It was breathtaking for the supporters in the crowd and doubly so for the players on the field, who produced an end-to-end contest that was laced with intensity, skill and non-stop attacking intent from start to finish.
Derry enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening half, much of it stemming from some excellent tackling and defensive play at their own end of the field, but they struggled to break down a resolute Kerry defence.
Matthew Downey and Eoin McEvoy kicked two wonderful points to open the scoring in the first five minutes but from then on Derry struggled to unlock the narrow, packed Kerry back line.
The Kingdom, for their part, had some excellent snipers up front, as evidenced by the fact that three of their attackers – Keith Evans, Darragh O’Sullivan and Cian McMahon – combined to kick 3-14 between them in the semi-final against Roscommon.
There was never going to be a landslide like that here. This time around the Munster champions drew their strength from the powerful running of players like Paudie O’Leary, Cillian Burke and captain Oisín Maunsell down the middle.
The crucial moment of the opening half came immediately after the water break when a long probing ball by Conor Shiels broke to Niall O’Donnell, whose first-time effort along the ground was blocked on the goal line by Cian O’Donoghue.
The score would have placed Derry two points up but James Costello’s Kerry side punished the miss, with William Shine kicking two scores, one off either boot.
Although Mark Doherty ended a 15-minute scoreless spell for the Ulster men before the break, Keith Evans rounded out the half-time scoring for Kerry, who kicked all seven of their first-half points from play.
Derry’s strength over the course of this long-drawn out minor campaign had been largely concentrated on their own side of the field, and they showed that again in the second half this fixture.
Patrick McGurk and Lee Brady made some incredible interventions in the full-back line, Eoin McEvoy was commanding at centre back while Mark Doherty, named at wing-back but operating today in the half-forward line, was also superb.
With five minutes gone in the second half there was yet another vital swing moment, but this time the break of the ball went Derry’s way.
Cillian Burke burst through on goal with a typical barnstorming run, striking a low shot that drew a good save from Kian McGonigle. Derry broke quickly with Matthew Downey, Doherty and McEvoy combining to set up full-forward Lachlan Murray to palm the ball to the net.
Derry gained momentum after that goal but they were never able to move four points up, even as Kerry’s dangerous forward unit starved of possession.
However, two Cian McMahon points moved Kerry within one, and as injury time loomed, a remarkable period of play saw goals at either end, and missed chances that could have changed the result.
It looked like the Ulster side would experience further final heartbreak, having lost heavily to a David-Clifford-powered Kerry team in the 2017 showpiece event, as a calamitous short kickout allowed substitute Maurice O’Connell to toe poke the ball in to an empty net.
Derry then went straight up the other end and when Niall O’Donnell’s shot was stopped by Kerry goalkeeper Sean Broderick, referee Jerome Henry deemed it a foot block and awarded the penalty.
Matthew Downey, whose father Henry captained Derry to the All-Ireland title in 1993, rifled his shot straight down the middle with incredible composure and power.
The Munster men still had chances to win this game but Derry goalkeeper Kian McGonigle produced an excellent point-blank save to deny Darragh Fleming, before Oisín Maunsell sent an effort wide.
Cian McMahon had a last-ditch chance to send this game to extra time with an incredibly difficult free from the sideline but his effort drifted inches wide in a heart-stopping moment that summed up the incredibly narrow margin between these sides.
Derry: Kian McGonigle; Patrick McGurk, Lee Brady (0-01), Adam McGonigle; Donncha Gilmore, Eoin McEvoy (0-01), Connor Sheils; Dan Higgins, Patrick O’Kane; Jody McDermott, Matthew Downey (1-03, 1-00 pen, 0-02 frees), Mark Doherty (0-02); Niall O’Donnell (0-01), Lachlan Murray (1-02), Charlie Diamond (0-01, free).
Subs: Callum Downey for Higgins (30+1 mins, temp), Callum Downey (0-01) for Charlie Diamond (38 mins), Jude Moore for Adam McGonigle (49 mins), Ryan McEldowney for McDermott (59 mins), Peter McCullagh for Lachlan Murray (60+1 mins).
Kerry: Seán Broderick (0-01, 45); Dara O’Callaghan, Joey Nagle, Cian O’Donoghue; Paudie O’Leary, Armin Heinrich, Killian O’Sullivan; Oisín Maunsell (0-02), Cillian Burke (0-02); Thomas O’Donnell, William Shine (0-02), Keith Evans (0-02); Darragh O’Sullivan, Aaron O’Shea (0-01), Cian McMahon (0-04, 0-02 frees).
Subs: Jordan Kissane for Darragh O’Sullivan (43 mins), Maurice O’Connell (1-00) for William Shine (45 mins), Darragh Fleming for Killian O’Sullivan (49 mins).
Referee: Jerome Henry (Mayo)Tags: