Kerry 3-22 Clare 1-11
It was a case of job done rather than job spectacularly done as Kerry defeated Clare by 17 points on Saturday evening as Fitzgerald Stadium played host to a Munster Championship match for the first time in over three years.
Much has changed in the world since then, including a real maturity and sense of purpose from Peter Keane’s young side.
But, unlike their home victories against Galway and Tyrone during the League, this was no statement display from the Kerry footballers. It was a one-sided affair early on, but Clare weren’t without their success.
Played against the glorious backdrop of the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, this was always going to be a steep mountain to climb for Clare who knew they needed a super performance to buck their Killarney trend. The Banner’s previous visits to Fitzgerald Stadium resulted in 12- and 22-point dismissals at the hands of Kerry in 2016 and 2018 respectively.
This championship opener was often scrappy, with the 200 lucky souls in attendance also getting a taste of the spectacular at intervals throughout the game.
It was the Seán O’Shea show early on – the Kenmare half forward supplied Kerry’s first four scores. The Kingdom had got off to a flying start and were one point to the good when O’Shea slotted over after just 11 seconds.
From here, Kerry pushed on and strolled into a four-point lead by the first-half water break - 0-5 to 0-1.
Keane’s men led by nine points at the half-time break – 1-11 to 0-5 – with Kerry’s goal coming from O’Shea.
Former Kerry footballer and Tralee native Conor Jordan, who qualifies for the Banner through his father –the former Clare footballer George, handpassed to Kerry's Paudie Clifford in the middle of the field on 33 minutes.
O'Shea, taking full advantage of a superb defence-splitting pass from Clifford, coolly slotted the ball past Clare goalkeeper Stephen Ryan.
The early second half was a more pedestrian affair and the chief enjoyment for the neutrals was a late flurry of goals and points as Clare tired and as a clinical Kerry took full advantage.
By the start of the final quarter just David Clifford and David Moran had added scores for Kerry, while Clare added to their five point tally with points from Darragh Bohannan, David Tubridy and Eoin Cleary.
However, the final 15 minutes belonged to Kerry as the hosts added a further two goals and four points to set up a Munster semi-final against Tipperary.
The only downfall of a clinical night for Kerry was the suspected muscle strain to talisman David Clifford.
The towering Fossa forward limped off towards the finish, pulling up after blasting the ball past Ryan for Kerry’s second goal with four minutes to go.
Speaking after the game, the Kerry manager said it was too early to tell how serious Clifford’s injury scare is.
“I have had no great chat inside so I don’t know,” replied Keane when asked about the extent of Clifford’s injury.
The second raising of a green flag gave Kerry a 2-19 to 1-10 advantage and the gap was further widened – to 17 points – when substitute Micheál Burns rattled the net five minutes into time added on – the last kick of the game.
Keane said he was happy with the win, and said it was important just to get over the line against a resilient Clare side, especially after what happened in Páirc Uí Chaoimh seven months ago.
“We are pleased,” he said. “It is championship, it is pure knock-out this year so you don’t get a second chance. It is all about winning and whatever way you win, you win.”
Overall, Keane said he was particularly happy with his side’s first-half performance, and the closing moments as Clare began to tire.
“I thought we’d a very good first quarter and I thought we continued that in the second quarter,” he said. “The third quarter wasn’t so sweet but the fourth quarter was very good.
“We were playing a team that kicked 2-18 against a team [Mayo] that were playing in an All-Ireland last year and kicked 1-18 against a team that beat us last year in Cork. So we always knew they had good forwards and they were going to be a big threat up front.”
With Kerry set to travel to Semple Stadium in two weeks’ time to take on 2020 All-Ireland semi-finalists Tipperary, Keane was under no illusions of the task ahead.
“We are now going playing the Munster champions, and we are playing them at home [Semple Stadium],” he added. “So we are expecting another battle in two weeks’ time which is going to be very difficult for us.”
Tubridy grabbed a consolation goal for Clare in injury time. Kerry went on to outscore the visitors by 2-4 to 0-2 in the dying minutes.
Clare manager Colm Collins cut a disappointed figure after the game, and said he had expected a better showing from his young side following a successful and promising league campaign.
“I thought that we were going really well and that we’d a chance,” he said after the game. “I’m very disappointed with the way we lost. We turned the ball over very cheaply. In the first half, 1-7 of their scores came from turnovers – that’s not going to win any game.”
KERRY: Kieran Fitzgibbon; Brian Ó Beaglaoich, Jason Foley, Tom O'Sullivan; Mike Breen, Gavin Crowley, Gavin White (0-2); David Moran (0-1), Diarmuid O'Connor; Stephen O'Brien, Seán O'Shea (1-7, three frees), Paul Geaney (0-1); David Clifford (capt) (1-6, three frees), Dara Moynihan, Paudie Clifford (0-2).
Subs: Killian Spillane (0-3) for Moynihan, Tadhg Morley for O'Sullivan (both 53 mins); Tommy Walsh for O'Brien (56 mins); Adrian Spillane for Moran (58 mins); Micheál Burns (1-0) for D Clifford (68 mins).
CLARE: Stephen Ryan; Ciarán Russell, Cillian Brennan, Conor Jordan; Cian O'Dea, Seán Collins, Conal Ó hAiniféin; Darren O'Neill, Cathal O'Connor; Pearse Lillis, Eoin Cleary (capt) (0-6, three frees), Darragh Bohannan (0-2); Gavin Cooney, Pádraic Collins (0-1), David Tubridy (1-1, one free).
Subs: Emmet McMahon (0-1) for O'Connor (15 mins, inj); Cillian Rouine for Ó hAiniféin (18 mins); Joe McGann for P Collins (half-time); Daniel Walsh for Jordan (44 mins); Keelan Sexton for Cooney (49 mins).
Referee: Jerome Henry (Mayo).