Perhaps we could cut straight to the last 15 minutes or so.
If anything got the 4,500 or so at Austin Stack Park out of their seats theretofore, it was frustrating refereeing, scuffed penalties and tetchy flashpoints. Dingle led 1-10 to 0-7 at the three-quarter point of this Kerry SFC semi-final, and the only intervention looking likely to deny them a place in the final was a wave or two of David Clifford’s magic wand.
And then came a wave or two of David Clifford’s magic wand.
“It’s the nature of the player you are dealing with,” reflected Dingle selector Diarmuid Murphy afterwards. “You are talking about one of the top three forwards in the country. So at county championship level he is going to be a huge handful.”
Context is always worthy at such junctures. The Fossa lad is 19 until November, and truth to be told, looked relatively ordinary in the first half, not least when scuffing a 16th-minute penalty, softly awarded, wide of the right-hand post. It’s been a long, breakout season, you think, cut the lad some slack.
And then he goes and finishes with 2-4.
The first of those goals came 34 seconds after Paul Geaney had pulled down a huge catch at the other end and laid a Dingle goal on a plate for Tom O’Sullivan to put the West Kerry men 1-10 to 0-7 in front. Immediately, Chris O’Donoghue, the East Kerry sub, went route one from midfield, and Clifford beat the Dingle keeper to the punch for a lifeline goal.
Four minutes later a massive hit in midfield by another of East Kerry’s replacements, Ronan Buckley, set in train the move that concluded with David Clifford inside the cover on his left foot. The final pass to him came from his brother Paudie. Maybe he knew best.
Said East Kerry manager Gerry O’Sullivan: “We didn’t get the ball into David or Dara Roche in the first half. Once we went long into the lads, we reaped the rewards. There’s a lesson or two there for us for the replay.”
Lost in a frantic last five minutes of normal time - the referee Sean Joy found another seven in added time – was another glaring goal opportunity for the divisional side but Kilcummin’s Sean O’Leary couldn’t guide his chance past Dingle keeper Gavin Curran.
In these moments, the semi-final looked as if it had been spirited away to a higher plane altogether. Paul Geaney, who foraged deep, dropped into a defensive shape and still bagged half a dozen points, converted a soft free to edge Dingle 1-12 to 2-8 in front but in the next East Kerry attack, one’s focus was drawn to the loping, prowling presence of Clifford out around midfield as he worked himself into position for the football equivalent of pass back from the scrum for a decisive drop goal. That he nailed a point off his right foot, falling backwards from 45m, isn’t even surprising at this stage. Nonetheless, it is uplifting.
In the 60th minute, East Kerry – now well on top – conjured another opening for Jack Sherwood to slalom through for the lead point, the first time they were in front since the fifth minute of the game.
Dingle didn’t deserve to lose, and their selector Murphy nodded approvingly at the patient manner in which they constructed the opening for Tom O’Sullivan to land a 67th-minute equaliser.
If they could agree on nothing else, both sides shared the same question for the journeys east and west afterwards: Which one of us blew it more?
That both sides deserved a second chance is, unfortunately, in part down to the eccentric officiating of Sean Joy, who is a lot better referee than he showed yesterday. From the moment the Laune Rangers official awarded the 16th-minute penalty to East Kerry for a ‘foul’ on Kevin McCarthy as he went to flick on a hopeful ball into the square, he was playing catch-up.
“It was handy, it wouldn’t have been a penalty in my day,” conceded the East Kerry manager Gerry O’Sullivan.
Over-anxious thereafter to be on top of every infringement, Joy dispensed with the advantage rule time and again, and bought barely disguised attempts by players to win handy frees.
What he did get right were the two dismissals in a fractious, unenjoyable first half. Following David Clifford’s first point from play, he got a little uppity with Dingle’s Paul Devane, but the latter’s response had red card written all over it. That was only three minutes before half-time but East Kerry couldn’t even manage the numerical advantage to the break, with midfielder Shane McSweeney picking up his second yellow for a late challenge. It summed up a forgettable first period which concluded with Dingle 0-8 to 0-4 up.
“East Kerry went long after we scored our goal, which they hadn’t been doing, and they got joy out of that. We struggled with that for a few minutes,” said Dingle’s Diarmuid Murphy afterwards.
A week for both sides to get the best side of themselves on parade. Dr Crokes can wait for a while.
Scorers for Dingle: P Geaney (0-6, 4 frees), T. O’Sullivan (1-1), M Geaney (0-2), T Sheehy (0-2), M Flannery, B. O’Sullivan (0-1 each).
Scorers for East Kerry: D Clifford (2-4, 2 frees), D Roche (0-2, 1 free), P. Clifford (0-1, 45), J Sherwood, P. Casey, L Kearney (0-1 each)
DINGLE: G Curran; M Flannery, T.O’Sullivan, P O Conchuir; M Boyle, T. O’Sullivan, A O’Conchuir; L O’Conchuir, B O’Sullivan; B O Conchuir, M Geaney, P Devane; T Sheehy, P Geaney, M O’Flaherty.
Subs: E Murphy for A O’Conchuir (53), N Geaney for Flannery (60+3).
EAST KERRY: B Kealy (Kilcummin); D Brosnan (Gneeveuilla), D O’Donoghue (Spa), S Courtney (Glenflesk); S O”Leary (Kilcummin), J Sherwood (Firies), P. Casey (Kilcummin); S McSweeney (Kilcummin), K O’Gorman (Kilcummin); D Moynihan (Spa), P Clifford (Fossa), K. McCarthy (Kilcummin); E Cronin (Spa), D Clifford (Fossa), D Roche (Glenflesk).
Subs: L Kearney (Spa) for Brosnan (half time), C. O’Donoghue (Glenflesk) for Courtney (46), R Buckley (Listry) for McCarthy (46), B. O’Donoghue (Glenflesk) for Cronin (54), M. O’Donoghue (Spa) for O’Gorman (60).
Referee: S Joy (Laune Rangers)