For the neutral supporter, this was a cracking final. The result in this afternoon’s All-Ireland decider was in doubt right up until the final few minutes, with Kerry coming with a late surge, scoring four unanswered points to seal their first All-Ireland title since 2014 and their 38th in all.
It was, I guess, a game of two halves. Galway were impressive, in particular the outstanding Shane Walsh, in the opening half and they deservedly led at the break, even though Kerry had seen more of the ball. Galway’s shooting was exemplary in the first half, converting 80% of the chances they created and recording just a single wide.
Kerry, for all their possession, were sloppy in front of the post. Seven wides, including two horror misses from Geaney, told the story in this respect and but for the three marks they pointed – one from Geaney and two from the unmarkable David Clifford – they could have been in an even bigger hole at midway.
Clifford had, in large part, kept them in the hunt with a regular supply of scores and he continued in this vein after the break too. Galway, always struggling in the middle where Paul Conroy never looked right having taken two heavy falls in the first half, found the going much tougher once Kerry quickly reeled them in after the Westerners had made a positive start after the break.
Galway’s wide count rose to six over the course of the second half and their increasing raggedness was also demonstrated at the other end when goalie Conor Gleeson dragged down Kerry sub Killian Spillane to prevent a goal scoring chance. It looked a definite black card but ref Seán Hurson kept his book in his pocket.
Hurson’s later call when he penalised John Daly for holding Spillane looked harsh (Clifford scored from the resultant free to put Kerry ahead, a lead they’d never then lose) but Galway can’t – and surely won’t – blame the ref for this loss.
Put simply, the Tribesmen ran out of gas down the home stretch, with Kerry’s bench having by far the bigger impact. Galway will surely rue too what little influence Damien Comer and some of their other forwards had on the game, in particular in the second half when everyone needed to stand up. Shane Walsh – who bagged nine points, four from play – was imperious and Cillian McDaid, who bagged four points, was excellent but more was needed from the supporting cast.
Kerry, ultimately, were worthy winners today. They never panicked at any point, O’Connor’s switches worked and they showed coolness and calmness to pick off those late match-winning scores.
In some ways, there’s an air of inevitability about this All-Ireland success. Kerry set out their stall early this year – fielding Championship quality teams in the McGrath Cup in the depths of winter – with Jack O’Connor then following his well-worn template of League success followed by the Sam Maguire.
They won Munster in a canter, they never had to hit top gear to beat us in the quarters and they finally got the Dublin monkey off their back in the semi-final. Faced with some tough questions posed by Galway today, they found the answers in the second half to seal the deal and, with it, the All-Ireland title.
Defeat for Kerry this afternoon would have been a hammer blow to them, one they might well have struggled to come back from. This gilded generation of players have had to cope with a huge weight of expectation and the way they’ve been lauded so much in advance of landing the big prize will have only added to the burden they had to carry into today’s decider.
That weight will now surely fall from their shoulders and it’s unlikely to be the last title they’ll win. Have we witnessed the start of a new dynasty? Time will tell, I guess.
Galway will, of course, have regrets about this loss. They pretty much did everything right in the first half but they’ll be disappointed at how they faded after the break. In that respect, though they battled bravely from first to last, their performance over the game as a whole wasn’t at the level required to win an All-Ireland. This is a topic we’re all too well versed in, having seen our lads come up short repeatedly on the big day.
In time, though, Galway are certain to look back on 2022 in a positive light. Few would have said at the start of the year that they’d reach an All-Ireland, still less be ahead on the scoreboard for much of the seventy minutes today. When Padraic Joyce and his management team review their year, they’ll know they’ve made very solid progress this season and that they have much to build on for next year.
So, to the victors, the spoils. Kerry once more have possession of the Sam Maguire and few can quibble about their worth as champions. They were the best team in the country this year and they’re deserving winners of the All-Ireland too. Well done to them and commiserations to Galway on today’s loss, in a final where they gave it a right good rattle.