Supersub O'Sullivan saves Kerry's bacon
Kerry 2-10 Westmeath 1-12
SFC Round 2 Qualifier
ANYONE in the vicinity of Mullingar yesterday afternoon could hardly have escaped the strange noises emanating from Cusack Park.
More Kerry supporters than expected had travelled up for this second-round qualifier.
And that strange noise was the collective sound of their bottoms all shifting uncomfortably until they escaped with a one-point win after a most dramatic game that featured a penalty apiece and a marvellously gutsy performance by the narrow losers.
Not for the first time in the qualifiers it was squeaky-bum time for Kerry, who failed to score from play in the opening 30 minutes and, having led in the opening minute, only regained the lead again with 13 minutes left.
Westmeath tossed their underdogs' tag aside magnificently to lead by two points at half-time (0-8 to 1-3) and go six clear within four minutes of the re-start.
Horrible flashbacks to some previous qualifier nightmares -- particularly Longford in 2006 and 2009 -- came flooding back for the aristocrats of the game, who looked in serious danger of taking the servants' exit again.
It was Darran O'Sullivan who heroically saved Kerry's summer this time, despite operating on one wing.
The Glenbeigh flier wasn't fit to start because of a hamstring strain but when Westmeath scored through a David Glennon penalty early in the second half to go six points clear, Jack O'Connor was forced to throw him in.
O'Sullivan only survived 26 minutes, withdrawn so as not to exacerbate his injury, but by then he had helped to save Kerry's bacon.
Within seven minutes of the re-start he got the goal that put them back in the game when Colm Cooper found him, unmarked, with a quick free.
It was a particularly contentious free because Westmeath were furious that Ronan Foley had just been penalised for over-carrying out of his own defence.
"To me, it was crazy. I'd have to analyse the game (fully), but I can guarantee you, Kerry guys took far more steps, on numerous occasions, than Ronan did on that occasion," said furious Westmeath boss Pat Flanagan, who added: "We found it more difficult to get the decisions that Kerry did."
It wasn't just O'Sullivan's goal that turned the game around. The energy and impetus he brought seemed to finally shake Kerry out of their torpor.
Within 10 more minutes they were level and from then on they won enough frees for Bryan Sheehan's ultra-dependable free-taking to get them over the line, with Paul Galvin also contributing two vital second-half points.
Brilliant Westmeath midfielder John Heslin had a late chance to throw one final cat among the pigeons with a free deep into the two minutes of added time.
But Westmeath's management, feeling there would be more additional time to come, told him to take the point and that was to be their last chance.
Kerry were reportedly upset at the suggestion that 'the music' had died for this team against Cork but, on yesterday's evidence, too many of its usual maestros are still hitting bum notes.
We had expected a return to more traditional Kerry values but even when they tried the long ball and early delivery it didn't come off and Gooch Copper, Kieran Donaghy and Declan O'Sullivan were badly off song yesterday.
When the game was in the melting pot, Tomas O Se, Eoin Brosnan, Sheehan, Galvin and James O'Donoghue belatedly got stuck in and pulled them through the wringer.
A five-week lay-off could explain some ring-rustiness but even manager O'Connor acknowledged that Kerry are still struggling badly.
The worry is that they only have a week to regain it and O'Sullivan may be an injury worry again after his hamstring tightened yesterday.
"You can't turn form around overnight but we just hope that this game today brings us around," O'Connor said. "Sometimes form can be just around the corner but we're not as fluid up front as we need to be, that's very obvious."
Westmeath, it must be said, were absolutely fantastic, especially given the amount of big-name players they were without, including Callum McCormack yesterday.
Yet they still had the main contenders for Man of the Match.
Kevin Maguire held the Gooch to a point from play, John Gaffey saw Donaghy off scoreless and Paul Sharry and Kieran Martin were simply heroic throughout.
After Anthony Maher's early dominance, Heslin put in a great shift at midfield and the only surprise was that David Glennon was the first forward called ashore.
Of Kerry's 1-3 at half-time, only one point, from Cooper, came from play.
The penalty was earned by Brosnan after 10 minutes and scored by Sheehan but even then Westmeath looked better and when Glennon and Michael Ennis combined to win the penalty just four minutes after the re-start, Westmeath were in the driving seat.
Scorers -- Kerry: B Sheehan 1-3 (3f, 1-0 pen), Darran O'Sullivan 1-0, C Cooper 0-3 (2f), J O'Donoghue and P Galvin 0-2 each. Westmeath: J Heslin 0-5 (4f), David Glennon 1-0 (pen), K Martin 0-2 (1f), G Egan, Denis Glennon, P Sharry, R Foley and D Corroon 0-1 each.
Kerry -- B Kealy 7; M O Se 6, A O'Mahony 6, K Young 5; T O Se 7, E Brosnan 7, B McGuire 5; A Maher 7, B Sheehan 7; P Galvin 6, Declan O'Sullivan 6, D Walsh 5; J O'Donoghue 7, C Cooper 6, K Donaghy 5. Subs: Darran O'Sullivan 8 for Walsh (h-t), K O'Leary 7 for O'Donoghue (52), P Curtin 6 for Darran O'Sullivan (61), J Buckley 6 for Donaghy (64).
Westmeath -- D Quinn 8; J Gaffey 8, K Maguire 8, M McCallon 7; P Sharry 9, D Harte 7, M Ennis 7; J Heslin 8, P Bannon 6; G Egan 7, David Glennon 7, K Martin 9; D Corroon 7, Denis Glennon 7, R Foley 7. Subs: B Moran 6 for David Glennon (54), D Gavin 7 for Corroon (62), D McDermott 6 for Foley (62), C McCormack 6 for Bannon (64).
Ref-- M Higgins (Fermanagh)