Yesterday’s seven-point victory over Galway delivered a third consecutive Tom Markham Cup success and added to the Hogan Cup wins enjoyed by Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne (2014 and ’15) and St Brendan’s Killarney in April, this is a truly golden period for underage football in Kerry.
Not since the Cork teams of the late sixties has a county managed to complete the three-in-a-row of All-Ireland titles at this grade and Kerry have now become the first county to achieve this feat twice, the first Kerry treble completed way back in 1933.
All the more impressive was this latest success when you consider that the class of 2016 contained just two students from last year’s all-conquering team. And while they wore the tag of “raging hot favourites” arriving into this contest, yesterday’s performance, a bit like the Tipperary minor hurlers a fortnight ago, was nowhere near the dizzying heights reached en-route to the final.
Still, Peter Keane’s charges were able to find enough holes in Galway’s 13-man wall and while their key forwards endured a difficult afternoon such was the discipline and cohesive nature of the opposition defence, marshalled so well by Galway full-back Seán Mulkerrin, when opportunities presented themselves at crucial stages of this contest, the Kerry players were not to be found wanting.
Case in point being David Clifford’s 53rd minute goal.
The Fossa player, who is underage again next year, was their top contributor coming into this game with 1-27 beside his name. But aside from expertly taking down Dara Moynihan’s pass for Kerry’s second goal, he had been unable to exert himself on proceedings as he had done against Kildare, Derry and Cork. Then arrived this moment of individual brilliance seven minutes from time.
Having blocked successive shots from Moynihan and Cormac Linnane, Galway appeared to have snuffed out this latest Kerry raid. Possession, however, was spilled coming out of defence and David Naughton shifted the ball to Clifford on the Cusack Stand side. And off he went. Soloed with the left, jinked away from Galway centre-back Ernán McDonagh and pinched the top left corner of Cormac Haslam’s net with a sweet strike off his right.
Sem manager Gary McGrath was, it would appear, on the money when likening this 16-year old to Maurice Fitzgerald after the Hogan Cup final.
Clifford’s goal moved the Munster champions 3-4 to 0-8 in front and given the underdogs’ game-plan centred on containing Kerry rather than asking questions of their defence, a five-point advantage at that juncture was more than sufficient to see them home. Moynihan, Sean O’Shea and sub Cormac Linnane swelled their tally, while Galway’s woes were compounded by the late dismissal of midfielder John Maher on a second yellow card.
Clifford’s goal had been their undoing and in such a low-scoring game where both sides were guilty of wayward shooting, the concession of three goals was Galway’s undoing.
Kerry’s opening major arrived 18 minutes in, Diarmuid O’Connor touching O’Shea’s probing delivery to the net.
The green flag moved the favourites 1-1 to 0-0 clear as Stephen Joyce’s side simply could not buy a score at the other end. Five wides were tallied in the first quarter as Quirke, Finian Ó Laoi and Evan Murphy were off target. There was the stroke of good fortune too that befell Kerry ‘keeper Billy Courtney as he spotted John Maher’s fisted effort at the last second having thought the ball had gone out of play and turned his back to fetch a clean O’Neill’s from his goal.
A Desmond Conneely free had Galway on the board after 18 minutes, but then followed goal number two. Clifford fielded Moynihan’s delivery, offloaded to David Shaw and the Dr Crokes youngster drilled a low shot past Haslam — 2-1 to 0-1.
Cein D’Arcy and Shaw traded white flags before the close of the first-half, Kerry’s wide count rising to seven by the break as several chances were sent either side of the posts. It took the westerners just 51 seconds upon the change of ends to match their first-half total as Robert Finnerty and Quirke fired over successive efforts. Four of the next scores also went in their direction to cut the gap to two.
Enter Clifford to tie the prettiest of bows around All-Ireland title number 14 to Kerry.
The conveyor belt has never been in such rude health.
D Shaw (1-1); D Clifford, D O’Connor (1-0 each); S O’Shea (0-2 frees), D Moynihan (0-2 each); N Collins, C Linnane (0-1 each).
R Finnerty (0-3, 0-2 frees); D Conneely (0-2, 0-2 frees); A Quirke, C D’Arcy, R Forde, R Cunningham (0-1 each).
B Courtney (Dr Crokes); D Naughton (Dr Crokes), N Collins (Listowel Emmets), G O’Sullivan (Dromid Pearses); M Potts (Dr Crokes), D O’Brien (Glenflesk), M Foley (Ballydonoghue); M Breen (Beaufort), M Ryan (Rathmore); D O’Connor (Na Gaeil), S O’Shea (Kenmare), D Moynihan Spa); B Friel (Rathmore), D Clifford (Fossa), D Shaw (Dr Crokes).
C Linnane (Beale) for Friel (48 mins); C Teehan (Glenbeigh-Glencar) for Collins (53); B Sweeney (Listowel Emmets) for Shaw (57); K Dwyer (St Pat’s Blennerville) for Foley (64); S Okunbor (Na Gaeil) for O’Connor (65).
C Haslam (Glenamaddy); E McFadden (Salthill-Knocknacarra), S Mulkerrin (Aran Islands), L Boyle (Kilkerrin-Clonberne); A Quirke (Annaghdown), E McDonagh (Bearna), F Garvey (Monivea-Abbey); C D’Arcy (Caherlistrane), J Maher (Salthill-Knocknacarra); F Ó Laoi (An Spidéal), E Murphy (Salthill Knocknacarra), R Forde (Annaghdown); R Finnerty (Salthill-Knocknacarra), S Raftery (Glenamaddy), D Conneely (Moycullen).
B Goldrick (Claregalway) for Murphy (38 mins); R Murphy (Bearna) for Raftery (49); R Cunningham (St Brendan’s) for Finnerty (55); E Deely (Salthill-Knocknacarra) for Garvey (56).
C Branagan (Down).