Walsh guides Kingdom into final for 'huge challenge' of Dubs clash
Kerry 1-21 Tyrone 2-11
After the numbers had been run and it was confirmed that Kerry had grabbed a spot in the league final, Eamonn Fitzmaurice cut a contented figure in his post-match briefing.
And why wouldn't he? The sun shone in Killarney and there were green shoots everywhere the Kerry manager looked.
His defence, so often held up and the team's weakness, didn't concede a Tyrone point from play until the 60th minute. In midfield, David Moran was superb, while up front, Donnchadh Walsh had what must be one of his best days in a Kerry jersey when he landed six points from play. There was a cut and a dash to Kerry that wasn't there a week ago in Cavan.
And there was a league final against Dublin to look forward to. Had they not reached the decider, they were looking at a ten-week gap to their next competitive game.
disappointed "I think we just wanted to look after our own performance and see where that took us," Fitzmaurice reflected.
"We were disappointed not to get the job done against Cavan last weekend, didn't play great but we still put ourselves in a winning position and didn't see it out.
"So we were anxious this week to make sure that we righted that this weekend. When the league was so tight, we knew that there would be a chance (of getting into the final), but ultimately it came down to us winning our own game because if we didn't win our own game, we wouldn't have got there. And then it would be a case of winning by enough."
As it turned out, they won by seven to join three other sides on eight points with their superior score difference putting them through to next week's final and a welcome early season run-out in Croke Park.
Kerry laid the groundwork for the win in the first half with a goal from Mikey Geaney, set up by a superb piece of vision from Moran, after just two minutes setting the tone for the half.
At the other end, Tyrone were struggling. Darren McCurry saw a shot well saved by Brendan Kealy but there was little fluency to their attack. They trailed 1-12 to 0-6 at half-time, only managing to score from frees. Mickey Harte admitted afterwards he feared for his side at that point.
"People always throw out these statistics of what you get from play. Well, if you get frees you would have to them from play if people hadn't fouled you. So we were in the position to get a score and it was a foul against you. So if we get those frees we were in scoreable position so it's not all about scoring from play. If we were allowed to play on we probably would have got those scores so I don't see it as a big issue.
"More the issue was we conceded so much in the first half, and in the first half of the first half. That was maybe the most worrying thing that we were conceding scores for fun. That was worrying, at one stage it looked like it could be the mother of all beatings. I think that we saved ourselves from that we have to be happy with the second-half performance."
Tyrone were better in the second half. Two goals from Peter Harte, one from a penalty, helped them cut the gap to five. But even when Kerry were reduced to 14 men after Ronan Shanahan picked up a black card to go with the yellow he was given earlier in the day, it never felt like Tyrone had the momentum to reel Kerry in as Kerry turned in a sound defensive display.
"Look, the lads (in defence) played well but that is what we expect of them, they wouldn't be selected or picked to do the job otherwise," Fitzmaurice said.
"Definitely, as a unit and as individuals, they played well. We will have to look back at the two goals and see what happened there, but overall you would be very happy with the backs."
And now it's another crack at Dublin. Fitzmaurice wouldn't be drawn on Paul Curran's comments that Kerry should be "ashamed" of their approach to the drawn game in Tralee last month. But he expects Dublin to be a much stiffer proposition in Croke Park.
"Playing Dublin in Austin Stack Park on a Saturday night and playing them in Croke Park are two very different things," he said.
"It will be a huge challenge for us next Sunday as it was last year for the National League final, we will still be down bodies so it will be a big test for us. It is certainly where we want to be, we set out at the start of the league to get to the final and it is great from the point of view of shortening the gap between league and championship - the U-21s was going to have an effect on club activity anyway.
"Playing Dublin in Croke Park is about as tough as it gets and that will be great for us."
SCORERS - Kerry: P Geaney (6f), D Walsh 0-6 each, M Geaney 1-2, BJ Keane, B Sheehan (2f) 0-2, P Murphy, T Morley, S O'Brien 0-1 each. Tyrone: P Harte 2-4 (1-0 pen, 4f), S Cavanagh 0-5 (5f), D Mulgrew 0-2.
Kerry - B Kealy 7; F Fitzgerald 7, M Griffin 8, R Shanahan 7; P Crowley 7, T Morley 8, P Murphy 7; D Moran 8, A Maher 6; M Geaney 8, K McCarthy 7, D Walsh 9; BJ Keane 7, P Geaney 7, S O'Brien 6. Subs: B Sheehan 6 for McCarthy (47), J Lyne 6 for Crowley (50), D O'Sullivan 6 for Keane (52), J Barry 6 for Maher (58), G Crowley 6 for Fitzgerald (63), D Daly for O'Brien (69).
Tyrone - M O'Neill 6; A McCrory 5, P Hampsey 6, C McCarron 5; T McCann 5, R McNabb 5, P Harte 6; C Cavanagh 6, P McNulty 5; C McCann 5, N Sludden 5, K McGeary 5; M Bradley 5, S Cavanagh 6, D McCurry 5. Subs: C Meyler 6 for McCann, J Munroe 5 for McCurry (h-t), F Burns 5 for K McGeary (BC 38), D Mulgrew 5 for Bradley (43), C McShane 5 for Sludden (BC 46), R Brennan for McNabb (69).
Ref - M Duffy (Sligo)