It’s Thursday already and so the time is running out rapidly ahead of our second match in this year’s National Football League Division One campaign. Kerry are coming to town and Castlebar is sure to be rocking when they do. Throw-in at MacHale Park is 7pm on Saturday evening and Tipperary’s Derek O’Mahoney is the ref for the game.
The last time we played Kerry at home – two years ago – they had the upper hand, winning by five points on a day when the alarm bells (incorrectly as it turned out) fairly started to jangle about the preservation of our top tier status. That was a rare enough spring loss to the Kingdom, however, as we’d won our four previous clashes and hadn’t tasted League defeat to them prior to then since as far back as 2011.
Last year’s meetings with them were, of course, a total blast from our perspective. Two wins and a draw from three encounters, the second win an utterly emphatic and hugely satisfying All-Ireland semi-final replay victory over them.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before giving another mention to that one, let’s rewind the tape back to the start of 2017 to review what kind of inter-county season Kerry had last year.
Traditionally slow starters in the League, Eamon Fitzmaurice’s charges were out of the traps smartly twelve months ago. Letterkenny at this time of year isn’t a place for rich picking by visiting teams but Kerry went up there in early February last year and came away with a 2-17 to 1-17 win.
We lost to Monaghan in our opening round tie the same weekend so it was with a fair bit of trepidation that we hit the road for Tralee to face the Kingdom the following weekend. But under the lights at Austin Stack Park, the lads looking boss in their new red and black jerseys and survived a serious wobble early on to carve out a really gutsy two-point win on a scoreline of 0-15 to 1-10.
Following that loss, Kerry then slumped to another unexpected defeat two weeks later. This one – a 2-8 to 1-10 reversal against Monaghan in Killarney – left them in a potentially dodgy position in the division after three rounds of matches but a week later they steadied the ship by going up to Hyde Park and beating Roscommon by 1-19 to 1-13.
A fortnight after that Dublin rolled into town seeking a result that would see them equal Kerry’s decades-long record of remaining unbeaten for 34 matches. It turned out to be a right tempestuous encounter under the lights at Austin Stack Park, with loads of off-the-ball incidents and plenty of cards but Dublin eventually snatched a draw (it finished 0-13 apiece) thanks to an injury-time free from Paul Mannion.
Another draw followed in Round 6, Kerry 0-13 to Cavan’s 1-10, up in Breffni Park before the Kingdom finished the regulation series of matches on a high, crushing old foes Tyrone by 1-21 to 2-11 in Fitzgerald Stadium in early April. That seven-point margin of victory, combined with our win the same day over Donegal and Dublin’s defeat of Monaghan, saw Kerry qualify for the final against the still-unbeaten Dubs.
That seemed a bit of a dubious prize for the Kerry lads, after what had been no more than a so-so run of League games for them. Dublin were huge favourites to land their fifth League title in succession when they met in the decider at Croke Park the following weekend but a fine display by the Kingdom, allied to a late free miss by Dean Rock (no chance he’d do that against us), saw the League title go south and, along with it, Dublin’s long unbeaten run as well. It was Kerry’s 20th NFL title and their first since 2009.
You’d have thought that this spring bauble would have set Kerry up nicely for the summer and, with it, a right crack at knocking Dublin off their perch. It didn’t turn out like that, of course, and ultimately we were the ones to blame for this.
Early on in the summer it was all going to plan for them. Clare gave them a decent match in the Munster semi-final at Ennis in June, Kerry eventually emerging from Cusack Park with a 1-18 to 1-12 win. Cork, however, prostrated themselves before the Green and Gold in the provincial decider, which Kerry won by 1-23 to 0-15 in Killarney in early July.
By a strange coincidence, we found ourselves advancing on Croke Park in Kerry’s slipstream, having to meet and beat Clare and Cork once Kerry’s victories over them had tipped both Munster counties into the qualifiers. Then, in the All-Ireland quarter-final they met our Connacht conquerers, Galway, and were never troubled as they ambled to a painfully comfortable 1-18 to 0-13 win over the mediocre Tribesmen.
So Kerry found themselves in the All-Ireland semi-final without having had to exert themselves unduly. We, of course, had had to endure – and enjoy – an elemental life-or-death series of matches before we too took our place in the last four.
What fun those two August matches against the Kingdom were. Although we had their number in no uncertain terms in the replay – both on the field and in the tactical department – it’s worth recalling that we came within a whisker of losing to them the first day.
Last Sunday’s late, late point from Paddy Durcan brought back memories of a far more important score he notched for us deep into stoppage time that day at Croke Park, his equaliser then ensuring we came away with a draw (on a scoreline of 2-14 apiece) and giving us a second opportunity finally to end a very long losing run to Kerry in the championship.
Photo: Irish Sun
It was a chance we took with both hands six days later. The win, by 2-15 to 0-16, was a deeply enjoyable one at so many levels, as we dominated the contest from start to finish. The game’s defining moment – one I never tire of looking at – was, of course, Andy’s goal shortly after the break:
Kerry had no choice but to go away and lick their wounds after that one. In the months since then they have, no doubt, been planning all manner of gruesome ways to avenge that defeat. We can, I’m sure, expect them to put their best foot forward against us at MacHale Park on Saturday night.
They began their road to redemption last Sunday back on home soil. A 2-18 to 3-14 shootout against Donegal isn’t something you’d expect to see in late January but that’s what happened in Killarney on Sunday. Kerry were fortunate enough to emerge with a one-point win in that one – not least because Daithi Casey clearly hopped the ball twice just before shooting the winning point – but the victory will give them a bit of a bounce (if you’ll pardon the pun) as they head for Castlebar.
The bookies still reckon – not, however, in any decisive way – that we’ll do the business on Saturday night: Paddy Power have us priced at 4/6 to prevail. Let’s not, though, leave the final say to the money men – how do you reckon this one will go?
How will we do against Kerry?
- Win (73%, 280 Votes)
- Lose (13%, 51 Votes)
- Draw (13%, 50 Votes)
Total Voters: 381