Kerry 2-9 : Donegal 0-12, Croke Park
Kerry, winning their 37th title, beat Donegal by 3 points in the All-Ireland Football Championship Final in Croke Park on a lovely Sunday afternoon. Donegal were seen by many pundits and pretty much everybody, outside the Kingdom anyway, as slight favourites heading into the game.
Kerry got the perfect start that every team, no matter who they are, would have wanted with a goal within 50 seconds from Paul Geaney. This was the start that everybody felt that Kerry would need to help counter-act Donegal’s blanket defence. Éamonn Fitzmaurice set his Kerry side up in exactly the same way as Donegal, with the mind-set that “if you can’t beat them you might as well join them”.
His tactics and set-up worked perfectly, as Kerry were able to disrupt Paul Durcan’s kick-outs 9 out of 10 times. Donegal went into the game with the more experienced side; this was because the majority of the players that played against Kerry had been involved in the 2012 final which Donegal won. This previous final experience was one of the key reasons why many pundits were backing Donegal. On the other hand, Kerry had 9 players starting the game who were experiencing their first taste of a final. However, it was Donegal who struggled more with the jitters for the first part of the game and this allowed the inexperienced Kerry players to settle into the game.
In their semi-final, Donegal out-muscled Dublin and counter-attacked with joy through the likes of Ryan McHugh, who was man of the match. However against Kerry, McHugh, Neil Gallagher, Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden, the main players against the Dubs, didn’t perform. Donegal’s poor performance was epitomised by Ryan McHugh being taken off a few minutes into the second half.
Kerry were involved in epic semi-finals against Mayo in Croker and the Gaelic Grounds and as a result, they entered the final, one has to say, on a wave of optimism as not many people thought they would beat Mayo in the first place.
James O’Donoghue, who had scored 2-06 against Mayo in the Gaelic Grounds, didn’t score against Donegal. However, he did have a very good game and orchestrated many of Kerry’s attacks in the final. He was the forward who kept dropping deep to get his hands on the ball and get it forward to the likes of Kieran Donaghy and Paul Geaney who both caused many problems for the Donegal half-back and full-back line throughout the whole 70 minutes.
It was in the midfield battle where the game was really won. Neil Gallagher and Odhrán MacNiallias had dominated during the Semi-Final for Donegal against Dublin and in doing this they prevented the likes of Michael Darragh McCauley from dominating the game and creating as much go forward ball as usual. However, by contrast, on Sunday, David Moran and Anthony Maher, along with Aidan O’Mahony when needed, where able to successfully shackle these two influential players and prevent them from getting quick ball to the likes of McHugh and Michael Murphy in the Donegal forward lines.
Even when Donegal did get within 30 meters of the Kerry goal, they were hit and miss for the most part, putting several chances wide of the uprights. Despite this, Kerry weren’t much better at converting points and chances themselves with seemingly easy opportunities going a begging on a number of occasions.
Donegal struggled to adapt to the taste of their own medicine, as Kerry employed two sweepers, who helped to pick up the pieces from the kick-outs after David Moran and Anthony Maher contested the highballs against Neil Gallagher and Odhrán MacNiallais.
Donegal may have had more overall experience, however Kerry had the likes of Mark O’Se, Declan O’Sullivan and others who have been around for years and have seen it all. Quality over quantity in terms of experience was a big factor as to why the Kingdom regained the All-Ireland title. In a final, after a long season, one of the key factors in determining a winner and loser is the strength in depth of the team. It’s not just the starting 15 that win the trophy, but the substitutes as well play a huge role. For Kerry, O’Sullivan came off the bench and made a real impact alongside Bryan Sheehan in the closing part of the game. However, on the other side, Donegal appeared short of real game changers from the bench, apart from Paddy McBrearty, who came for the last of the game and score some very good points for the Hills. Such was his stunning impact on the game after coming on; many pundits questioned the decision of Jim McGuinness not to start him in the final.
On Sunday, Kerry apparently a team ‘in transition’ showed that they may be back to their best, whereas Donegal were exposed as being too one dimensional and not really having a plan B if their usual tactic didn’t work. It was one of the first times this season that Donegal didn’t have it all their own way and when pressed, they showed that they lacked the character to change up their tactics to try and push for a win by alternative means than the ones they were used to.
Overall, the best team won on a day when to win, the basics had to be done right and neither side did them well at times. Kerry managed to find a bit more consistency in what was unfortunately a poor spectacle, for the neutral anyway.
Team Line Ups:
DONEGAL (SF v Kerry): P Durcan; E McGee, N McGee, P McGrath; A Thompson, K Lacey, F McGlynn; N Gallagher, O MacNiallais; C Toye, L McLoone, R McHugh; P McBrearty, M Murphy, C McFadden.
Subs: M Boyle, D O’Connor, D Walsh, D Walsh, D Molloy, H McFadden, L Thompson, L Keaney, M McElhinney, M O’Reilly, R Kavanagh.
KERRY (SF v Mayo): B Kelly; M Ó Sé, A O’Mahony, F Fitzgerald; P Murphy, P Crowley, K Young; A Maher, D Moran; S O’Brien, J Buckley, D Walsh; P Geaney, K Donaghy, J O’Donoghue.
Subs: B Kealy, S Enright, M Geaney, Declan O’Sullivan, B J Keane, B Sheehan, Darran O’Sullivan, K O’Leary, J Lyne, M Griffin, P Kilkenny