Adam Moynihan reports from Croke Park, Dublin
All-Ireland SFC Semi-Final
Kerry 1-17 Derry 1-15
Reigning champions Kerry fought back from the brink to overcome a spirited Derry side in a breathless semi-final at Croke Park this evening.
Trailing by two points heading into the final ten minutes, The Kingdom showed admirable character to rattle off five unanswered points in a row.
The drama didn’t finish there as Derry had an opportunity to snatch an 80th-minute equalising goal but, cruelly, star forward Shane McGuigan accidentally kicked a free over the bar as he attempted to drop it into the square.
Kerry can now look forward to another final in two weeks’ time. Their greatest rivals, Dublin, stand in the way of All-Ireland title number 39.
This match was teed up to be dour and slow-paced but two early goals set the tone for a ferociously competitive first half.
Gareth McKinless slotted home the first goal for Derry in the fifth minute; he tidied things up when Shane Ryan denied Brendan Rogers from close range.
Kerry’s response was immediate and devastating as Gavin White burst forward to palm home Seánie O’Shea’s assist just a minute later. Kerry now led by 1-1 to 1-0 but three scores on the bounce by Paddy McGrogan, Paul Cassidy and Shane McGuigan pushed Derry two points ahead.
David Clifford and Chrissy McKaigue were battling hard away from the ball and at this point Clifford was getting the better of the experienced Derry defender. He kicked 0-5 in total in the first period, including two wonderful efforts from play.
(He was also yellow-carded for what appeared to be a fair shoulder on McGuigan, although thankfully the referee’s decision didn’t have a bearing on the outcome of the game.)
Things were set up nicely with ten minutes to go in the half but then a black card for Diarmuid O’Connor following a foot trip on Conor Glass meant Kerry were temporarily reduced to 14.
Derry made hay while O’Connor was in the bin. Brendan Rogers (two), Ciarán McFaul and Shane McGuigan all scored during this period, with a solitary point by wandering keeper Shane Ryan all that Kerry could muster in response. Derry were unhappy with a collision between Ryan and McGuigan in the build-up to that point - Ryan appeared to shield himself and catch McGuigan with his backside in the process. The referee deemed it unintentional.
Clifford (mark) and McGuigan (free) exchanged points in stoppage time as Derry went in at the interval three points ahead (1-11 to 1-8).
Jack O’Connor called on the experienced Stephen O’Brien at half-time and the Kenmare man made a significant impact without the ball in the third quarter.
At the other end, his clubmate Seánie O’Shea began to find his rhythm and he and Clifford kicked two points apiece to make it a tied game with 48 minutes on the clock. Meanwhile, Conor Doherty broke forward to kick Derry’s only score of this spell.
Shane Ryan was called into action in the 52nd minute to deny McKinless with a wonderful save, but Derry kept their nerve and points by Ciarán McFaul and McGuinness (free) edged them out into a two-point lead with ten minutes to go.
Another six minutes passed before either team scored again and Kerry were now in real danger of slipping out of the championship, but a flurry of scores between the 66th and 71st minutes turned the game on its head.
O’Shea (free) and Clifford (free) made it level at 1-14 each, before an inspirational left-footed effort by O’Brien a minute from time gave Kerry their first lead in 37 minutes.
Derry probed but Kerry looked menacing on the counter and points by O’Shea and Man of the Match Clifford opened up a three-point deficit.
The men in green and gold had their chances to put the tie to bed but they failed to execute, which left McGuigan with a last-ditch opportunity to create a scramble in front of the Hill.
His floated kick had too much on it, though. Never before did Kerry supporters cheer an opposition point with so much fervour.
KERRY: S Ryan (0-1); G O’Sullivan, J Foley, T O’Sullivan; P Murphy, T Morley, G White (1-0); D O’Connor (0-1), J Barry; D Moynihan, S O’Shea (0-4, 1f), A Spillane; P Clifford (0-1), D Clifford (0-9, 4f, 1m), P Geaney.
Subs: S O’Brien (0-1) for Spillane; T Brosnan for Geaney; B Ó Beaglaoich for Murphy; M Burns for Moynihan, R Murphy for P Clifford.
DERRY: O Lynch (0-1); C McKaigue, E McEvoy, C McCluskey; C Doherty (0-1), G McKinless (1-0), P McGrogan (0-1); C Glass, B Rogers (0-2); N Toner, Paul Cassidy (0-2), E Doherty; C McFaul (0-2), S McGuigan (0-6, 3f), N Loughlin.
Subs: Pádraig Cassidy for McGrogan, B Heron for Pádraig Cassidy, L Murray for Toner, S Downey for McEvoy, B McCarron for McKinless.
Kerry will need more intensity, more physicality and more collaboration to bounce back from Dub drubbing
by Adam Moynihan
In the 22nd minute of last Saturday night’s league match in Croke Park, Lee Gannon collected a pass on his own 65 and carried the ball unchallenged right into the heart of Kerry’s defence. Brian Fenton took over and a tackle by Diarmuid O’Connor slowed the attack.
Then Fenton looked up and saw that Niall Scully was standing at the top of the D, completely unmarked. It was a simple five-metre handpass to the centre, and Scully had all the time in the world to steady himself and shoot. His point made it Dublin 2-8 Kerry 0-5. Ten shots for Dublin. Ten scores. One-way traffic.
