Kerry’s trip to Miltown-Malbay was nowhere near as emphatic as their excursion to Dungarvan last month had been and management will have been glad of the questions that were asked of their players late in the first-half and, indeed, early in the second period of this, at times, entertaining semi-final clash.
“The whole idea of tonight was to win, whether you win nice or dirty or whatever, winning tonight was the most important thing as it gives you football for the next three months,” said Kerry boss Peter Keane.
Having burst into a 1-5 to 0-1 lead by the 17th minute – Brian Friel fisted to the net after a mistake by Clare keeper Mark Lillis inside three minutes, with David Clifford (0-2), Mark Ryan and Seán O’Shea clipping over points thereafter – an element of complacency entered Kerry’s play off the back of having established such significant daylight between themselves and their opponents inside the opening quarter.
The footballers clad in green and gold became erratic in the final third, often taking the wrong option when shooting at goal, while further back, the fabric of their defensive blanket was considerably loosened. Clare, who had lively operators in Dermot Coughlan, Joseph McGann, and Jack Hannon, registered only their second score of proceedings on 19 minutes, midfielder Pádraig Kelly throwing over a long range free.
On 25 minutes, the Banner youngsters were back in the mix – Dermot Coughlan’s half-blocked effort fell perfectly for McGann and the sprightly full-forward rounded keeper Billy Courtney before rolling the ball into the empty Kerry net. A second Kelly free followed and all of a sudden the gap stood at two points, 1-5 to 1-3, scarcely believable in the context of the visitor’s early dominance.
More pertinent now, though, was how they would respond.
Micheál Reidy put through David Clifford for his third on 28 minutes and a fine individual effort from O’Shea, after forcing the turnover deep in the Clare half, returned Kerry 1-7 to 1-3 in front come the whistle for half-time. And any hope the embers of Clare’s mini-revival would remain burning into the second-half were put to bed when Clifford (free) and sub David Shaw fired over upon the change of ends to stretch the gap to six.
Crucial to Kerry reasserting their dominance was the accuracy of keeper Billy Courtney from his kick-outs. And with midfield pair Mike Breen and Mark Ryan fetching balls out of the West Clare sky all evening, the Kingdom weren’t long in moving out of sight.
Pádraig Kelly issued the Clare response with his third of the tie, but a McGann goal chance that came to nothing and successive wides from midfield pair Kelly and Darragh Bohannon ended the home challenge. The reigning Munster and All-Ireland champions copper-fastened their place in yet another provincial final with four of game’s closing six scores – O’Shea (0-2), Mike Breen and Shaw on target. The home side’s misery was compounded by the decision of referee John Ryan to send off corner-back Peter Collins on a second yellow card in the final minute of second-half stoppages.
Keane added: “We are happy enough. We put ourselves under pressure with a lot of misses, which is something we don’t normally do. We weren’t killing the ball when we were shooting. Fellas are tired after working it up and Clare then counter-attacked. Whereas, if you can kill the ball one way or another, it gives you 20 or 30 seconds of a breather. Our kicking is an area that maybe we need to go and work on.”
D Clifford (0-4, 0-2 frees); S O’Shea (0-4, 0-1 free); B Friel (1-0); D Shaw (0-2); M Breen, M Ryan, F O’Brien (0-1 each).
P Kelly (0-4, 0-3 frees); J McGann (1-0); C O’Donoghue, D Bohannon (0-1 each).
B Courtney (Dr Crokes); M Reidy (Ballymacelligott), N Collins (Listowel Emmets), M Potts (Dr Crokes); D Naughton (Dr Crokes), G O’Sullivan (Piarsaigh na Dromoda) M Foley (Ballydonoghue); M Breen (Beaufort), M Ryan (Rathmore); D Moynihan (Spa), S O’Shea (Kenmare), D O’Connor (Na Gaeil); B Friel (Rathmore), D Clifford (Fossa), F O’Brien (Austin Stacks).
B Sweeney (Listowel Emmets) for O’Connor (HT); D Shaw (Dr Crokes) for O’Brien (HT); C Teehan (Glenbeigh Glencar) for Naughton (49); T O’Connor (Ballymacelligott) for Ryan (56, inj); D Fitzgerald (Rathmore) for Friel (60); K Dwyer (St Pat’s Blennerville) for Reidy (60).
M Lillis (Cooraclare); P Collins (St Joseph’s Doora Barefield), J Culligan (Ballyvaughan), D O’Loughlin (Corofin); R Danaher (St Breckans Lisdoonvarna), J Hannon (St Joseph’s Doora Barefield), A Shannon (Kilmurry Ibrickane); D Bohannon (Shannon Gaels), P Kelly (St Breckans Lisdoonvarna); S Rouine (Ennistymon), D Coughlan (Kilmurry Ibrickane), R O’Doherty (Ennistymon); T Connellan (Éire Óg), J McGann (St Breckans Lisdoonvarna), C O’Donoghue (Cooracalre).
C Lynch (Clondegad) for O’Doherty (HT); T Hannon (St Joseph’s Doora Barefield) for Shannon (45 mins); D Griffin (Éire Óg) for Rouine (50); G Cooney (Éire Óg) for Coughlan (60, bc); C O’Loughlin (Corofin) for O’Donoghue (60).
J Ryan (Cork).