How cute is Peter Keane?
He’s high on the yerra-count, for sure. Adept at turning reporters’ questions into opportunities to become a seanchaí. But he’s a wily football man into the bargain.
This game was handily packaged as a battle between the grizzled experience of Mickey Harte against Keane, hardly a wide-eyed innocent but in terms of dog-years spent at this racket, centuries behind Harte.
By way of coincidence and of Keane’s work through the Kerry underage system, the teams were reflective of that.
Nobody has the time or inclination to start working out average ages or anything like that, but take this as a starting point; from the 20 players that saw action for Kerry in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final between these two, 14 have either retired, dropped off the panel or currently reside somewhere between the training and matchday panels.
That year brought a tranche of Tyrone players directly from their All-Ireland winning under-21 team straight into the seniors. Seven played yesterday with another on the bench.
Peter Donnelly was also brought into the senior management team that year and so they arrived fully loaded with the kind of physical heft you might expect.
Could Kerry’s younger crew impose themselves or wilt in the heat? It was a fairly mixed result in the first half.
Tom O’Sullivan was handed the Peter Harte assignment. He almost starved him entirely of ball in that period, being unfortunate to be blown for two soft frees.
Sean O’Shea was tracked by Conor Meyler - a 2015 man and one that Mickey Harte thought enough of to mark Brian Fenton in last year’s decider, just four weeks from suffering a fracture on his tibia.
That project looked on track by the break.
On the sidelines, Kerry’s refusal or perhaps patience not to shift moving pieces around was puzzling given the bother that Jason Foley found with another of the 2015 crew, Cathal McShane.
Mattie Donnelly also gave Tadgh Morley a difficult time while deliveries from Kieran McGeary and Frank Burns — yep, they were there too from 2015 - flew over the head of Kerry sweeper Paul Murphy who wasn’t deep enough to be effective.
If there was a duel to track here, it was between boy wonder David Clifford and Ronan McNamee. It told the story of the game in microcosm.
Missing from the last game against Meath through a calf injury, Kerry were keen to get Clifford in. He had 22 involvements in the game throughout - pretty high for a nominal inside forward but he roamed out around the pitch to stitch moves together around his own half-forward line.
After 18 seconds they signalled their intentions when a David Moran free flew in for a fair challenge between the two. McNamee broke the ball away.
In the next play on three minutes, Clifford kicked wide. He got into the game with a handpass and nailed a free on five minutes. When he kicked a ball off Rory Brennan’s back in his next play he looked out of sorts.
Who were we to doubt? He got involved in a move out the Cusack Stand side on the quarter-hour mark and that lovely swing flew a point over.
In all, there were four balls contested between the two in the first half, McNamee collected two of them.
Other involvements were kicking one free and a point from play, two wides, losing possession once, three handpasses and a kick pass.
Clifford’s 10 involvements in the second half swung the game as much as any other facet. Four times he took a handpass and played it on by hand. He kicked two passes, the second one resulting in Stephen O’Brien’s point in the 57th minute.
In the 54th minute he took a pass off Tommy Walsh and spun to strike over and level for the first time since the 15th minute. He received a pass from Paul Geaney on 64 minutes to put five between them.
Two minutes later he got his body between the ball and Conor Meyler to earn a free that helped wind down the clock. His final involvement was a decoration upon the game, taking a pass and striking with his less vaunted right foot after being put off balance by McNamee, the ball dropping over the crossbar in the 76th minute.
On this performance, the Kerry kids are not lacking in big-game temperament. But a much stiffer test awaits.