Keegan-inspired Kildare taste rarest of victories
An old Irish saying used in deepest west Kerry, sums up this thrilling decider at Croke Park from a Kildare perceptive – "An rud is annamh is iontach", which means "the rarest thing is most beautiful" or wonders will never cease.
Kildare 4-18 Kerry 2-22 - Christy Ring Cup final
How can you explain Kildare's historic first Christy Ring title, based on previous form?
Kerry went unbeaten through the NHL, won Division 2A, gave Offaly an early fright in the 1B promotion game in Semple Stadium, and won their three Christy Ring Cup games along the way, including an away win over Saturday's conquerors.
Kildare on the other hand, sneaked into the final under the radar, losing all their league games, and being relegated, requiring extra-time and a replay to beat Wicklow.
But on the day that mattered most they produced the goods, dominating the possession stakes in the middle third with superior physical power and fetching ability, while up front Gerry Keegan, Bernard Deay, Ray McLoughney and Paul Divilly hit 3-16 between them, against a very porous defence.
Why Kerry management did not introduce Liam Boyle to steady a creaking full-back line or at full-forward to catch a high ball, is a mystery.
Kerry, who were losing their third Christy Ring final in four attempts, representing a major setback for their Liam MacCarthy Cup ambitions – began as if they were going to blow Kildare away.
They raced into a six-point lead by the seventh minute, with Padraig Boyle finding the net and 'keeper Tadgh Flynn converting a monster free from well inside his own half.
However, a hungrier-looking Kildare side fought back to level at 1-5 to 0-8 by the 18th minute, thanks to some great scores from their snipers up front, with Keegan roasting his marker and Deay, Divilly and Martin Fitzgerald all adding points.
Kildare then grabbed goals within the space of two minutes. Firstly, 'keeper Paul Dermody blasted home a penalty, and then Keegan fired in, but Shane Nolan netted for the Kingdom, who led 2-10 to 2-9 at the interval.
Kerry's wide count (16 in total) was to cost them dearly, but the half-time introduction of John Griffin did improve their lot around the middle, as did the heroic surges from young Daniel Collins.
However, Kildare were able to pierce the Kerry full-back line at will, and goals from Ray McLoughney and an opportunistic fourth from Deay put them in command.
Nolan and Griffin brought Kerry back to within two points, but despite throwing everything at Kildare, a Boyle miss and a Dermody save from David Butler late on, meant a second consecutive final defeat for the Munster men but unbridled joy for the underdogs.
Scorers: Kildare: G Keegan 1-4, P Divilly 0-7 (5fs), B Deay 1-3, R McLoughney 1-2, P Dermody 1-0 (pen), M Fitzgerald 0-2. Kerry: S Nolan 1-4, P Boyle 1-2, J Egan 0-4 (2fs), D Butler, C Harty 0-3, J Griffin 0-3 each, T Flynn (f), T Casey, D Collins 0-1 each.
Kildare: P Dermody; J Doran, F Ó Muineacháin, N Ó Muineacháin; D Harney, M Moloney, R Hoban; E O'Neill, M Fitzgerald; R Kelly, P Divilly, B Deay; G Keegan, T Murphy, R McLoughney. Subs: P Reidy for R Kelly (55), J O'Malley for T Murphy (68).
Kerry: T Flynn; B Murphy, T Murnane, D Fitzell; S Weir, D Dineen, T Casey; D O'Connell, C Harty; M Boyle, D Collins, S Nolan, P Boyle, D Butler, J Egan. Subs: J Griffin for D Fitzell (h-t), B O'Leary for M Boyle (61), J Leahy for T Casey (63), J Casey for D Butler (67).
Referee: S Cleere (Kilkenny).