JOE McDONAGH CUP FINAL
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, just when you think you know what way the wind is both literally and metaphorically blowing, the Kerry hurlers pull out a performance like that. Heart, fight, battle and bottle, they gave it absolutely everything.
In the end they came up just short, agonisingly short. The devastation they felt at the full-time whistle at losing out by just a point to Antrim will stay with them for some time. Have no doubt about that.
Again, though, they leave the stage with heads held high, with reputations enhanced, with hope for the future, with the knowledge that they belong at this level, that they can compete and, with another push finally, finally get their hands on that long-awaited piece of sliver. Make no mistake, it’s on the way.
To come back from twelve points down at one stage in the first half, showed remarkable character, remarkable courage, remarkable composure. On any other day, any other team, in any other place would have thrown in the towel, would have lost their way, heads fried.
Instead, this Kerry team found themselves anew, drawing on all those other days when they fought for each other, when they showed for each other, for their coach and their people.
There was just no way that was going to be the way the story ended for them this year, off the back of a heavy beating, without really having fired a shot in anger, not if they had anything to say about it, anything to do about it.
There were times in the first half when it felt to it felt like Antrim could cut the Kingdom asunder, even playing against the breeze. Their passing near sublime at times allowing them to exploit the space on Jones’ Road. Diagonal passes from distance, inch perfect almost every time. Slide-rule passes for runners inside. All of it screaming class.
Indeed, the Glensmen looked a class apart in those times. In the opening fifteen minutes they played a brand of hurling that was not just easy on the eye, it was also devastatingly effective.
Against the breeze it took them just four minutes to fashion their first goal and even at that stage one got the impression that it was coming with Conal Cunning’s movement, Neil McManus’ class and Ciarán Clarke’s predatory instincts all kicking in.
The pass for the opening goal by Joe Maskey was almost as good as Clarke’s finish, which left Louis Dee with no chance to stop it. Even with Pádraig Boyle battling hard – looking at times Kerry’s sole out-let at puck-out – Antrim just continued to steam-roll their way to a substantial lead.
Five minutes after their first goal they had their second, this time Clarke turning provider for James McNaughton to leave it 0-2 to 2-3 in Antrim’s favour.
Fionán Mackessy – a vibrant presence for Kerry as always – shot back next for Kerry, but the Antrim onslaught continued until they had it out to a twelve point game 25 minutes in, 0-5 to 2-11 with Cunning in particular excelling.
Maybe the sheer scale of their advantage caused Antrim to take their foot off the gas or it was simply the case that Kerry were finally adjusting to what they were being presented it, we can’t say for sure. What we can say is that Kerry hit something of a purple patch.
Again Mackessy was vital for the green and goal earning a penalty for Boyle to slam home with trademark venom. From there the Kingdom seemed to kick on, aided by the introduction of a lively Jordan Conway.
Having been twelve adrift, by the 34th minute Kerry had it back to a seven point game with points from Dooley and Boyle – one outrageous effort from his own 45 simply sensational – and it could have been more had Boyle managed to find the back of the net with a chance on 28 minutes.
Alas, though, Antrim finished with a flourish. A Keelan Molloy shot at goal saved by Louis Dee, albeit with Seaan Elliott on hand to scoop home the rebound. 1-10 to 3-14 in Antrim’s favour at the break. With the breeze to come for the second half it looked all over.
Whatever Stephen Molumphy said at the half-time break worked a treat. From the moment Daniel Collins shot his second score of the day following a Shane Conway assist seconds into the second half there was a different feel to Kerry.
Mikey Boyle, quiet enough in the first half, roared into the second. Jordan Conway, meanwhile, continued to grab the game by the scruff of the neck shooting two points in quick succession on 38 and 39 minutes.
Still Antrim’s response – a fourth goal, this time from Cunning – seemed to put a hat on it. Except that nobody told Kerry and nobody told Conway.
His goals on 48 minutes (assist Niall Mulcahy) and his second on 54 minutes, taking advantage of a long ball in and volleying home despite a hook by Paddy Burke, turned the game utterly on its head.
Suddenly Kerry were just three behind – 3-18 to 4-18 – and just two following yet another Boyle free. All going Kerry’s way… and then again the game seemed to turn following Antirm’s fifth goal from the penalty spot by Ciarán Clarke which was accompanied by a black card for Paudie O’Connor.
Another opportunity for Kerry to fade way. Not that the Kingdom were having any of it. They hung on in there for dear life and, with six minutes of time added on, gave a nervy Antrim a torrid time of it. O’Connor back from the bin to shoot over on 72.
The Saffrons hanging on just about and following an Eoin O’Neill point looked home and hosed. Even then Kerry wouldn’t relent with Mulcahy forcing a save from Ryan Elliott and then with one last flourish Boyle slamming home from distance to leave just the minimum in it at the finish.
Guts galore for the green and gold. Glory of a sort too. Not that they’ll be satisfied by that. This a beginning, not an end.
KERRY: Louis Dee, Seán Weir, Conor O’Keeffe, Eric Leen, Eoin Ross, Mikey Boyle, Fionán Mackessy (0-1), Michael Leane (0-2), Colin Walsh, Pádraig Boyle (2-11, 8f, 1 ‘65, 1 pen), Daniel Collins (0-3), Paudie O’Connor (0-1), Gavin Dooley (0-1), Colum Harty, Shane Conway (0-2) Subs: Jordan Conway (2-2) for C Harty, 24, Maurice O’Connor (0-1) for G Dooley, 44, Niall Mulcahy for C Walsh, 48,Brian Lonergan for D Collins (inj), 63 Black card: Paudie O’Connor, 58-69
ANTRIM: Ryan Elliott, David Kearney, Gerard Walsh, Paddy Burke, Joe Maskey, Eoghan Campbell, Conal Bohill, Michael Bradley, Keelan Molloy (0-2), James McNaughton (1-1), Neil McManus (0-2), Ciarán Clarke (2-2), Conal Cunning (1-12, 9f), Conor McCann, Seaan Elliott (1-0) Subs: Daniel McKernan (0-1) for C Bohill, 49, Domhnall Nugent for C McCann, 52, Niall McKenna (0-1) for J McNaughton, 61, Conor Johnston for C Clarke, 63, Eoin O’Neill (0-1) for C McManus, 69 Blood: Ryan McCambridge for E Campbell, 22-23
REFEREE: Seán Stack (Dublin)