An absorbing Super 8s contest between Donegal and Kerry at Croke Park this evening finished all square, 1-20 apiece.
If ever there was a game that nobody deserved to lose, this was the one and it was fitting that the magnificent Michael Murphy dropped over the last score in the 76th minute, his converted free from the hands tying the scores up for the 15th and final time.
The result leaves Group One of the Qualifiers delicately poised going into Phase III in a fortnight, when Donegal travel to Castlebar to take on Mayo and the Kingdom are on the road against Meath. After two rounds of quarter-final fixtures, Donegal and Kerry both have three points, while Mayo sit on two and Meath have none.
Kerry just about edged the first half and turned around with a 0-10 to 0-9 advantage, with 48,723 taking in an absorbing meeting of these two provincial winners, both of whom won their Super 8s openers last weekend.
Jason McGee and Stephen O’Brien traded the first two points and Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton came off his line to narrow the angle and deny David Clifford a Kerry goal after Killian Spillane excellently cancelled out Murphy’s routine pointed free. Paul Geaney replied to a Niall O’Donnell point as the sides were level for the third time and there was a flurry of poor wides at both ends before Clifford nudged the Munster champions in front for the first time when executing a 16th-minute free.
Both teams made three late changes to the sides listed in the match programme, the Ulster champions (already without Eoghan Ban Gallagher and Paddy McGrath) starting Eamon Doherty, Caolan Ward and Eoin McHugh in place of the injured Neil McGee, Daire O Baoill and Paul Brennan while the Kingdom went with Shane Enright, Diarmuid O'Connor and Spillane instead of injured talisman David Moran, Jack Sherwood and Graham O'Sullivan.
Sean O’Shea’s free doubled the gap but Man of the Match Ryan McHugh dropped over a classy riposte only for O’Brien to hit back instantly with his second tidy score. The outstanding McHugh gathered a quick Murphy free to arrow over his second, this one off his left, inspirational captain Murphy then whipping over the leveller on the run with his left foot after an interchange with Patrick McBrearty.
Geaney blasted over the seventh Kerry point from under the crossbar at the Davin End after a dropping Enright effort caused panic in the Donegal defence, McBrearty’s equaliser quickly cancelled out by Geaney’’s third point of the match.
McBrearty tied the scores up again in the 34th minute after he and O’Shea swapped frees, the latter’s converted free from the hands close to goal ensuring Peter Keane’s men of the narrowest of interval leads, the black cards issued to Kerry’s Gavin White and Donegal’s O’Donnell late in the first half both nothing short of farcical.
Donegal’s Michael Murphy chases down Shane Enright of Kerry
Michael Langan equalised within 45 seconds of the restart – for the second time in the game, Murphy picking out McBrearty with a stunning 60-yard pass – and the outstanding Tir Chonail No.14 then thumped over a 50-yard free off the ground to cancel out a Clifford point: level for the seventh time, 0-11 each with 39 minutes played.
Another brilliant Murphy free from distance propelled Declan Bonner’s charges back ahead seven minutes into the second half but, with 44 minutes played, the game exploded to life when Geaney somewhat ironically picked up a loose ball after his own stray pass and gratefully burst through the Donegal rearguard to drill a low shot past Patton to the right corner of the net, firing his side into a two-point lead, 1-11 to 0-12.
But Donegal refused to roll over and Murphy kicked them ahead on the hour, gathering a pass from Ryan McHugh to kick high between the uprights at the Davin End – 1-15 to 1-14; then Spillane’s third point went over within a minute to tie the scores up for the tenth time.
In response to Geaney’s three-pointer, substitute Oisin Gallen and McBrearty – with a free from an acute angle – had pointed either side of a Tom O’Sullivan point but Spillane restored Kerry’s two-point cushion only for, midway through a breathless second half, Murphy to plant a penalty low to the left and past Shane Ryan to the bottom corner. Eoin McHugh quickly had the ball in the Kerry net again but this one was correctly ruled out for a double foul – square ball and throw ball.
Sean O’Shea equalised and, following that aforementioned exchange between Murphy and Spillane, O’Brien cancelled out McBrearty’s free and then Langan replied to a Clifford score, heads at Croker turning from one side to the other like a Wimbledon final. Jason Foley handpassed the lead point a minute from the end of normal time and an off-balance Jamie Brennan fluffed his lines as the Ulster champions came in search of another equaliser.
But, a minute into five of added time, teenager Gallen danced through to take an excellent point off his left peg; Donegal grabbed the ball upon the restart and Murphy pointed after taking a pass from his sidekick McHugh. Geaney replied on 72 minutes, 1-19 each, and Paul Murphy stuck over the 20th Kerry point in the 74th minute.
In a dramatic finale, Kerry substitute Tomás Ó Sé was shown a red card within a minute of entering the fray and Murphy opted to take his last-gasp free from the hands, nonchalantly splitting the posts with absolute aplomb.
And thus ended the best Super 8s match to date.
Donegal - S Patton; S McMenamin, C Ward, O McFadden Ferry; R McHugh (0-2), E Doherty, E McHugh; H McFadden, J McGee (0-1); C Thompson, N O’Donnell (0-1), M Langan (0-2); P McBrearty (0-5, 3f), M Murphy (1-7, 1-0pen, 0-4f), J Brennan. Subs: D O Baoill for J McGee, O Gallen (0-2) for N O’Donnell (BC), F McGlynn for O McFadden Ferry, P Brennan for E Doherty, B McCole for O McFadden Ferry, L McLoone for C Thompson.
Kerry - S Ryan; J Foley (0-1), T Morley, T O’Sullivan (0-1); P Murphy (0-1), G Crowley, S Enright; A Spillane, D O’Connor; G White, S O’Shea (0-4, 3f), K Spillane (0-3); D Clifford (0-3, 1f), P Geaney (1-4), S O’Brien (0-3). Subs: J Lyne for G White (BC), J Sherwood for D O’Connor, M Griffin for S Enright, G O’Sullivan for G Crowley, M Burns for A Spillane, T O Se for K Spillane.
Referee - P Neilan.Tweet