The new look Kerry side finished the NFL Division One campaign top of the table as a last gasp Bryan Sheehan goal secured a 1-12 to 1-12 draw with Mayo in Tralee on Sunday.
On a day when Kerry fans remembered the great John Egan after his death in Cork, the result means the sides will meet again in the league semifinal in Croke Park this coming Sunday.
Mayo lost defender Lee Keegan to a red card early in the second half and their manager James Horan admitted the loss had a real effect on the game.
He told reporters, “That red card affected us as we ran out of juice in the second half and Kerry came on strong at us. We held out though and got in some good turnovers.
“We had chances near the end but the lads did not take the right shot options. We could have hung on for the win if we had made better decisions near the end.”
Kerry manager Jack O’Connor was happy to see his young side emerge with something from the game as their unbeaten run extended to five matches.
“Our fellas fought tooth and nail. We had a lot of new players in there,” said O’Connor afterwards.
“It’s hard for that many new players to knit together. We are happy enough. We got out of there with a draw. It didn’t look like we would at one stage of the game.
“We started off poorly and gave them an eight-point lead at one stage but we were determined to keep the run that we are on at the moment going for as long as we can so it was good to come back and get the draw.”
All-Ireland champions Dublin will miss the NFL semifinals after an Aidan Walsh goal secured a 1-12 to 0-12 win for Cork on Leeside last Sunday.
The Dubs have now lost to Mayo and Cork on successive Sundays. but manager Pat Gilroy is none too worried.
“It’s not a massive setback, we said it during the week if we don’t get there, it was a very important day for us to get a good performance out of ourselves, and at least we got that particularly in the second half, so we won’t be too downbeat about it,” insisted Gilroy.
“There were a lot of good things out of the performance, that we certainly couldn’t put up against Mayo last week, so it was a big turnaround in seven days and we didn’t really have that much time to do things. We have eight weeks now to get ourselves right for the championship.”
Cork boss Conor Counihan has demanded an increased effort from his team in next Sunday’s league semifinal against Down.
“We’ve got a semifinal next week, another game at this time of the year with plenty of room for improvement,” said Counihan.
“We’ve had difficulties starting games well and today we got it right early on but dropped the momentum in the second half.
“We withstood the challenge but we have a lot of room for improvement. Four points in the second half, you wouldn’t win many games with that.
“The key for us is that if you’re not going to dominate for 70 minutes we need to dominate for longer periods. We need to be more consistent and it’s something we’re struggling with.”
Captain Johnny Doyle was Kildare’s late hero as his stoppage time goal from a penalty away to Galway earned his side promotion from Division Two of the NFL and a place in the league final.
Kildare will meet Tyrone now after Doyle’s penalty -- awarded when Emmet Bolton was fouled in the third minute of extra-time -- proved decisive.
“Johnny is cool under pressure and he slotted it home,” said McGeeney. “We are very relieved. Our second half, for 25 minutes was as poor as we played this year.
“We just took our foot off the pedal and if you do that against a good team you are going to get punished, and we did.”
Tyrone are next up for Kildare. McGeeney added, “It’ll be a good game. The way they are playing at the minute they seem to be untouchable. We’ll try and give it our best shot.
“Going up to Division One is a nice thing but for us it is all about building for the summer and building towards that.”
Galway just missed out on promotion and manager Alan Mulholland admitted, “I am fairly sickened alight. We played extremely well in the second-half.
“Looking at the game as a whole it is very positive. We competed with Kildare; we nearly owned the ball in the second half.
“I really thought we were there, I thought we were up to Division One. But that is sport, the last kick of the game and we have to go through Division Two again next year.”
Meath boss Seamus McEnaney has refused to give in to calls for his resignation after Sunday’s derby defeat to Louth in Navan saw his side relegated from Division Two of the league as the Wee County stayed up on the back of a sweet win.
“I have been involved in a lot of fights in my life, in my business, personal, in my family, and in football,” said McEnaney after a nine-point defeat.
“I have never walked away from a fight in my life. This is a fight and it is a fight we have to get on with. I am not shirking any responsibility, it is the manager’s job to get the best out of his players.
“I am not getting the best out of them at the moment. The players are giving me everything they can in training, we are just not playing as well as we can. Our form has been very poor for the past four games.”
Galway fans have been urged to be patient with their youthful team ahead of Sunday’s relegation playoff against Dublin.
Forward Damien Hayes, one of the oldest players on Anthony Cunningham’s squad, believes the new look team needs time to gel.
He said, “We haven’t made it to August in the championship since 2005, when we got to the All-Ireland final.
“Joe Canning has never played senior championship hurling for Galway in August. It’s going to happen sometime, but we’re in transition.
“Between this year’s and last year’s panel, we have 18 under-21s in our squad. The most important thing for the Walsh Cup, the Railway Cup and the league was to see that those lads were blooded, to see who’s stepping up to the mark and who wasn’t.”
Kerry topped the NFL Division One table with Mayo, Down and champions Cork also progressing to this weekend’s semifinals after the final round of league games last Sunday.
Armagh and Laois were relegated from the top division as they lost to Donegal and Down respectively.
Meath suffered a shock relegation from Division Two and will be replaced by Tyrone next season.
Longford and Wexford will meet in the Division Three final with Tipperary and Offaly relegated.
Fermanagh are promoted from Division Four and will be joined by Clare or Wicklow.
Tipp boss Declan Ryan believes the pace of league hurling this year will only benefit his team come the Munster championship.
Ryan told the Tipperary Star, “These league games this year are great preparation for the championship and the championship is not that far away.
“So, it’s great to be getting these sort of games. They are much better than training. It augurs well for the championship.”
LOUTH forward Darren Clarke has admitted his career hangs in the balance due to a knee injury. “There is basically no cartilage in the right knee. The surgeon says I’m on borrowed time,” said Clarke . . .
CROKE Park will host the National Football League Division One semi-finals in a double header on Sunday when Cork will play Down and Mayo meet Kerry . . .
TIPPERARY footballers Brian Jones and Barry Grogan are to emigrate to America and join Meath star Joe Sheridan at the Wolfe Tones club in Boston . . .
Tests have confirmed that Limerick midfielder John Galvin has torn his cruciate ligament again and is likely to be out for the rest of the year . . .
MONAGHAN boss Mattie Lennon has quit after a row with his county board over the availability of players for matches . . .
KERRY midfielder Seamus Scanlon faces up to a month on the sidelines after damaging an ankle in training with his club Currow . . .
KILKENNY hurling star Henry Shefflin is to carry the Olympic torch on behalf of the GAA when it visits Dublin in June . . .
WESTMEATH boss Pat Flanagan is to step up efforts to persuade Dessie Dolan to rejoin his county squad . . .
The death has occurred of All-Ireland winning Kerry legend and former captain John Egan.
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