Kerry left with as many questions rattling in their heads as answers

Kerry players take in the Cusack Park surroundings ahead of Saturday’s Munster SFC semi-final win over Kerry. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

On the road up to Ennis on Saturday evening, Clive Tyldesley was being interviewed on the radio about his recollections of his 1999 Champions League final commentary on ITV, and specifically about those final, frantic minutes when Manchester United went from 1-0 down in injury-time to somehow turn the tables and beat Bayern Munich 2-1.

It was a comeback for the ages, and Tyldesley’s perfectly pitched description of the unfolding events only magnified the significance of what Manchester United had just achieved by securing the third and final leg of a famous treble.

He recalled how Alex Ferguson later bought his match notes from the night at a charity auction and has them framed on his wall for posterity.

It wasn’t that Tyldesley went off on a grand soliloquy trying to claim a sliver of the spotlight for himself, it was just the opposite, he said just enough to punctuate the pictures with jabs of clarity.

There was a man in the covered terrace next to me in Ennis listening to Clare FM through his phone last Saturday night and it was loud enough for those close by to enjoy — or endure along — with him, depending on your perspective of course.

I have no doubt the boys on Radio Kerry were the very same; passionate, partisan with words spraying like bullets from a Gatlin gun.

Local radio sports commentary is like the pro-Donald Trump Fox TV station in the United States, they know their audience may not be particularly interested in hearing the other side of the argument, so they give people what they want.

Kerry were in complete control during the opening half, and as David Moran’s influence grew in the game, so too did his team-mates.

O’Donoghue, Geaney, and Clifford inside were looking as dynamic and dangerous in the flesh as they did on paper.

Defensively, Jack Sherwood was playing as the free man Clare were giving up by dropping a forward deep, and he was reading the play like a chess master.

He was seeing danger before it ever developed and was always there to pick up the second ball being broken from his full-back line and gave a bit of pace coming out to start the counterattack.

His substitution at half-time — presumably for an injury, along with the departures of Moran to an early black card and James O’Donoghue (hamstring) left Kerry in a shapeless mess they were unable to sort out.

The stadium announcer declared at half-time that ‘supporters were not permitted to enter the pitch after the final whistle’ drew scoffs from the 5,037 souls who were huddling together like sheep in a shed, and the last thing on anybody’s mind was to get even wetter afterwards by rushing onto the field.

Clare for their part, as they seem to do under Colm Collins, never gave up. 

Although staring right down the barrel of another provincial pummelling, they were much the better team in the second half and made Kerry look decidedly average.

They left Kerry forwards unmarked behind them and pushed 13 players into the opposition half for every Shane Ryan kickout in the second half and forced him into going long.

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

Without capable ball winners in green and gold, Clare got plenty of joy with Gary Brennan and Cathal O’Connor a growing influence around the middle, and their previously blunt and unimaginative attack started to show real signs of life with Eoin Cleary, David Tubridy, and Jamie Malone more of a threat.

It wasn’t long before they had the visitors on the back foot, but what was surprising was how long they kept them there.

Cork, on the other hand, dismissively swatted away an anemic challenge from Limerick, who are a county struggling to find their footballing identity again after a few competitive and compelling years a decade and a half ago.

Those on Leeside don’t want to hear too much about the prospect of Cork going well. How could they? 

There’s only so many times you can allow yourself to get your hopes up only for them to be smashed into smithereens by a Kerry exhibition.

Much of the whispering coming from Cork has been about noteworthy performances and positive results in challenge games against meaty opposition including the history-chasing Dubs.

It’s a bit early to tell whether Ronan McCarthy and Cork have found something — anything, so soon after the disappointment of dropping to Division Three of the National League, but their graph is certainly on the rise.

They’re going up a hill, if not quite a mountain yet.

Whatever about the rate of incline, it’s been a number of years since there has been any modicum of positivity emanating from Cork senior football so they’ll take whatever confidence they can get and run with it.

Their clinical opening 25 minutes against Billy Lee’s side put the game beyond reach well before half-time.

It’s not that you’d be backing them to win Munster, but they’ll surely be more competitive than 12 months ago.

Kerry players and management, on the other hand, will have headed back down the road on Saturday with as many questions rattling around their heads as answers.

But I suppose, that is essentially the perfect outcome for Peter Keane and his squad, play poorly and win a disjointed mishmash of a game bookmarked by an over fussy referee and a couple of significant injury stoppages.

Even the electronic scoreboard in Cusack Park fried when it tried to account for a more than 50-minute second half. 

As if to say: ‘Enough is enough lads’.

Long enough Kerry people have lamented arriving at August’s superhighway without a proper NCT passed, with no chance to highlight the worn brake pads or high emissions.

Cork should pose more questions in a few weeks’ time, along with a more detailed examination of the underbelly of the KY-19 registered vehicle. 

And despite whatever hoodwinking people think is being done, Kerry have plenty to work on over the next few weeks to get themselves in a better state than they were last weekend.

Last season, they blitzed the Munster championship and posted record wins in the province only to fall flat later in the summer. 

Paul Geaney recently described it as going from “flawless football to Fred Flintstone”. So maybe Peter Keane is trying to time his run better, who knows.

But as Clare mounted their second-half charge, I couldn’t help but overhear Clare FM do likewise through the airwaves.

From complimenting the referee, to lauding the fighting spirit of their home side, they painted a picture with their passion that added colour and excitement to an otherwise dour encounter.

Perhaps the words came with more frequency than what Tyldesley delivered 20 years previously, but you’d expect no less.

It’s all about giving the people what they want.

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