There’ll be a cranky feel in the Kingdom camp for the next few weeks

Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Walking out of Cusack Park Saturday night, I could feel straight away the dissatisfaction of some Kerry supporters with the second half performance in particular.

“We won’t win the All-Ireland playing like that,” and “Clare won the second half by three,” were two lines tossed in my direction more than once.

I was much more upbeat.

Yes, Kerry didn’t set the world on fire, but they didn’t need to. They weren’t trying to win the All-Ireland on Saturday, they were trying to beat Clare. Hence mission accomplished.

Last year we beat Clare in Killarney with an almost flawless performance, probably the most perfect execution of a game-plan in my time in charge. The only thing missing was a goal.

Was it much good to us afterwards? Sometimes you are as well to be still looking for answers at this stage of the summer while winning matches.

Peter Keane and his management will be delighted with the result but very disappointed with aspects of the performance, particularly with a shapeless and sloppy second half. 

This will keep everyone tuned in and automatically eliminate complacency for the Munster final against a Cork team beginning to rediscover themselves.

There will be a cranky feel to the group for the next few weeks and that can be a positive driving force when harnessed and managed correctly. 

Achieving the balance between honesty, constructive criticism, and encouragement will be key here.

From a positive perspective the debutants all looked at home and did well.

With so many injured players at the moment this strengthens the panel and with the intense nature of the Super 8s, everyone will be needed. Adrian Spillane, in particular, had a fine game.

When David Moran received an early black card I was interested to see who would stand up and Adrian had a huge 15 minutes up to half time, winning some hard balls, was full of running and energy, winning a few crucial frees and kicking a great point.

Gavin Crowley was typically solid and dependable while Diarmuid O’Connor looked comfortable also.

Shane Ryan is still a work in progress. He was strong in his goalkeeping duties but his kickouts were a mixed bag. 

This isn’t overly surprising as he has less than a dozen games under his belt at this level and is still developing. Keane may also be holding back a few kickouts for later in the championship and doesn’t want to show his full hand just yet.

Teams build momentum when they get a couple of scores together which is why it’s so important to have a go-to kickout that almost guarantees you possession to break that momentum.

In the incident that led to the Seán O’Shea-Kevin Hartnett collision, I was disappointed to see Shane lumping one out just after Clare scored.

That decision-making and consistency comes with experience and with time and patience Shane has the tools to get there.

It was unfortunate to see James O’Donoghue pulling up with what looked like a hamstring strain. He looked hungry, had been motoring really well and had taken his goal clinically. 

David Clifford of Kerry in action against Cillian Brennan of Clare. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
David Clifford of Kerry in action against Cillian Brennan of Clare. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

I liked the positions he was taking up. He was getting on ball wide and creating space inside for the other forwards. 

It also showed he is fit and confident as he wasn’t trying to hide in the middle and was willing to make those long hard selfless runs.

There was plenty in his performance to suggest he is going in the right direction and hopefully the strain is just that.

I’m sure one aspect Peter Keane and the management will work on in the coming weeks is how best to regain control of a game when momentum starts to shift to the opposition. 

The easy thing to say is that there was a lack of leadership, but I feel this was natural with a young team.

They will learn from it and will handle it better next time. These players are serial underage winners and have already built up an impressive track record in how to get the job done. 

They now realise there is a huge jump to senior intercounty championship.

They will work on making sure that the next time ascendancy in a game begins to slip away, they will have the courage to get on the ball, do the simple things well, keep playing at pace and going forward, keep that scoreboard ticking over, win frees and slow the clock.

That level of on-field game management is difficult to coach and develop and is in many ways a Holy Grail. I also feel that for Keane himself and his management team, there will have been great learnings.

It was his first championship game and that brings its own unique set of particulars. It was a fine, hairy game from the point of view of the scenarios that were thrown at them on a wet and dirty night for football. 

Their number one midfielder black carded early, injuries to key players during the game, a red card and the Tommy Walsh black which meant they were down to 13 men for the 10 extra minutes at the end — and the game going against them in the second half.

All of these aspects will mean that their decision-making, both in terms of the actual decisions and the process that delivered them, was well tested. 

This will stand to them down the line when these decisions can be the difference between winning and losing.

From the Clare perspective I was amazed at how poor they were in the first half. They got it wrong and aspects of their game-plan that had obviously worked in training failed badly in competition. 

They looked to me as if they were stuck between two game plans — their usual, pacey running game and a new direct style game to a target man full-forward. 

Unusually for me, they played Gary Brennan centre forward as a link man. This is a hard role and requires young legs to keep running that line laterally to give the out ball. 

While he got on ball sporadically, it was invariably with his back to goals and in harmless positions. 

Gavin Crowley shepherded him well and limited his impact in this role. Brennan is at his best when running onto ball, coming at pace and driving through the middle. 

When he resumed his natural position in the last quarter he thundered into the game and drove Clare forward.

David Moran of Kerry in action against Sean O'Donoghue of Clare. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
David Moran of Kerry in action against Sean O'Donoghue of Clare. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Clare played Darragh Bohannon full forward and tried to rain ball on top of him. 

The quality of the ball was poor and worse from a Clare perspective he was often left isolated with two Kerry men for company as Cian O’Dea had retreated as a sweeper. 

On a wet night the amount of ball a target man will actually secure is minimal but the danger can come from having bodies around him picking up breaks. 

However Clare had no one operating close enough to profit. Again, when they resumed their normal game after half time it suited them better and they caused Kerry plenty of problems, winning the second half. 

They can be a threat in the Qualifiers, but they seem to have regressed from where they were a few years ago. 

To trouble anyone they will certainly need to play the way they played in the second half.

It is part of a Kerryman’s DNA to be on guard when it comes to Cork, which is why their lack of performance over the last while has been so puzzling to me. 

They seem to be getting back to where they should be. A Cork team with confidence is a dangerous animal. 

Finishing the league strongly (albeit being relegated), winning challenge matches in the meantime (including beating Dublin), and a comprehensive win over Limerick means confidence is building.

The Munster final in three weeks’ time is suddenly starting to regain the allure of old.

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