Walsh makes mark to help Kingdom maintain momentum
Kerry 0-17 Monaghan 0-13
Peter Keane took some early heat for the phone calls he didn't make as Kerry manager in assembling his new squad. But one he did make may well turn out to be the most important of all.
For the second week running Tommy Walsh's influence was profound here in nudging Kerry into a position where they could win again, a fifth in succession that should be enough to put them into a third league final in four years.
The attacking mark is made for Walsh and he pulled four out of the skies, converting three to keep Kerry in touch when Monaghan were threatening to outfox them.
His industry and power, together with Paul Murphy's all-round mastery and competitiveness, were arguably the vital factors in the 100 per cent record being maintained, laying the platform for a late surge that saw Kerry outscore their Ulster visitors by 0-7 to 0-1 in the closing quarter.
Walsh has spent the best part of three years out of the mix in Kerry but right now, after being offered a pathway back by Keane, he looks like he's enjoying himself again, the 'head down' persona of early 2016 no longer apparent. For all the advancement of young talent, the aerial threat of this 31-year-old is shaping like their most potent weapon of all.
Kerry's margins of victory so far, four against Tyrone, three against Cavan, one against both Dublin and Galway and four here illustrate a hunger and growing confidence that comes with building such results.
This was a game they probably would have lost - and did in Inniskeen - 12 months ago. Consequently, it was a game Monaghan would perhaps have won 12 months ago.
But their failure to build on an opening weekend win over Dublin has put them in a relegation battle that they may not succeed in. Some of their edge for these occasions has deserted them.
With Cavan and Mayo to come, they have a chance but if Roscommon take anything from their last two games, albeit against Galway and Kerry, their five-year tenancy in the top flight, which has produced some great results, may be at an end.
Twice in the last four years they have come to Kerry and triumphed and for three-quarters of this Killarney battle it looked like their undefeated run against the Kingdom would stretch to four.
As ever, Conor McManus was wonderfully economical, particularly in the first half when he landed six points, four frees (two of which he was fouled for himself), took a successful mark and kicked the opening point from play.
With Stephen O'Hanlon giving Brian ó Beaglaoích some early trouble and Gavin Doogan and Darren Hughes making a lot of the early running at midfield, Monaghan looked in the right frame of mind to atone for a disappointing night against Tyrone in Omagh.
"We were a bit disappointed with the way the game finished last week," said manager Malachy O'Rourke. "It wasn't like us as a group to finish the game so tamely. That was the first thing we wanted to address and, in fairness, we fought right to the end."
Walsh was the biggest threat in the first half, landing a mark, a point from play off his left foot and generally presented himself as a dependable target.
Keane sought to play down the level of his influence afterwards when asked if he was their 'bail-out card.'
"But sure what is he there for? Sure, every fella is out there to do something. He's a big unit and he has good hands, no point having a lad with good hands and not playing him."
Kerry got return from half-backs Murphy and Tom O'Sullivan while Jack Sherwood's attacking play also gave them important territory.
The match was delayed for 10 minutes to allow Monaghan time to prepare after their bus got caught in traffic that had built up with the snow that fell. The pitch had a decent coating when the players came out to warm up but the correct call was made to allow it to go ahead.
Keane felt that as conditions improved so too did his team. "We finished strong. A big factor in that was the field dried up no end as that second half progressed. That helped us and maybe we were that bit fitter in the end."
Seán O'Shea had a quiet match but was hugely influential in the finish, landing another now trademark sideline from a similar angle to his score against Tyrone in one of the last passages of play to bring his tally to eight points, 0-39 for the campaign to date. Substitute Tomás ó Sé provided another spark, winning the frees for two of those late O'Shea scores.
When McManus, whose influence waned after a first-half injury in a collision, put in Hughes for a 0-12 to 0-10 lead on 49 minutes it looked like they would plunder a third successive win on Kerry soil but Colin Walshe got their only subsequent point.
Kerry were able to put sufficient pressure on Rory Beggan's kick-out with Murphy and Gavin O'Brien claiming possession from two to set up the impressive Stephen O'Brien and Dara Moynihan points to open a 0-14 to 0-12 lead.
O'Rourke knows all about momentum. "Thing about league football, often when you get a bit of momentum and you have won a couple of games, it carries on, you finish games strong, we have found that in the past. Whereas when you have lost a few in a row that same momentum isn't with you."
He said there was no conscious decision to approach the league differently but it may be happening "subconsciously," he accepted.
For Keane, the journey continues, a 22nd consecutive win as either minor or senior manager over the last four years. "I wouldn't get too hung up on the five wins from five. Settled team, yes, no, whatever. But what I will say for the crowd that were here, they were behind the team 100 per cent. And you could hear it, that is the only thing I am really noticing, the coming together from the supporters for the team has been phenomenal."
Scorers - Kerry: S O'Shea 0-8 (6f, 1 sl); T Walsh 0-4 (3m), S O'Brien, T O'Sullivan 0-2 each, D Moynihan 0-1. Monaghan: C McManus 0-7 (5f, 1m), S O'Hanlon, C McCarthy, G Doogan, C Walshe, G Doogan, D Hughes 0-1 each.
Kerry - S Ryan 6; B ó Beaglaoích 6, P Crowley 6, J Sherwood 8; G Crowley 6, P Murphy 9, T O'Sullivan 8; J Barry 7, M Griffin 6; D Moynihan 6, S O'Shea 7, G O'Brien 6; K McCarthy 5, T Walsh 8, S O'Brien 8. Subs: M Geaney 7 for McCarthy (h-t), S Enright 6 for Griffin (52), G O'Sullivan 7 for ó Beaglaoích (55), T ó Sé 7 for Sherwood inj (59), J Foley for Crowley (70).
Monaghan - R Beggan 7; C Walshe 7, D Wylie 6, R Wylie 7; K O'Connell 6, V Corey 7, C Lennon 6; D Hughes 7, G Doogan 8; D Ward 6, D Malone 7, R McAnespie 5; C McCarthy 6, C McManus 8, S O'Hanlon 7. Subs: D Mone 6 for Lennon (44), O Duffy 6 for Ward (60), J McCarron for O'Hanlon (63), B McGinn for Malone (69).
Ref - P Neilan (Roscommon)
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