GAA Football

Only three points between them but Kerry streets ahead of Donegal in quality

Donegal's Ryan McHugh with Mark Griffin of Kerry during Sunday's NFL match at Letterkenny. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin 
From Brendan Crossan in Letterkenny

Allianz National Football League Division One: Donegal 1-17 Kerry 2-17

THE biggest surprise at a sun-kissed O’Donnell Park yesterday was that Donegal got so close to their illustrious visitors.

A mere three points separated the sides at the end - but the 6,320 supporters that crammed into the St Eunan's ground weren’t fooled by the scoreboard.

In terms of quality, Kerry were streets ahead.

Leading by 10 points after 55 minutes, Kerry eased up and allowed their hosts to make a decent fist of it in the final quarter.

Rory Gallagher’s men hit eight of the last nine points in this Division One opener as Kerry emptied their bench and finished in slightly ragged fashion.

But, up to that point, they were “ultra clinical”, as Gallagher noted afterwards.

“Going into the League there are going to be lots of ups and downs, even within games,” said the Donegal manager.

“It’s going to be a huge learning curve for everybody and we’ve got to stay very united when things aren’t going our way, we’ve got to keep digging and digging – and that was pleasing.”

There might have been a few sweaty palms among the Kerry management team as Donegal substitute Darrach O’Connor hit a couple of points late on and Ryan McHugh fired over the bar when there was a chance of raising a green flag.

By that stage, Kingdom boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice had already withdrawn forwards James O’Donoghue, Donnchadh Walsh, Paul Murphy and impressive debutant Jack Savage.

It would have been daylight robbery, though, had the home side grabbed a share of the spoils – and they did have a penalty claim turned down by referee Maurice Deegan when Donegal midfielder Jason McGee went over.

“We played a lot of good football and kicked a lot of good scores,” said Fitzmaurice. “We definitely have to work on the last quarter but delighted to have got the result.

“There was a good spread of scores and the lads were accurate.”

Ravaged by retirements in the close season, Donegal’s chances of holding Kerry’s star-studded forward line weren’t helped by the loss of Neil McGee (flu) before throw-in.

A defensive re-shuffle saw young Caolan Ward handed the daunting portfolio of shadowing Paul Geaney.

While Ward stuck manfully to his job, the Dingle sharpshooter was voted man-of-the-match after bagging a fantastic 2-4 (2-2 from play).

Geaney raised the first of two green flags moments after Michael Murphy had powered home a 24th minute penalty.

After slick work involving Kerry new boys Jack Barry and Jack Savage, Geaney found the corner of the net to put the visitors ahead 1-4 to 1-2.

But it was his second goal that had class written all over it in the 44th minute.

Yet another razor-sharp counter-attack caught Donegal napping, and with a sublime dummy that left Ward on the deck, Kerry’s number 14 rippled the net again.

The fact that Donegal’s renowned defensive screen was non-existent yesterday left players like Ward exposed to Kerry’s brilliant counter-attack.

The visitors used the full width of the pitch to good effect and managed to sneak down the sides of the Donegal defence with relative ease.

Fielding four new faces – Paul Brennan, Michael Langan, Jason McGee and Jamie Brennan – Donegal attacked quite well in the opening 25 minutes.

Wearing number six, Martin Reilly broke Kerry’s defensive lines at times and drew a foul to win the penalty.

But to stay with Kerry, Donegal needed to take every chance that came their way, and they couldn’t manage it.

Ryan and Eoin McHugh and Patrick McBrearty dropped efforts into the grateful arms of ‘keeper Brian Kelly while Michael Murphy missed a free he would normally convert with his eyes closed.

Gallagher added: “Kerry didn’t miss much, whereas we only had 1-5 on the board in the first half and maybe should have had 1-8 or 1-9.”

The game was held up for seven minutes for a serious head injury to Kerry’s Shane Enright following a collision with Michael Murphy, and towards the end of the opening half Donegal’s early attacking promise began to fade.

Kerry hit five points from play in first-half stoppage-time to fashion a 1-11 to 1-5 interval lead.

For Kerry, David Moran was untouchable in midfield.

James O’Donoghue’s movement caused Paddy McGrath all sorts of trouble, debutant Jack Savage looked as though he’d been around for a few years as did new wing-back Tom O'Sullivan, while sweeper Peter Crowley was always on hand to assist Killian Young in minding Paddy McBrearty.

Donegal narrowed Kerry’s deficit to four points just after the restart thanks to a McBrearty free and the impressive Ciaran Thompson hitting his second of three points from play yesterday.

And just when Paul Brennan was celebrating a debut point for the home side, another lightning break from Kerry saw Geaney produce his moment of magic to put the visitors 2-14 to 1-8 ahead midway through the half.

While Kerry might have taken the foot off the pedal in the final quarter Donegal, to their credit, stuck to their task and were improved by the introduction of Eoin McHugh, Darrach O’Connor and young Conor Gibbons.

With a host of new players learning their trade in the unforgiving environs of Division One, Donegal could well find themselves in a relegation dogfight over the coming weeks.

Kerry, for their part, looked much the fitter of the two sides yesterday and even without Kieran Donaghy and Colm Cooper, they look in good shape for the month of February.

“The last couple of years there have been team holidays and very little training,” said Fitzmaurice.

“I think this year we’ve a bit of training done, we’ve more bodies available to us and that leads to better performances.”

The scoreboard may beg to differ - but this was the closest thing to a stroll for the men from the Kingdom.

Donegal: MA McGinley; C Ward, F McGlynn, P McGrath; P Brennan (0-1), M Reilly (0-1), E Ban Gallagher; J McGee, H McFadden; C Thompson (0-3), M Langan, R McHugh (0-1); P McBrearty (0-4, 0-3 frees), M Murphy (1-3, 1-0 pen, 0-3 frees), J Brennan

Subs: E McHugh (0-1) for F McGlynn (26), C Gibbons (0-1) for M Langan (43), D O’Connor (0-2) for J Brennan (48), E Doherty for P McGrath (49), E O’Donnell for M Reilly (58), S McBrearty for H McFadden (60)

Yellow cards: H McFadden (59)

Kerry: B Kelly; J Foley, M Griffin, S Enright; P Crowley, K Young, T O’Sullivan (0-1); D Moran (0-1), T Morley; J Lyne (0-1), P Murphy (0-1), D Walsh (0-2); J Savage (0-3, 0-1 free), P Geaney (2-4, 0-2 frees), J O’Donoghue (0-3)

Subs: J Barry (0-1) for S Enright (9), M Geaney for J Lyne (48), BJ Keane for J O’Donoghue (53), Brendan O’Sullivan for P Murphy (58), C Geaney for J Savage (60), Barry O’Sullivan for D Walsh (67)

Yellow cards: D Moran (40), P Geaney (52)

Black card: Jack Barry (70m, no replacement)

Referee: M Deegan (Laois)



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