he pointed to the fact that it was the player's third (he had two previously in the Connacht League this season) and that he needed to "smarten".

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Diarmuid O'Connor of Kerry in action against Cein D'Arcy of Galway. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Diarmuid O'Connor of Kerry in action against Cein D'Arcy of Galway. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

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"It's always huge in the current climate. If you are playing top class sides you can't afford to go down to 14 players," said Joyce.

"But it's just the manner in which we got the black card. The ball should have gone to Cillian five seconds before it got to him. Then when he got it he went back and lost possession instead of going forward. The black card itself was clear but from our point of view we are telling lads if you lose the ball get back, don't rugby-tackle a fella to the ground."

Reverse

Going backwards is not appreciated by the current Galway manager who identified the reverse gear as a catalyst for not killing the game when they had it in their grasp.

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Kerry's David Clifford scores a free. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Kerry's David Clifford scores a free. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

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"We were three up, we won the ball back and we decided to go backwards with it and end up losing it in the corner," he recalled.

"But the initial movement of going backwards, we are trying to get that out of the game in Galway and unfortunately we didn't do it tonight. One or two players are still stuck in reverse."

Joyce was taking little from the performance or the level of entertainment enjoyed by a bumper 11,117 crowd who feasted on some more David Clifford magic in the first half before Walsh stole some of his lines after the break.

Joyce did, however, individually name-check most of his defenders, giving special mention to Gary O'Donnell and Seán Mulkerrin who had the task of picking up Clifford.

Having held him to just a goal in an All-Ireland minor final four years ago, Mulkerrin had some form but such was the flow that Kerry got into in the opening half that you feared the worst for him.

But he grew into the game as it progressed - Clifford was nowhere near as economical with his shooting in the second half - and with Johnny Heaney magnificent beside him, they got to grips with it.

Heaney's 17th-minute goal illustrated strong elements of Joyce's attacking philosophy with the impressive Eamonn Brannigan supplying the final pass.

Kerry took a more direct approach with James O'Donoghue thriving until half-time when he surprisingly made way for Tommy Walsh, Peter Keane saying the intention was to give each a half.

Walsh though was just as effective, scoring a point, winning two frees and supplying passes for one of Micheál Burns' points and for that Spillane winner with just a simple, effective lay-off.

It was Galway who sought to make more marks though and there were audible groans in the crowd after two minutes when half-forward Finian ó Laoi called one from a diagonal kick that just about crossed the 45-metre line and just about travelled the required 20 metres.

This most certainly wasn't the example the framers had in mind for it - it didn't reward any skill and those present let their feelings be known instinctively in that moment. But what it does punish is indisciplined marking and the spin-off may just be more for forwards to thrive inside if defenders have to push out to prevent those 'cheap' marks.

Damien Comer was back for his first start since the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final and had two of the five first-half goal chances, blazing over with one before Kerry goalkeeper Shane Ryan denied him just before half-time after he had powered his way into position.

Kerry themselves had goal chances after the break with Galway goalkeeper Connor Gleeson denying Burns, Walsh and Stephen O'Brien at different times.

Wondrous

Walsh underlined his wondrous skills and his goal on 58 minutes saw him accelerate on to substitute Adrian Varley's pass and go past chasing Kerry defenders with ease before unleashing a sublime finish. When he followed up with a subsequent point, Galway's grip tightened.

Joyce admitted there is an element of dependency on the captain right now.

"He was poor in the first half, he missed a lot, he knows that himself but cometh the hour, cometh the man. He's playing well but you can see that if he doesn't fire on all cylinders we are under pressure a bit."

Kerry were missing Tom O'Sullivan, David Moran and Seán O'Shea (sick), three current All-Stars and in the short term the win was important. But from a broader perspective, their defensive conundrum looks no closer to resolution.

Scorers - Kerry: D Clifford 0-6 (3f); P Geaney 1-2 (1f); J O'Donoghue, M Burns 0-2 each; S O'Brien, T Walsh, K Spillane 0-1 each. Galway: S Walsh 1-4 (3f); E Brannigan 0-3; J Heaney 1-0; D Comer 0-2 (1m); M Daly, C McDaid 0-1 each.

KERRY - S Ryan 8; J Foley 7, G Crowley 5, G O'Sullivan 6; P Murphy 7, S Enright 5, G White 6; L Kearney 6, J Barry 7; G O'Brien 5, M Burns 7, S O'Brien 7; J O'Donoghue 7, D Clifford 8, P Geaney 8. Subs: D O'Connor 7 for G O'Brien (32), T Walsh 8 for O'Donoghue (h-t), D Moynihan 5 for Burns (55), K Spillane 6 for Kearney (61).

GALWAY - C Gleeson 8; J Heaney 8, S Mulkerrin 7, J Duane 5; G O'Donnell 7, J Daly 7, C McDaid 7; R Steede 6, C D'Arcy 7; E Brannigan 7, D Comer 6, F Ó Laoi 6; R Finnerty 6, S Walsh 8, M Daly 6. Subs: S Kelly 7 for Duane (22), M Tierney 6 for Finnerty (h-t), T Flynn 6 for Steede (41), L Costello 6 for O Laoi (48), A Varley 7 for M Daly (51).

REF - A Nolan (Wicklow)

Irish Independent