The Armagh official, keen to stamp his mark on this Munster semi-final, brandished the first yellow of nine with three minutes on the clock.
Barry John Keane was first to be reprimanded, James O’Donoghue and Dean Ryan both added to the book 11 minutes in.
And when Donnchadh Walsh tripped Keelan Sexton on the 16 minute mark, not alone was Walsh’s name added to the growing list of yellow card culprits but Hughes stretched out the arms for a penalty.
David Tubridy duly dispatched the spot kick to send the hosts into a 1-3 to 0-2 advantage. There was to be another penalty claim as the half-time whistle neared. Walsh was the victim on this occasion. Hughes, though, took no interest.
Joe Hayes repelled the Kerry forward’s snatched attempt at goal and the home outfit, much to the delight of the Banner supporters in the crowd of 5,786, cleared the danger.
Little over a minute later and Martin McMahon was stretched out on the deck. The Clare corner-back, having been the fifth name into the referee’s leabhar, had adopted Walsh’s offender-turned- victim role.
The man in black had a quick word with the linesman on the terrace side, after which he went looking for green, number 12.
Once more went the hand into the back pocket and back out came the yellow. Walsh’s afternoon done.
A Paul Geaney free in first-half stoppages was an important statement from the league champions they hadn’t been unnerved by the loss of their left-half forward.
Final say, mind, went to Clare as Ciarán Russell ended a 20-minute barren spell to tie matters at 1-5 to 0-8 (only two of Kerry’s scores arrived via open play). And having played against the elements in the opening half, it was advantage Clare turning around for the second period.
This was an advantage they didn’t hang about in building on, with Gary Brennan and Eoin Cleary throwing over a pair of frees to move the underdogs two clear. Brennan and Cathal O’Connor were more than breaking even at midfield, with Martin McMahon effectively taking up the spare role in defence.
Another Sexton free was sandwiched by Stephen O’Brien and Paul Geaney white flags, but Clare noses remained in front. The gale was building behind them.
It had been 25 years since they had stunned the Kingdom and the heroes of ’92 were present at Cusack Park to see if Colm Collins’ class could pen a new chapter.
On 44 minutes, their moment presented itself. Jamie Malone tore through the opposition rearguard, unleashing a powerful effort which rattled Brian Kelly’s crossbar. The ball ended up trickling out wide and with it went Clare’s afternoon.
Kerry ratcheted up the intensity, thereafter. Time and time again they overran the Banner defence, giving the impression it was the hosts who were down a man. Paul Murphy began popping up in the Clare half, with Peter Crowley also producing a number of menacing bursts.
Michael Geaney levelled matters, with Anthony Maher and three from James O’Donoghue shoving Fitzmaurice’s charges into a 0-15 to 1-8 lead.
O’Donoghue had endured a slow start to life at Cusack Park. He gave away possession with his first touch, was beaten the second time he was fed and conceded a free to Dean Ryan on the third occasion the ball hopped in his vicinity. Fair enough, though.
Not since the league win over Roscommon on March 5 had he been seen in the green and gold.It had been nine weeks since Kerry last tasted competitive fare, 14 for their corner-forward from Legion. For second-half subs KieranDonaghy and Johnny Buckley, this was a first taste of action in 2017.
“Warming up in the hotel beforehand, I was delighted to be there, just knowing my body was in a good place,” said O’Donoghue.
“Because obviously, my football needs a lot of work and that’s what the summer is there for. Once you get the body and head right, the football will come”.
He slipped up through the gears and was central to a flowing move that put Paul Geaney face-to-face with ‘keeper Joe Hayes. Geaney opted to palm Stephen O’Brien’s final pass, the post denying him.
O’Brien did find the net on 68 minutes to stretch their lead to seven. Game over. Opportunity lost for Clare. A decent workout for O’Donoghue and Kerry.
J O’Donoghue (0-9, 0-5 frees); S O’Brien (1-1); P Geaney (0-4, 0-2 frees); B Sheehan (0-1 free), S Enright, A Maher, M Geaney (0-1 each).
D Tubridy (1-3, 1-0 pen); E Cleary (0-6, 0-4 frees); G Brennan (0-1 free), J Malone, C Russell (0-1 each).
B Kelly; F Fitzgerald, M Griffin, S Enright; P Crowley, T Morley, P Murphy; J Barry, A Maher; M Geaney, K McCarthy, D Walsh; BJ Keane, P Geaney, J O’Donoghue.
S O’Brien for Keane (HT); J Savage for McCarthy (46): J Lyne for M Geaney (58); K Donaghy for A Maher (62); B Sheehan for Barry (64); J Buckley for P Geaney (69).
Joe Hayes; D Ryan, K Hartnett, G Kelly; C Russell, M McMahon, P Lillis; C O’Connor, G Brennan; S Brennan, J Malone, S Collins; E Cleary, D Tubridy, K Sexton.
C O’Dea for S Brennan (50); John Hayes for Lillis (56); E Collins for K Hartnett (66); G O’Brien for O’Connor (70).
P Hughes (Armagh).