Kerry edge past brave Tyrone
KERRY 0-18 TYRONE 1-11
Champions do as champions must! The final margin was four points but Kerry scarcely deserved to win by as much.
This absorbing contest, arguably the best match in the 2015 football championship, was in the balance until Kerry's last substitute Barry John Keane kicked over his side's eighteenth point in the 71st minute.
The last time the rain was so persistant for an entire Championship match at headquarters was in 2004 when the Kingdom beat Galway in a thriller.
This latest rain-lashed contest didn't produce as many goals but it was every bit as entertaining and tense.
Tyrone deserve immense credit for their contribution; four points down at the midpoint of the second half they could have capitulated. Instead they fashoined a terrific comeback after Peter Harte's expertly taken 59th minute penalty.
But then it was their past alleged sins came back to haunt them. Having tied up the game with eight minutes of normal time remaining; they immediately fell a point behind again as Anthony Maher got on the end of a move involving Colm Cooper and Donnchadh Walsh.
Then came the key moment in the game in the 65th minute when Tyrone substitute Padraig McNulty went down in the square under a heavy challenge.
Not alone did referee Maurice Deegan ignore Tyrone's claim for a penalty, he booked the Tyrone substitute for diving.
And, to rub salt into Tyrone's wounds Kerry went straight up the field and Killian Young - who had operated as a sweeper for most of the game before switching to man mark Sean Cavanagh - caught a ball near the Hill 16 end and popped it over the bar.
Kerry were two points clear and on their way to contesting back-to-back All-Ireland finals for the first time since 2008-09.
Tyrone's sense of injustice at the refereeing performance of Deegan at the business end of the game was heightened further in the 68th minute when, after Colm Cooper fisted the ball wide, the referee called back play and awarded Kerry a close-in free which Paul Geaney - who had replaced team captain Kieran Donaghy at half time - kicked over.
On balance, though, Tyrone would be wrong to blame the referee for losing to Kerry for the first time in Championship football at Croke Park since the 1986 All-Ireland final.
They created four goal-scoring chances but failed to avail of any of them.
Kerry goalkeeper Brendan Kealy saved from Connor McAliskey in the early minutes and made an even better save from Mark Bradley in the 44th minute.
Their key player all season Seán Cavanagh was effectively held for most of the 70 minutes by Crowley - although the Tyrone captain did become more influential in the final quarter.
Tyrone's middle distance free taking let them down - particularly at the business end of the game when goalkeeper Niall Morgan - who kicked one monster free in the first half - and Darren McCurry missed crucial chances.
The other reason for their loss was that Kerry put so much pressure on Niall Morgan's re-starts, particularly in the third quarter, that it unhinged his kick-outs and it played a key role in helping Kerry extend their one-point half-time lead (0-8; 0-7) to five points by the 55th minute.
But the decision of Kerry boss Eamon Fitzmaurice to withdraw team captain Kieran Donaghy at the break - he had scored a point just before half time but had been generally ineffective - was a key factor in getting Kerry over the line.
The introduction of Paul Geaney meant that Kerry changed their style of play in the second half and ultimately this paid rich dividends.
After the game Mickey Harte dismissed suggestions that he may step down and insisted that he will be back at the Tyrone helm next season.
The official attendance was 53,044.
Kerry: B Kealy; P Murphy, M O Se, S Enright; J Lyne, P Crowley, K Young (0-1); A Maher (0-1), D Moran; S O'Brien (0-2), J Buckley (0-3), D Walsh (0-1); C Cooper (0-2 1f) , K Donaghy (0-1), J O'Donoghue (0-4, 3f, 1 45). Subs: F Fitzgerald for O Se (BC) 16m; P Geaney (0-3, 1f) for Donaghy ht; B Sheehan for Moran 54m; D O'Sullivan for O'Brien 60m; A O'Mahony for Crowley 61m; BJ Keane (0-1) for Walsh 70m.
Tyrone: N Morgan (0-1, 1f); R McNamee, J McMahon, C McCarron; T McCann, R McNabb (0-1), A McCrory; C Cavanagh (0-1), M Donnelly (0-1); P Harte (1-0, 1g pen), M Bradley (0-2), C Meyler; D McCurry (0-2, 1f), S Cavanagh, C McAliskey (0-4, 1f). Subs: P McNulty for Meyler 47m; B Tierney for McCrory 55m; C Clarke for McNamee 55m; R O'Neill for McCurry 65m
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)