Well, The Messiah did it. It wasn’t the All-Ireland (nor was it snatching the last seat for Fine Gael in the General Election), it most definitely didn’t count as revenge, or even the merest hint of revenge, over the All-Ireland champions but it was a win – and a good one at that – in Johnno’s first proper competitive test of his Second Coming. Two points in the bag from the first League outing is nothing to be sniffed at, especially in such a tough Division where we only have two more home ties to come after yesterday, set against four on our travels.
There was plenty to be upbeat about yesterday but two things stand out, namely the good performances of James Kilcullen at full-back and BJP at centre-back. Kilcullen was an eleventh-hour replacement for McGarritty and he totally bossed the exchanges with Quirke (who does not look like a second Kieran Donaghy, it must be said), leading to the Kerryman being replaced early in the second half. (Donaghy departed soon after, but I’ll come back to that in a minute). It’s too early to be drawing conclusions based on one match but Kilcullen now has a legitimate claim on the no. 3 jersey. BJP can also make similar claims on the no. 6 jersey after a confident and assured performance at CHB. In fairness, the backline as a unit performed excellently, with Peadar Gardiner putting in a Man of the Match performance, scoring three points from play in the process. My fears about the backs were, I admit, proven to be groundless, on this occasion anyway.
We did well in midfield too, where David Brady was menacing and masterful by turns. He had a wonderful, aggressive tussle with Dara O Se – who also turned in a fabulous performance for Kerry (were he not in Green and Gold, he would be a pure joy to watch) – and he always seemed perfectly positioned to take the ball and give the right pass, letting the ball do the moving. Beside him, Pat Harte was full of running and he appeared like an express train ten minutes from time to accept the final pass of a great move to seal the points with a cracking goal. Harte is one of our most underrated performers but he’s becoming one of our real key men.
Things didn’t go so well in the forward line, especially in the first half when we had bundles of possession but very little to show from it. It looked like all the old failings – an inability to get into clear scoring chances, over-elaboration, poor shot selection, attempts at points falling short and a few wides. Conor looked particularly out of sorts, getting into pointless spats, which, on one occasion late in the first half, resulted in a 14-yard tap-over for us being switched to a free out for them, with Conor getting a yellow card for his troubles. Nothing seemed to work for Conor yesterday and, with the ref doling out yellow cards like wedding invitations (15 in all), it’s a wonder he didn’t follow Trevor off before the end. He certainly should have been taken off early enough in the second half.
That wasn’t the only talking point about the forwards. Austie was hauled ashore early in the second half and his replacement, Michael Conroy, then gave way to Ger Brady ten minutes before the end. Was Austie injured? I can’t see any other reason why he should have been taken off at that stage. He was going reasonably well and had scored a point from play early on.
On the positive side, Alan Dillon was excellent, nailing four great points, three of them early in the second half when we raced into a clear lead. Kevin O’Neill also got a point from play, as did Trevor, who looked good at centre-forward, despite his sending-off late on. Given the rate at which the cards were being flashed, it was always likely that someone was going to join Donaghy for an early bath. Trevor’s second yellow was still ridiculous – he pulled a jersey, got slapped on the head for his troubles, fell over and got carded.
Donaghy’s two cards were also innocuous but Dara O Se was lucky to stay on when he elbowed Dillon in the face, right in front of the ref, at a stage when he was already on a yellow. The ref checked his number and then, with Kerry already reduced to 14 men, bottled the decision. It was a typical GAA refereeing fudge – what’s the point handing out 15 yellow cards if the ref can’t, or won’t, make the right calls on the tough decisions?
Overall, though, it was a good day and a fine win, one that provides a timely confidence boost as the 2007 season gets underway. Already, the backline is starting to look better and the team as a whole looks meaner than before. The forwards need to sharpen up a bit but it’s early days yet. Next up is a tough away match against Donegal this coming Sunday.