Kerry's great escape from Mullingar

July 17th, 2012
by Weeshie Fogarty

No matter what way you look at Kerrys great escape from Mullingar last Sunday its obvious to even the most die hard Kerry supporter that this team is not moving well and who would have believed we would wait  thirty minutes before we saw Kerrys first score from play. However credit where credit is due to Westmeath as they rose to the challenge in magnificent style and as I wrote here last week the passionate home following, Westmeath playing above their recent form together with Kerrys continued strutting displays provided a level playing field and assured a major shock was more than a probability. On the other hand the manner in which Kerry lifted their game and avoided a shock exit is a credit to everyone involved. It was a real battling, gutsy, backs to the wall display and while we will wait to see if the decline continues with Jack o Connors men it has to be said the manner in which they avoided defeat in this absorbing qualifier was for me memorable in itself. Good things can often be overlooked in the rush to criticize.

Many big games in most sports are decided as a result of certain incidents and last Sundays win for the Kingdom was certainly decided by a number of contentious incidents in that thrilling second half. Kerry had fallen six points behind by the 42nd minute and the proverbial fat was well and truly in the fire as the home side was growing in stature. Their outstanding midfielder John Heslin, together with John Gaffey, Kevin Maguire, and in particular their brilliant corner forward Denis Glennon, until Mark o Se belatedly was moved on him, were winning a huge amount of ball as Kerry struggled to find any bit of rhythm to their forward play. Then came the first incident which was responsible for the eventual Kerry victory. Westmeath defender Ronan Foley was in my opinion very harshly penalized for over carrying, you could argue that he may have done so but once again it's the inconsistency we see every week in refereeing which will haunt the home side most of all.  Westmeath were incensed with the decision and turned to the referee to vent their displeasure and as they did so the wise head of Colm Cooper, a man steeled by years of playing with club and county at the very top took over. What happened next in hind sight looked very simply however I believe very few players have the ability to act with such speed, vision and total composure? His quick free from the hands which found the isolated Darren o Sullivan happened so fast, literally in the blink of an eye that I must admit I failed to see it.

O Sullivan's brilliant solo run and rocket of a shot high into the Westmeath net giving goalie Darren Quinn no chance of saving turned the game on its head. Darren had brought great urgency, pace and movement to the stuttering Kerry attack. You could sense the mood change and a string of points from James o Donohue, Colm Cooper, Brian Sheehan and two from the much improving Paul Galvin saw the winners a point ahead. Then came another defining moment in the game.  Four minutes of playing time remained on the clock, Kerry one point ahead. Westmeath substitute David Gavin rounded Aidan o Mahoney, who was having a storming second half and literally put his body on the line as he halted numerous attacks. Gavin had a team mate inside him and a simple hand pass would I believe have resulted in a certain goal. However the Rathmore man sensing the moment and the consequences of conceding a goal deliberately fouled his man, stopped the attack, and shipped a yellow card for his actions. Two dramatic moments which can only be seen from players who have been there, done that and know exactly what it takes to win. It was experience which saw Kerry survive last Sunday, but this on its own will not win All Irelands.

Kerry did try to change their style of play as they released long ball into their forwards in the opening half however the Westmeath defence were able to contain the Kerry men and it was only when Darren came on and Colm Cooper moved out field that some semblance of a better Kerry began to emerge. Now as a massive challenge awaits them in the form of Tyrone the question very simply is, can they build on the better periods of play which we saw in the second half. This game of course should bring the side on, but there is no guarantee of this, training will be easy this week and if Kery are to advance to meet Clare they need vast improvement in particular from Brian Sheehan, Killian Young, Colm Cooper, Anthony Maher, Paul Galvin, and Kieran Donaghy. Declan o Sullivan handled a vast amount of ball and did tremendous work but far away from the Westmeath goal. Would the Dromid man now be better utilized nearer the opponent's goal? Thomas  o Se, Owen Brosnan and Marc o Se continue to shine despite the massive mileage they have accumulated over the years and their runs out of defence were also very instrumental in the victory while James o Donoghue could feel hard done by when taken off as he was always threatening  the home goal whenever in possession.

Now all eyes will be on Killarney next weekend for the visit of Tyrone, it's a mouth watering clash and victory could go either way but the home venue will probably swing it for Kerry.  However I must finish on a far more serious and upsetting note as the insignificance of sport could never be more illustrated as Mickey Harte continues to guide Tyrone through the championship. The terrible events of the last eighteen which continue to unfold in Mauritius, the brutal death of his beautiful daughter Michaela and the judgment following the eight week trial must be almost too much to bear and yet this dignified, quite and gracious man stays with his dream of guiding his county to All Ireland victory. The value, total involvement and distractions of football have never been so evident than in these tragic circumstances. In Mickey Hart's life the power of the human spirit for me is mind boggling. Is there any other man in the GAA are indeed outside it who could continue to train and guide others under the crushing weight of such family tragedy? We welcome him to Kerry and wish him and all involved following these terrible events so far away some peace of mind, if that is possible. Life, Kerry football and sport really is all about priorities.

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