National Football League, Division One: Kerry 0-12 Armagh 0-11
Late points from substitutes Tony Brosnan and Donal O’Sullivan helped Kerry to an important one-point win over Armagh in Tralee on Saturday, a result that revitalises the League champions’ title defence.
The brief for Kerry was simple: be much, much better than what they were against Mayo the previous week and they’d give themselves every chance of getting their second win of the campaign. And if one imagined Kerry training last week was more hair-dryer than tactic board, given the team’s awfulness in Castlebar the previous Saturday, Jack O’Connor more or less confirmed those suspicions.
“Well look, we weren’t talking too much during the week about tactics, this was about attitude,” the Kerry manager said, reflecting on his team’s gut-check one-point win over Armagh in Tralee on Saturday night.
“We felt we were well off it above in Castlebar. We weren’t tackling, we weren’t tracking runners, we weren’t doing any of the fundamentals that you need to do first before you play football. And I thought we did that in spades tonight.”
And he was right.
Everything Kerry did badly or not at all against Mayo, they did well against Armagh. Not perfectly, mind, but well enough to be in the game right to the end, getting two points from substitutes late in the game to give them a two-point lead that forced Rian O’Neill to go for a goal with a 77th minute free to try and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. He didn’t.
“I think the attitude was better tonight,” O’Connor said. “We weren’t happy with the way we played up in Castlebar. It was an unacceptable performance and the players knew that. They didn’t have to be told that but just to make sure they knew it, we told them on Tuesday night. Look they reacted the right way, that’s all you can do after a bad performance is react the right way. Listen, we are delighted to get out of here with the two points that is the main thing.”
It was a resurgent Kerry team that took to the field in front of 11,603 in Tralee, with the home side bringing the required energy and intensity this time, but they were met by an Armagh team that matched those qualities every bit and took the home side right to the wire in a sometimes tetchy contest.
The teams were deadlocked at 0-6 apiece at the end of a cagey first half, with the visitors surely the happier side having sat back for much of the opening period, content to invite Kerry to try to pick their way through a massed defence.
That Kerry managed just four points from play, and two more from frees, said as much about Armagh’s disciplined and structured defending as it did about Kerry’s cutting edge in attack.
Those two Kerry frees were converted by David Clifford and Sean O’Shea, though it was some source of frustration that neither man – both making their first start of the season – could raise a flag from play.
Kerry were first off the mark with a Clifford free in the fifth minute and they were 0-4 to 0-2 ahead after 15 minutes, with Armagh seemingly happy to choke up the Kerry forwards with that packed defence and then look to hit the home side on the counter-attack.
Points from Rian O’Neill (play and a free) and Aidan Forker brought Armagh level on the scoreboard at 0-5 apiece just after the half hour mark, with Barry O’Sullivan and Stefan Campbell adding a point each for their teams to make it 0-6 each at the break.
The second half was just as tight and attritional as the first, with early points from Greg McCabe and half-time sub Conor Turbitt edging Armagh into a two-point lead, and it took until the 48th minute until Kerry were back on terms.
The teams were still level, 0-10 each, after 70 minutes – and both teams might have settled for a league point each at that stage – but Brosnan fired over the lead point for Kerry from near the sideline, and then O’Sullivan fisted over Kerry’s 12th score four minutes later.
There was still time for that late Armagh chance, but O’Neill couldn’t keep his shot low enough to test a packed Kerry goal line, with Kerry leap-frogging the Orchard county on the Division One table, moving to four points and rekindling their chance of a successful title defence.
KERRY: Shane Ryan; Graham O’Sullivan, Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan; Stefan Okunbor, Tadhg Morley (0-1), Paul Murphy (0-1); Jack Barry, Barry O’Sullivan (0-1); Dara Moynihan, Seán O’Shea (0-1, free), Adrian Spillane; Paudie Clifford (0-1), David Clifford (0-4, four frees), Darragh Roche (0-1). Subs: Micheál Burns for Spillane (47 mins), Tony Brosnan (0-1) for Roche (50), Ruairí Murphy for P Clifford (63), Dónal O’Sullivan (0-1) for Moynihan (69).
ARMAGH: Ethan Rafferty (0-1, free); Paddy Burns, Aidan Forker (0-1), Greg McCabe (0-1); Conor O’Neill, Barry McCambridge, Aaron McKay; Jarly Óg Burns (0-2), Ciarán Mackin; Callum Cumiskey, Andrew Murnin, Tiernan Kelly; Rian O’Neill (0-4, four frees); Stefan Campbell (0-1), Jason Duffy. Subs: Joe McElroy for C O’Neill (temp), Conor Turbitt (0-1) for Kelly (h-t), Ross McQuillan for Campbell (55), Jemar Hall for Cumiskey (63), Niall Grimley for Mackin (73), Justin Kieran for Forker (73)
Referee: James Molloy (Galway).