The Dubs deserve credit for their accuracy in front of the posts – Con O’Callaghan was particularly excellent – but the ease with which they were creating their openings was startling from a Kerry perspective. For Scully’s score, the resistance was non-existent. If the same thing happened in a training match, the manager would be well within his rights to call off the session and send everyone home.
The cameras may have been trained on Kerry’s full back line and, yes, Jason Foley and Dylan Casey were struggling against O’Callaghan and Paddy Small, but Kerry were found wanting all over the pitch. You could have sailed the Titanic down the centre of their defence and O’Callaghan exploited that space to great effect for his third goal. Foley got hoodwinked by a lovely piece of movement by the Dublin full forward, but where was the help?
Centre back Tadhg Morley was pushing up on Dublin dangerman Seán Bugler but that’s the thing with Dublin: all their forwards are dangerous in one way or another. Maybe Tadhg was following instructions but you wonder if he could have cheated off Bugler when the all-action centre forward was outside the 45.
Whether it’s Morley or someone else, that gap in front of the goal needs to be filled – especially against teams of Dublin’s calibre.
What we saw in Croke Park last Saturday was a far cry from the solid defensive structure that won Kerry an All-Ireland in 2022, that’s for sure. You can be certain that Jack O’Connor will be demanding a far more intense, more physical and more collaborative performance against Tyrone on Sunday (1.15pm).
Speaking after the Dublin game, O’Connor said that his side “malfunctioned” on the kickouts. While Dublin keeper David O’Hanlon was firing out his kicks like a machine gun, Shane Ryan was far more measured with his. Dublin’s press was brilliant in fairness to them but you’d have to question Kerry’s appetite for making honest, hard runs and receiving the ball in potentially tight areas.
Graham O’Sullivan and Brian Ó Beaglaoich (who is currently injured) are outstanding when it comes to breaking free and accepting that responsibility. You’d like to see one or two more backs getting in on the act.
As for Ryan himself, could he be a bit quicker and a bit more adventurous with his distribution? Look, if there’s nothing on, there’s nothing on, but I think at times he could back himself more resolutely. He has the range and the accuracy.
Of course, if he takes a risk and it gets intercepted he’ll be in line for even sharper criticism, so you can understand him being cautious when the kick isn’t 100% on.
Whatever the solution, on the evidence of the Dublin and Derry games, Kerry do need to try something a bit different to beat the press. Tyrone are unlikely to be as aggressive as Dublin were but when they do push up, it will be fascinating to see how Kerry deal with it.
Kerry’s midfielders also need to compete aerially against whoever they’re up against when it goes long – even if that’s Brian Fenton or Conor Glass or Brendan Rogers. It’s not easy to get the better of these guys in the air (or to break even, which would do) but that’s the level required.
Joe O’Connor showed that his ball skills have improved markedly by taking his goal and his point so cleanly, and he is doing well in general, but he and his namesake Diarmuid will have to be more impactful both from kickouts and without the ball if Kerry want to be a real force this season.
Personally, I would like to see Seán O’Brien getting some more game time. He has only played six minutes since being taken off early on his debut against Derry five weeks ago. Kerry will need back-up at midfield as the season goes on and O’Brien has a lot of potential.
Up front, the main positive is that Cillian Burke continues to make his presence felt. Even when his more experienced teammates were faltering the last night, Burke stood tall and played his usual game. And he swung over a great score for good measure.
David Clifford will be disappointed that he didn’t convert one of his goal chances – the first one was definitely there for the taking – but you know that over the course of the season he’ll finish more of those than he misses. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if he comes out and strokes one in on Sunday.
It’s nice to see Tony Brosnan back on the pitch as well. He deserves some kind fortune following a tough spell with illness and injury.
Tyrone coming to Killarney gives the players the perfect opportunity to bounce back quickly and show supporters – and themselves – that the Dublin game was a glitch and nothing more. Improvements are needed all over the pitch but the sight of the Red Hand should bring focus and resolve.
A good performance, a win and two points would put a lot of minds at ease.
Killarney girls will answer Ireland’s call
A trio of talented young Killarney rugby players have been called up to the Ireland U18 squad for the upcoming Six Nations festival in Wales.
Ava O’Malley, Fia Whelan and Emma Dunican have all been included in Matt Gill’s panel for the tournament, which will take place between March 29 and April 6. They will link up with their new teammates for three weekend training camps at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre on the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin during the month of March.
Gill, the current Women’s Provincial Talent Coach for Leinster, will be assisted by Sana Govender, who has previously coached Munster Women’s teams.
“I’m really looking forward to continuing our Irish U18 Women’s Six Nations preparations and getting our camps underway,” the head coach said. “I’m excited to work with Sana and our management team, and to work with this incredibly talented group of players.”
O’Malley, Whelan and Dunican are products of Killarney RFC’s blossoming youth set-up and all three were on the U18.5 team that recently won the Munster League.
Including the Killarney girls, there are seven Munster-based players on the 35-woman squad with 15 hailing from Leinster, eight from Connacht and five from Ulster.
“It’s a very proud day for the girls, their families, teammates and coaches, and for Killarney RFC,” the club commented. “Best of luck, girls!”
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