Kerry are New York centenary senior football champions for the 27th time and for the second year in a row after they used a devastating second half display to completely overrun Leitrim in the final on Sunday.
With four county forwards in PJ Banville (Wexford), Ross Wherity (Donegal), Willie Mulhall (Offaly) and Seanie Furlong (Wicklow), the signs looked ominous all day for an under pressure Leitrim rearguard.
While they held firm for 20 minutes with the sides level at 0-4 a piece at this juncture, a 1-2 surge before the break followed by a brilliantly finished goal from Mulhall within 15 seconds of the restart started the wheels in motion for the title for the Kingdom.
It was a team effort, however, regardless of the power up front. Niall Moran’s side used a suffocating defense to stop numerous attacks, with James Huvane and Anthony and Ger McCarten all outstanding.
Leitrim were also dropping people back with at times only two forwards in the Kerry half, but when they tried to move out of the defensive end they ran into a wall of green and gold across the Kerry 45. Akin to beating the Donegal flood defense in Ireland, one of the best ways is to run at it with pin point passing into the isolated forward line. It did not happen, or was not allowed to happen, by the back line, and the long range shooting resulted in seven first half wides for Leitrim.
On the resumption with Kerry now ahead 2-6 to 0-5, they constantly negated chances for Leitrim, with two Darren Freeman points in the early stages of the half and 1-1 in the final two minutes about the only high points for the 2012 champions.
The first half was an intense battle for a 15 minute period, with some brilliant scores in both directions. Using a higher percentage in front of goal, Kerry went into the break ahead 1-6 to 0-5 after they moved ahead in the final 10 minutes of the half.
Until that point the sides were neck and neck with the score tied three times as it ended up at four apiece with 20 minutes gone. Kerry used four frees, all from the foot of Furlong, to get to that mark, but it was the pressure they were putting the Leitrim defense under that caused the back line to foul.
Leitrim opened the scoring with a Freeman free with just two minutes gone, but that was cancelled out by a Furlong first a minute later. While Leitrim added to their total with a Darren Moran score, after at least six Leitrim passes in an intricate move, they were also guilty of waste as Keith Quinn dropped a ball into Jer O’Sullivan’s hands, and they also had a pair of wides.
Kerry started to see fruitation for their attacking endeavors with the next three scores coming at the railway end. Pressure was building constantly, and when they ran at the defense it caused problems. The high ball into the square was also being used but it was nowhere near as successful as Paddy Maguire was having a dominant time on the square.
Back to back scores from Brian Connor had the sides level for the final time in the contest with the second a glorious free from 60 yards out, from the hands.
Both Eoghan Carew and John Curran received yellows for fouls before Furlong matched Connor for brilliance with a tremendous long range score that put Kerry into the lead for good with eight minutes remaining in the half. He followed with an outstanding pass that found Mulhall inside the defense and the nifty forward did not need to be directed as he picked his spot and drove to the net for a 1-5 to 0-4 lead.
The chance came, however, after the Leitrim rearguard had their pocket picked in possession. Wherity pointed a sideline from in front of the Kerry bench before Freeman had a free at the other end when a foot came in on the same player as he attempted to pick up the loose ball.
Referee John Fitzpatrick threw the ball in to open the second half, and immediately Wherity found Mulhall with a precision pass, assisting on goal number two as again the charging corner forward gave Pa Ryan no chance with a clinical finish.
Despite two Freeman frees in the next three minutes, Kerry continued to roll. Banville had back to back scores, and the passes were now hitting all the right marks as waves continued to come at the Leitrim back line.
Anything in the other direction was labored as Kerry made it difficult repeatedly for their opponents to build a quality chance. James Mitchell brought on Dan Doona and Nicky Joyce from the bench, but they never had the desired effect.
Kerry added to their total with a team-worked score that epitomized their play. A sideline by Furlong on the Leitrim 35 yard line was taken quickly to corner back Huvane. He fed it back to Furlong who picked out Mulhall with a delicate pass. The Offaly native was fouled by Mike Creegan, and an easy free from the 20 was tapped over by the instigator of the move, Furlong. Typical of their moves all day long.
Freeman did point a free when Joyce was given a welcome by Mike Jim Fitzgerald. The big man was booked for his challenge but it was a full nine minutes before they hit the mark again as Kerry attacked in waves with points from Banville (a free) and Mulhall the results, and two wides also added.
They were holding possession for long periods now, recycling the ball back to the center and building repeatedly.
Connor was now positioned on top of the square trying for the goals they so badly needed. He was able to fist a Doona long ball over with 10 minutes left to narrow the gap to 2-12 to 0-9, but it preceded the final wave of Kerry scoring.
In the next eight minutes they added 1-4, with a number of players stepping up. Ronan McLoughlin did all the hard work for a Banville score to open the onslaught, before Furlong punctuated his man of the match display with a terrific 50 yard point from play. Pivoting on a dime, he flicked the ball over after receiving a Wherity pass.
With the bench now starting to empty, the same player hit the back of the net for the third Kerry major before Gary O’Driscoll and Dan Cahalane closed out the scoring for the winners.
Leitrim lost a player to a red with time ticking down, before Connor hit the net to spoil O’Sullivan’s clean sheet seconds before the final whistle.
Kerry: 1 Jer O’Sullivan, 2 Ronan McLoughlin, 3 Kieran O’Connor, 4 James Huvane, 5 Ger McCarten, 6 Anthony Sweeney, 7 John Curran, 8 Mike Fitzgerald, 9 Colm Kehoe, 10 Niall Farrell, 11 PJ Banville (0-4, 1f), 12 Ross Wherity (0-1), 13 Willie Mulhall (2-1), 14 Sean Furlong (1-7, 5f), 15 Gary O’Driscoll (0-1). Subs: Robbie Moran for Farrell 48 mins, Conor McCormack for Huvane 49 mins, Sean Kelly for McCarten 53 mins, Paul Kelly for McLoughlin 57 mins, Dan Cahalane (0-1) for O’Driscoll 58 mins.
Leitrim: 1 Pa Ryan, 2 Mike Creegan, 3 Paddy Maguire, 4 Lonan Maguire, 5 Cian Maher, 6 Nathan Breen, 7 Ronan O’Flaherty, 8 Brian O’Connor (1-3,1f), 9 Paddy Kelly, 10 Keith Quinn, 11 Shane Moran, 12 Darren Freeman (0-6, 4f), 13 Ciaran Brennan, 14 Damien Moran (0-1), 15 Eoghan Carew. Subs: Ronan Gallagher for S. Moran 27 mins, Dan Doona for Carew HT, Nicky Joyce for Maher 40 mins, Peter Fahey for Creegan 45 mins, Brian Fahey for Quinn 55 mins, Conor Skeffington for O’Flaherty 56 mins.
Referee: John Fitzpatrick. Good job by the referee. He distributed three yellows but all were merited in a game that was not dirty, but they did help control it. Kept a tight rein on affairs in open play also.
Man of the match: Seanie Furlong (Kerry). It could have been anyone, of six but the scores and assists by the best player in New York this summer were key.