On that occasion, Jack O’Connor’s charges scored a 14-point win over a Tipperary team that had contested an All-Ireland semi-final the August previous. The decent block of training they’d achieved during the Christmas break was all too evident in their comprehensive dismissal of the Premier footballers, but their preparation for last night’s Munster U21 opener was anything but smooth and with a quarter of an hour remaining, Clare found themselves just two in arrears and very much in contention.
The home outfit weren’t motoring well and their defence wobbled each time Clare ran at them from halfway. With Sean O’Shea (free) and sub Killian Spillane having moved the Kingdom 1-10 to 1-6 clear nine minutes into the second-half, the game was thrown back into the melting pot following a second Clare goal.
Óisin Hanrahan, having ghosted in behind the Kerry full-back line, fielded a delivery over the top, offloaded to Éimhin Courtney and the corner-forward was afforded far too much time in picking his sport in Shane Ryan’s goal.
Crucially, though, the visitors to Tralee would add to their tally on only two more occasions in the closing 20 minutes. Spillane, who had a telling impact when introduced, kicked his second and the excellent Matthew Flaherty split the posts to kill off the momentum Clare had generated through Courtney’s strike.
A long range Keelan Sexton free brought the gap back to two, but their challenge petered out following an Alan Sweeney goal chance which was put paid to by a swarm of green shirts. Cathal Bambury, Flaherty, Conor Geaney (free) and Spillane landed four on the bounce and Kerry were out the gap. “We were a little bit off,” Jack O’Connor reflected.
“Our preparation hasn’t been what it could have been. That was our first game together since January 8. That told at times tonight. In horse racing terms, we needed the run. We need to improve and we will improve. We were just a bit vulnerable to Clare running at us. We came to grips in the second-half.
“Clare were in that game until the 50th minute. We’re glad they gave us a stiff test. We needed that test. We hope that test will improve us. We still kicked 1-17 and that was a good score.”
The winners went in at the break three in front, but it’s unlikely management were wholly enamoured by their team’s first-half showing. The visitors opened up the Kerry rearguard for four goal chances, taking the last of these on 23 minutes.
Half-back Conall Ó hAiniféin gathered possession around the middle, before cutting straight through the heart of the home defence and beating Ryan with a well-placed effort. The goal brought Clare within touching distance, 0-8 to 1-3, but the response from O’Connor’s side was as quick and clinical.
Matthew Flaherty opened his account and the difference returned to five when Cathal Banbury set-up Matthew O’Sullivan for a goal on 25 minutes.
You’d have expected the favourites to push on here and drive a significant wedge between themselves and their opponents come the interval, but, instead, it was Clare who played the better football approaching half-time. The Banner counter-attacked with purpose and yet another Ó hAiniféin surge ended with a white flag, with Conor Finucane’s second free further narrowing the gap.
They continued to ask questions upon the change of ends but not enough to prevent Kerry setting up a semi-final date with Waterford next Wednesday.
M O’Sullivan (1-1); S O’Shea (0-4, 0-2 frees); M O’Flaherty, K Spillane (0-3 each); C Geaney (0-1 free), C Bambury (0-2 each); L O’Donoghue, T O’Sullivan (0-1 each).
C Finucane (0-5, 0-4 frees); C Ó hAiniféin (1-1); É Courtney (1-0); K Sexton (0-1 free), A Davidson (0-1 each).
S Ryan (Rathmore); TL O’Sullivan (Dingle), J Foley (Ballydonoghue), T O’Sullivan (Dingle); B Sugrue (Renard), A Barry (Na Gaeil), D O’Brien (Glenflesk); B O’Sullivan (Dingle), B Ó Seanacháin (Ballydonoghue); B Barrett (Ardfert), S O’Shea (Kenmare), M Flaherty (Dingle); C Bambury (Dingle), M O’Sullivan (St Michael’s Foilmore), C Geaney (Dingle).
K Spillane (Templenoe) for M O’Sullivan (34); J Morgan (Austin Stacks) for O’Brien (41); C Coffey (Kerins O’Rahillys) for Sugrue (53); L O’Donoghue (Glenflesk) for Geaney (54); R Ó Sé (An Ghaeltacht) for O’Sullivan, I Parker (Churchill) for Bambury (both 58).
K Roche (Cooralcare); E O’Connor (Éire Óg Ennis), D Nagle (Liscannor), C Payne (Killimor); C Ó hAiniféin (Ruan), R McMahon (Kildysart), C Brennan (Clondegad); D Bohannon (Shannon Gaels), C O’Dea (Kilfenora); A Davidson (St Breckan’s), A Sweeney (St Breckan’s), D Egan (Kilmihil); C Finucane (Lissycasey), K Sexton (Kilmurry/Ibrickane), É Courtney (Éire Óg Ennis).
R Danagher (St Breckan’s) for O’Connor (HT); O Hanrahan (Lissycasey) for Egan (36); J Culligan (Ballyvaughan) for Payne (40); S O’Donoghue (Cooraclare) for Bohannon (42); C Downes (O’Curry’s) for Sweeney (50); D Foran (Killimor) for Davidson (52).
A Kissane (Waterford).