The consensus in the press gantry after referee Barry Cassidy had taken Clare out of their misery and away from the glare of a baying home support was that a Kerry team had never before kicked 32 points in a Championship match. Éamonn Fitzmaurice, too, had never seen as many white flags raised.
It’s similarly unlikely that any other county has ever managed such a points haul at Championship-time. Mind you, we stand open to correction on this one.
Irrespective, that wasn’t the main storyline coming out of Killarney.
What excited and satisfied Kerry supporters in the crowd of 16,729 were the men — or rather, young men — who contributed the vast bulk of their 32-point total, 23 of which arrived from play.
Indeed, to give you a flavour of just how young this Kerry team is, David Moran, who turns 30 later this month, was the oldest member of the team put out. James O’Donoghue, at 27, was the oldest member of their starting front six.
Not since Micko’s team of bachelors in 1975 has a Kerry line-up been packed so full of Championship debutants. Seven of Fitzmaurice’s starting XV were making their first Championship appearance. While goalkeeper Shane Murphy — who also wore the title of captain, taking over the role from Dr Crokes clubmate Fionn Fitzgerald — was asked to do very little, the six outfield debutants of Foley, White, Shanahan, Burns, O’Shea, and Clifford didn’t do anything to diminish their chances of getting a second start against Cork in three weeks’ time.
Keelan Sexton had troubled the Limerick rearguard during Clare’s championship opener, but was held scoreless here by Jason Foley. Gavin White, effective in both his defensive duties and going forward, made a superb block on Sexton at a time when a Clare point would have cut the deficit to two.
Up the other end, it was David Clifford, somewhat surprisingly, who was the quietest of the three Championship newcomers in attack. Yes, he had a legitimate claim for a penalty in the second minute and while the Fossa teenager was involved in a couple of scores, Clare corner-back Gordon Kelly can be relatively content with his afternoon’s work.
Micheál Burns, though first to be called ashore, contributed two from play and will be all the better for yesterday’s experience, even if the Cork defence will ask far more challenging questions.
Top of the class was the second teenager present, Seán O’Shea. The ease and confidence with which the centre-forward stroked over five placed balls spoke volumes of his temperament. That he was first-choice freetaker also says plenty of how highly management rate him.
Burns, O’Shea (0-3, one free and ‘45), and Clifford registered Kerry’s opening five points after Eoin Cleary (free) and Pearse Lillis had the visitors two in front inside a minute-and-a-half.
Combining for Kerry’s sixth point were the three more established footballers in attack. Paul Geaney sent possession out to the left corner where James O’Donoghue was lurking, he slipped the ball to Stephen O’Brien who cut in along the endline before landing the first of his three points.
Thereafter, Gary Brennan and David Tubridy combined for Clare’s best point of the day. They wouldn’t score again, however, for another 20 minutes, during which the home side threw over 10 in a row.
Two from Geaney at the beginning of this sequence meant all bar O’Donoghue in attack had their names on the scoresheet. On 20 minutes, the Legion man struck the post. Two minutes later, he was successful, his first score for Kerry since August 26 of last year. Yesterday was his first start since the drawn All-Ireland semi-final.
By half-time, they were 0-16 to 0-4 clear. The second half was a non-event. Jamie Malone kicked two early points for Clare. It wasn’t much use to them. They needed a miracle. And even that mightn’t have been enough such was the pace at which Kerry moved the ball through the lines and the accuracy of their shooting.
Clare manager Colm Collins was surprised to learn afterwards that Kerry’s wide count was eight. He thought it lower.
For Collins and his squad, this was a serious setback. Their average losing margin to Kerry during his reign, before this Munster semi, was eight points. Reaching the Super 8s remains their target, but attempting to regroup for the qualifiers off the back of a 22-point trouncing will be hard done.
His counterpart emptied the bench in the final quarter, Barry John Keane, Darran O’Sullivan, Michael Geaney, and Anthony Maher amplifying the gap between the counties. Maher and Kieran Donaghy, the latter almost getting among the scorers, saw their first bit of game-time in 2018 after missing the league.
Went with youth, finished with experience. Likely to be the same approach for their visit to Cork on June 23.
S O’Shea (0-7, 0-4 frees, 0-1 ‘45), P Geaney (0-7, 0-1 free); J O’Donoghue (0-4, 0-2 frees); BJ Keane, S O’Brien (0-3 each); D Clifford (0-1 free), M Burns (0-2 each); A Maher, D O’Sullivan (0-1 free), J Barry, M Geaney (0-1 each).
E Cleary (0-5, 0-4 frees); D Tubridy (0-1 free), J Malone (0-2 each); P Lillis (0-1).
S Murphy; J Foley P Crowley, T Morley; R Shanahan, P Murphy, G White; D Moran, J Barry; M Burns, S O’Shea, S O’Brien; D Clifford, P Geaney, J O’Donoghue.
M Geaney for Burns (45 mins); BJ Keane for O’Donoghue (52); B Ó Beaglaoich for Shanahan, A Maher for Moran (both 57); D O’Sullivan for Clifford (59); K Donaghy for O’Shea (64).
E Tubridy; C O’Dea, C Brennan, G Kelly; C Ó hAinifein, J Malone, A Fitzgerald; G Brennan, C O’Connor; K Malone, E Collins, P Lillis; E Cleary, D Tubridy, K Sexton.
G O’Brien for K Malone (45 mins); E Courtney for Tubridy (51); G Cooney for Sexton (57); E O’Connor for Ó hAinifein (59); C Finucane for O’Dea (66).
B Cassidy (Derry).