Sunday 8 December 2019

Winter was coming for Kingdom but the game for throne is still up for grabs now

Seán O'Shea of Kerry. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Seán O'Shea of Kerry. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

The bus driver from Monaghan said "no snow anyway" as the Kerry supporters filed on to the bus which was organised by the Kerry Association in Dublin outside the Gresham Hotel yesterday.

"But is winter coming for Kerry?" I wondered as we got set for a trip to Clones which was like a journey into the unknown. Never before have we had to travel to the home of Ulster football to see if Kerry could save their Championship season.

The view from the Kerry Supporters Bus on the pilgrimage to Clones.
The view from the Kerry Supporters Bus on the pilgrimage to Clones.

There were 37 of us on the bus, one for every All-Ireland Kerry has won. That's the kind of mindless stuff that comes into your head as you try to while away a nervous journey. At least we had a Monaghan man driving us, as he used his local knowledge of the backroads to get us to Clones a few hours before throw-in without ever hitting the legendary traffic jams the town is know for on match day.

And even though plenty of supporters milled around the town, there was an eagerness to get to St Tiernach's Park early.

Entry to the main stand was on a first-come, first-served basis and it reached capacity by 3.10pm, 50 minutes before throw-in. But being there early for a prime seat was a price worth paying.

The ground shook to its core when Conor McManus made it a grandstand start with the opening goal before we barely had the lid off the tub of ice-cream. It was Kerry who needed to show the fast reaction to last weekend's defeat to Galway, but Monaghan had ambitions of their own. From that first touch, McManus played all day with the poise and stride of Apollo that Paddy Kavanagh would have been proud of.

This game wasn't quite poetry at times, but every plot needs a love interest and Kerry's Kieran Donaghy and Monaghan's goalkeeper Rory Beggan gave us one to rival anything Love Island could throw up.

When Donaghy's name was first called out over the tannoy as a starter it sparked a hum of concern and interest among the Monaghan support. When Donaghy tried, but failed, to unsettle Beggan's free-kick after 34 minutes, the keeper tapped Donaghy in that 'hard luck, try harder next time', kind of way.

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And it became a drill in this game that when Beggan was called up to take the free-kick, Donaghy would run up too.


Beggan did hit a few wides in what would turn out to be among the crucial and frustrating misses for Monaghan.

While Kerry took up a habitat of living in Monaghan's shadow in this game, the Ulster side just couldn't shake them off. Trailing by five points, Kerry came out with more bite in the second-half.

Sub Micheal Burns did his best John Mullane impression when Kerry were awarded a free which Sean O'Shea sent over to leave three points between them.

But it seemed like this game was running towards an inevitable conclusion. When a McManus free-kick put five points between the teams with three minutes of normal time remaining, plans were being made by the young Monaghan supporter near me to go on to the pitch with his dad at full-time to savour this coming historic victory.

How cruel sport can be. And how uplifting. Just when it looked like winter was coming early for Kerry they found a way to give a grandstand finish. James O'Donoghue to Donaghy to David Clifford to score a goal is a move which will long be remembered and which keeps Kerry alive in this Championship.

At the full-time whistle Donaghy fell to the St Tiernach's turf in thanks. Breathless.

And there it was. 'Super 8s' - nice to meet you.

After both sets of exhausted fans wiped the disbelief from their faces, we all rolled into one out of St Tiernach's Park and down Clones town before splintering in all directions.

The Kerry bus back to Dublin was filled with relief.

We look to home now in two weeks to see where else this journey will take us.

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