Kerry snatched victory at the death against Galway on Saturday evening under the lights in Tralee in front of a packed crowd in the Kingdom.
The stands were overflowing with both sets of fans keen to see the early season form of their respective teams. And although many may view Galway's display as encouraging, manager Padraic Joyce and his players will have been disappointed leaving Austin Stack Park following their 1-15 to 2-11 defeat at the hands of last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists.
Kerry began the brighter with their newly-appointed captain David Clifford, just 21 years of age, winning the ball in front of Seán Mulkerrin and stroking it over the bar with his left foot inside the opening 20 seconds. This was very quickly followed by a brilliant James O’Donoghue effort from range, a super score from a player who seems to be back to his old-self.
Galway looked a bit shaky at the back with a few handling errors interrupting their game, but Damien Comer marked his return to the starting line-up by bustling his way through the Kerry defence to kick his side’s opener.
Kerry picked off another two points through Micháel Burns and a Clifford free before a superbly worked move by Galway resulted in Eamon Brannigan tapping the ball over. Paul Geaney, with a boomer, and Shane Walsh traded scores as Clifford began to produce magic with ease.
He worked a beauty off his right out of absolutely nothing, bamboozling Galway’s full-back with his speed of mind and foot. Galway then outscored their opponents by 1-02 to 0-04 to go in two behind at the interval - Geaney, Clifford, All-Star Stephen O’Brien and the red-hot O’Donoghue grabbing another, while Comer and Michael Daly delivered points for Galway before corner back Johnny Heaney popped up with the crucial goal.
Once again, however, Kerry took control at the start of the second half when Micháel Burns nabbed a score from the right wing after a scrappy opening.
Eamon Brannigan and Shane Walsh responded for the Tribesmen to put the minimum between the sides, before Kerry half-time substitute Tommy Walsh and a Clifford free extended the gap three again.
A smart stop by goalkeeper Connor Gleeson denied Micháel Burns a Kerry goal before Galway levelled through three massive scores by McDaid, Shane Walsh and another huge point from the excellent Eamon Brannigan.
Another Clifford free nudged the Kingdom ahead before a moment of genius from Shane Walsh turned the game in Galway’s favour. Walsh collected a pass from Adrian Varley on the ’45, turned on the afterburners to leave the Kerry defence in his wake, and buried the ball into the bottom corner to put Galway two up.
The unstoppable Walsh then put three between the sides with another super score from the left wing.
However, Padraic Joyce may not be so happy with wing-back Cillian McDaid who picked up his third black card in four games. With Galway in such a strong position, his unnecessary tackle cost his side dearly in the end. As Galway tried to see the game out, a loose pass from the back found its way to Kerry's Paul Geaney and made no mistake to roll the ball into the net. After a wave of Kerry pressure the Kingdom got their winning score through Killian Spillane, a killer blow to the Galway rearguard.
Galway will not only rue the manner in which they threw away such a commanding position late in the game, but also the number of missed goal chances and easy point chances which were not taken in the first half. Positive, however, was the movement which cut open the Kerry defence on numerous occasions.
However, this defeat will be a tough blow for Joyce and his team, but they will have to pick themselves up for next Sunday’s equally tough challenge away to Donegal in Letterkenny (2pm ).
Joyce has made two changes - Sean Kelly starts in defence, replacing Johnny Duane, and Michael Boyle comes into the forward line in place of Finian O’Laoi.
Kerry: S Ryan, J Foley, G Crowley, G O'Sullivan, P Murphy, S Enright, G White, L Kearney, J Barry, G O'Brien, M Burns 0-02, S O’Brien 0-01, J O’Donoghue 0-02, D Clifford 0-06 (0-03f ), P Geaney 1-02 (0-01f ). Subs: D O'Connor for G O'Brien (32 ), T Walsh 0-01 for J O'Donoghue (ht ), D Moynihan for M Burns (55 ), K Spillane 0-01 for L Kearney (61 ).
Galway: C Gleeson, J Duane, S Mulkerrin, J Heaney 1-00, G O’Donnell, J Daly, Ci McDaid 0-01, R Steede, C D’Arcy, E Brannigan 0-03, D Comer 0-02 (0-01m ), F Ó Laoi, R Finnerty, S Walsh 1-04 (0-02f ), M Daly 0-01. Subs: S Kelly for J Duane (22 ), M Tierney for R Finnerty (ht ), T Flynn for R Steede (42 ), L Costello for F Ó Laoí (48 ), A Varley for M Daly (52 ).