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PRO GAA Scene December 31st 2014 2014-12-31 09:08:00

Kerry GAA Review 2014

National Success the highlight

There is no doubt that any review of the 2014 GAA year in Kerry will be dominated by the success of various teams in both football and hurling at national level. The year just passed was of course a special one and while capturing the Sam Maguire and Tom Markham Cups will stand out it must also be remembered that the Kerry hurlers kept their end up winning Division 2A of the Allianz League and the Minor B Hurling championship.

Sam Maguire returns for the 37th time

There was little optimism in the Kingdom when the Kerry senior team started out on their Championship campaign on 22nd June in Ennis. A number of new players had been tried out in the McGrath Cup competition in January, but after a promising start against Dublin in the League, a game they lost narrowly, Kerry went on to suffer further defeats at the hands of Derry and Mayo. They recovered to fashion a fine 10 points defeat of Tyrone in Killarney and followed that up with victories on the road against both Kildare and Westmeath, but in the final game of the competition, Kerry suffered a heavy 10 points defeat to Cork and had to endure an 11 week break before their championship campaign would begin.

So, with their captain and talisman Colm Cooper on the sidelines, Kerry headed to Ennis with morale at a low ebb – or so we were lead to believe! Five players made their championship debut on that day and in what turned out to be a tricky encounter, Kerry were thankful for the point scoring ability of Paul Geaney, who kicked six points from play and Bryan Sheehan who contributed to the scoreboard at vital stages. A 1-17 to 1-13 victory hardly made anyone stand up and take notice as Kerry headed for Páirc Uí Chaoimh two weeks later.

In that provincial decider, Kerry upset all the odds with a masterful display on the banks of the Lee where the displays of James O’Donoghue and Declan O’Sullivan in particular will live long in the memory of the Kerry supporters present. “We travelled to Fota Island the night before the game (a departure for Kerry teams) but it proved to be a master stroke. We got to spend time together and most importantly we had an incredible team meeting the night before the game. Everyone that was in that room knew we were going to win the following day. And we did and won well” was Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s summation of the game. Kerry enjoyed an eight points lead at the break and eventually won by double scores on a 0-24 to 0-12 scoreline.

The All Ireland Quarter Final game in Croke Park was a strange game indeed and Kerry trainer Eamonn Fitzmaurice summed it up well; “We had to go and win it three times. Twice we accelerated away from Galway and allowed them back into it and then finally we put on a scoring spurt in the last five minutes to finish the game off”. Kerry were back under the radar following that 1-20 to 2-10 victory.

In the All Ireland semi final, Kerry played well in the first half, but despite being a man to the good for the entire second half, as Fitzmaurice observed “Our season was hanging by a thread in the last five minutes. Sometimes a thread is enough”. Kieran Donaghy’s reincarnation and a wonderful equaliser under pressure from Kieran O’Leary gave Kerry a second chance following a 1-16 each draw.

Limerick was a somewhat controversial choice for the replay six days later. Fortunes ebbed and flowed as both sides had periods in the ascendancy. It took extra time to eventually separate the sides after an enthralling game that ended with Kerry three points to the good, 3-16 to 3-13. Eamonn Fitzmaurice was back in an All Ireland final, this time as a manager; “The day that made our squad. It is hard to quantify how much this victory meant to us as a group of people - management, backroom team, players - and supporters. This was the match that had it all; the novel venue, the atmosphere and an epic game that had everything”.

There was a wonderful lead in to the final and Kerry’s underdogs tag suited them down to the ground. Despite a fair bit of pessimism within the county the Kerry supporters came out in their droves with 16,004 tickets sold within the county alone – a record number for the Kingdom. Kerry got the start they craved for when Paul Geaney got in for an early goal and that was the cushion they needed for the rest of the half. When push came to shove in the final third of the game it was Kerry who were forcing the pace but poor shooting was proving costly. The enter Kieran Donaghy for that vital goal and that piece of opportunism was to turn the game on its head. Thereafter, the likes of Peter Crowley, Johnny Buckley, Killian Young and Donaghy played out of their skins and got tremendous support from the rest of the team. The final whistle came as a huge relief with Kerry 2-9 to 0-12 ahead for a 37th title. “On the day we did enough. We snuffed out Donegal and should have won more comfortably but we were ecstatic when the final whistle went. If any group of players deserved the victory it was this group. It was an honour and a privilege for us to get to work with them. On the day we did enough. We snuffed out Donegal and should have won more comfortably but we were ecstatic when the final whistle went. If any group of players deserved the victory it was this group. It was an honour and a privilege for us to get to work with them. It was a special year for a special group of people.” observed an overjoyed Fitzmaurice.

Of course the fact that the Minors had also been successful only added to the occasion and the welcome home afforded to both teams was on a par with anything witnessed previously. The accolades and awards followed swiftly with James O’Donoghue being named the Footballer of the Year and five All Star awards coming to the Kingdom. On the day we did enough. We snuffed out Donegal and should have won more comfortably but we were ecstatic when the final whistle went. If any group of players deserved the victory it was this group. It was an honour and a privilege for us to get to work with them. It was indeed a special year for a special group of people.

Minors bridge a 20 Year gap

The Kerry minor team bridged a 20 year gap when winning the All Ireland title at the expense of Donegal. Minor championships are not easily won and 2014 was no exception to that rule. Kerry got a good test of their credentials before emerging as Munster champions with four points to spare over Cork. Kildare only threatened briefly to upset their run in the quarter final but in the semi final, Kerry had to endure a torrid opening third before coming good to eventually outscore Mayo by four points. Kerry were in the driving seat for long periods of the final against Donegal but when the northerners got in for a goal at the three quarter stage just a point separated the sides. Kerry regrouped again however to finish the stronger team and run out deserving winners on a 0-17 to 1-10 scoreline. Jack O’Connor had worked the oracle once again; “I had a very good management team and they put a lot of work in, and in fairness we had a great bunch of lads who responded to that and did everything we asked of them. We were all conscious that it had been twenty years since we won a minor All Ireland – that’s much too long for a county like Kerry, and we were determined to bridge that gap”.

Under 21s Poor Run continues

Kerry’s poor run in the Munster Championship continued in 2014 when Cork recorded a fourth successive defeat on Darragh Ó Sé’s side in Tralee early March. Kerry looked far from comfortable despite enjoying a three points interval lead and so it proved in the second half as the visitors outscored their rivals by 11 point to 4 with Alan Cadogan being the tormentor in chief in a 0-18 to 2-8 victory for the Rebels.  Kerry open this year’s Under 21 Championship campaign with a semi final fixture on March 18th against either Cork or Limerick who clash in the quarter final.

Juniors come up short in the Final

Kerry Juniors, under the stewardship of Stephen Wallace, had a good campaign this year despite coming up short in the final against Cavan.  A ten points victory over Cork in the Munster final set them up for a semi final meeting with Sligo which they duly won but the final in Portlaoise against a fired up Cavan side, who were seeking their first title in the grade since 1927, proved a step too far for Thomas Hickey’s side who went down on a score of 2-14 to 0-14.

Next Week – In next week’s edition we will review the club scene and the Hurling year.