Kerry went some way to laying the ghosts of Pairc Ui Chaoimh 2020 to rest in Killarney this evening as they kick-started their Championship with an quietly impressive - and expected – 17-point win over a gutsy Clare team that simply couldn't bridge the gulf in class in this Munster SFC quarter-final.
Goals had been Kerry’s open secret through the recent League campaign – they scored 13 in four games – and they kept the green flags flying in Fitzgerald Stadium as they inflicted three on Clare.
Kerry boss Peter Keane had cited that Munster semi-final loss to Cork last November as reason enough for no one in the Kingdom to be getting carried away with anything other than getting out the Killarney gap with a win of any sort here.
Still, Kerry’s League form was too crisp and too driven – simply too good – to think that the home side would be anything other than comfortable winners against a team that is still, in the balance, quite a few spots below the Kingdom on any ranking scale.
Kerry kept faith with Kieran Fitzgibbon in goal and Mike Breen in the half back line, and both players performed very well on their championship debuts.
Clare boss Colm Collins had spoken earlier in the week about his team’s inner belief that the Banner county could record a first Championship win over Kerry on Kingdom soil, but there must surely have been an inner struggle with the belief that Clare were walking into a fire-pit in which there was every chance they were going to get scorched. And so it came to pass.
This was Clare’s fifth Munster Championship meeting with Kerry in six years and all ended in defeats ranging from six points to 22, and this loss was on the heavy end of that scale.
The omens were bad for Clare when Sean O’Shea kicked Kerry into the lead after 14 seconds. By the seventh minute O’Shea had four points to his name, and Kerry led 0-05 to 0-00 before Emmet McMahon – only seconds on the field as a replacement for the injured Cathal O’Connor – raised Clare’s first flag.
Kerry were 0-08 to 0-02 to the good through David Clifford (2) and Paul Geaney when Clare centre-forward Eoin Cleary scored two excellent points as Clare remained compact and patient.
Kerry were just five ahead with Clare looking like they might make it to the interval very much in contact, but in the 34th minute Paudie Clifford pounced on a mistake to send O’Shea through on goal and the Kenmare man rolled the ball past Stephen Ryan to make it 1-09 to 0-04.
The irony was that the Clare mistake came from a Kerry man, Conor Jordan, the Austin Stacks club man in Tralee, playing inter-county football for his father’s native county.
At half time Kerry led 1-11 to 0-05, perhaps a slightly flattering margin, though they were largely the dominant team and had controlled the tempo for much of the half.
By the second water break the gap was still eight points, 1-13 to 0-8, as Kerry began to use their bench to keep the momentum going.
Tubridy nicked a Clare goal in the 63rd minute to make it 1-18 to 1-09 but three minutes later David Clifford smashed home from Adrian Spillane’s pass, and deep into additional time substitute Micheal Burns made it a hat trick of Kerry goals to complete the expected comfortable home win.
For Kerry, next up is a trip to Thurles to face reigning Munster champions Tipperary in a semi-final in a fortnight. On this evidence Tipperary might as well enjoy their last few days as kings of Munster.
For Clare, their year is over almost as soon as it began, with a long summer and beyond for Colm Collins, David Tubridy et al to consider where to from here.
Kerry: Kieran Fitzgibbon, Brian Ó Beaglaoich, Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan, Mike Breen, Gavin Crowley, Gavin White 0-02, David Moran 0-01, Diarmuid O’Connor, Stephen O’Brien, Sean O’Shea 1-07 (0-03f), Paul Geaney 0-01, David Clifford 1-06 (0-03f), Dara Moynihan, Paudie Clifford 0-02.
Subs: Killian Spillane 0-03 for S O’Shea (temp, 49), O’Shea for Spillane (reverse 52), Tadhg Morley for T O’Sullivan (52), Killian Spillane for D Moynihan (52), Tommy Walsh for S O’Brien (55), Adrian Spillane for D Moran (58), Micheal Burns 1-00 for D Clifford (68).
Clare: Stephen Ryan, Ciaran Russell, Cillian Brennan, Conor Jordan, Cian O’Dea, Sean Collins, Conal O hAinifein, Darren O’Neill, Cathal O’Connor, Pearse Lillis, Eoin Cleary 0-06 (0-03f), Darragh Bohannan 0-02, Gavin Cooney, Padraic Collins 0-01, David Tubridy 1-01.
Subs: Emmet McMahon 0-01 for C O’Connor (inj, 15), Cillian Rouine for C O hAinifein (17), Joe McCann for P Collins (ht), Daniel Walsh for C Jordan (44), Keelan Sexton for G Cooney (49).
Referee: Jerome Henry (Mayo)