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Kerry 2-9 Donegal 0-12: Kerry claim 37th All-Ireland Football title in victory over Donegal at Croke Park

By Dermot Crowe

Kerry are All-Ireland champions a 37th time after winning today’s season’s finale against favourites Donegal, with nine starters who were playing in their first All-Ireland final, and in the absence all season their top forward, Colm Cooper.

It completed a perfect green and gold day with the county’s seventh double after the minors won their earlier encounter against Donegal.

Donegal looked well positioned to claim their second All-Ireland in three years when level at half-time, and they went in front for the first time with a huge kick from Michael Murphy two minutes after the interval. But they couldn’t find the same level of performance they showed in defeating Dublin and Kerry were deserving of their victory.

The match entered a dull stand-off for 15 minutes after half-time, then it burst to life with an extraordinary goal from Kieran Donaghy, arguably Kerry’s best player, the 31-year-old enjoying a fairytale career rehabilitation. Barry John Keane put Kerry back in front from a 51st minute free and from the kick out Paul Durcan played the ball fatally short and into the hands of Donaghy. He hammered the ball gratefully to the net. With their system of playing deep and soaking up pressure, then hitting on the counter, Donegal were in trouble, having to chase the game.

They responded heroically with Paddy McBrearty, introduced after 45 minutes, scoring two points and then Neil McGee storming upfield to land an inspirational score. But Kerry kept their noses in front and had a relieving escape in the final seconds when Donegal almost scored an equalising goal, Colm McFadden getting a hand to a breaking ball which came off the post.

Given the loss of experienced players like Tomas O Se, Paul Galvin and Eoin Brosnan to retirement since last season Kerry’s achievement is all the more noteworthy. Particular credit goes to manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice, just 36 years of age, only two years more senior than defenders Marc O Se and Aidan O’Mahony, who has proved a shrewd tactician and guiding force.

They won without Cooper, who has been out all season with injury, and they won as well without their best forward James O’Donoghue managing to score.

After Donegal responded to the Donaghy goal with three points, Johnny Buckley, who had a fine match, answered with a great score and then Keane won and converted another free. Donaghy, whose aerial prowess troubled Donegal throughout, fisted over the bar to move Kerry four ahead again with nine minutes left. Points from sub Dermot Molloy and Christy Toy raised the tension but Bryan Sheehan came on late to nail another free and there the scoring ended.

Kerry got a dream start after a minute’s play when Stephen O’Brien high delivery was fielded by Paul Geaney and he squeezed the ball past Durcan. In the third minute they stretched their lead with Donaghy pointing after a score attempt from Buckley came off the upright.

But Donegal are masters of patience and forbearance. Gradually they clawed their way back into the match, moving up the field in their familiar patterns and winning frees. Michael Murphy’s kicking was immaculate from long range and frees in the 5th, 12th and 16th minutes got Donegal going.

It wasn’t until Karl Lacey scored in the 31st minute that they drew level, the teams going in at half time with Kerry on 1-3, Donegal 0-6. That kind of position usually bodes well for Donegal. By then Toye was on the field and making an impact, having replaced Darach O’Connor, a late call-up along with Rory Kavanagh, after 27 minutes. O’Connor had a goal chance set up by Kavanagh only two minutes earlier. O’Connor placed the ball between Brian Kelly’s legs from a tight angle but the ball ran past the far post.

After the bright start Kerry, with 1-1 in three minutes, Kerry only scored two more points over the rest of the half. Donaghy won a free which Geaney pointed in the 12th minute and 15 minutes later Geaney pointed when he might have goaled, blasting over after a delightful cross ball from O’Donoghue.

Kerry almost scored a freak goal after 14 minutes when a long ball from Killian Young deceived Durcan and hopped wide with the goal left open. Glacially, Donegal increased their tally. McFadden had a free after a very harsh call against Paul Murphy. Donegal’s first point from play came from Odhran MacNiallais with a shot off the ground after 28 minutes. Then Lacey popped up with the equaliser to leave the second half perfectly balanced.

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