The result was never in doubt, so why did Kerry’s victory feel like a let-down?
Peter Keane admitted the performance was far from sexy but reckoned the win was all that mattered on his first Championship outing, regardless of the margin of victory.
A Munster final against Cork may prove a better barometer.
The Kerry public among the 5,037 spectators sardined undercover at Cusack Park will likely have some concern, though, for the few answers they got to the questions over this team’s ability behind that clinical forward line.
Yes, the full-back line of Jason Foley and Tadhg Morley coped well but Clare kicked eight of the final 10 points as Kerry dissolved in the Ennis rain.
Plus, there were injuries to James O’Donoghue (hamstring) and Sean O’Shea (clash of heads), although both walked off the field.
When Kerry finally found a response through Foley’s fisted point in the 87th minute (after a 13-minute stoppage for a head injury to Kevin Hartnett, who was stretchered off after the accidental clash with O’Shea - Colm Collins said Hartnett suffered a broken jaw), it was Kerry’s first since the 56th minute - close to 20 minutes of action without a score.
Kerry, who finished with 13 men, were wiped out between the 45s in that period.
The early black card shown to David Moran didn’t help, of course, after he gave all the indications of fine form on his first start of the season.
That, allied with the ankle injury which ruled out Jack Barry, left Kerry short in the middle third.
The situation went from bad to worse late on when Moran’s replacement, Mark Griffin, was red-carded for a second booking, while another reinforcement, Tommy Walsh, also exited after a black card.
Kerry’s nine least experienced starters came into the game with a combined 19 Championship appearances, and losing players of such experience told.
Kerry started seven debutants last year against Clare, a 0-32 to 0-10 demolition job in Killarney.
This time, there were four debutants, a fifth from the bench in Robert Wharton, and a first Championship start for Jack Sherwood. They’ll need time to settle in.
Clare targeted Kerry physically, including Gary Brennan at centre-forward and Darragh Bohannon as the target man in a two-man full-forward line.
While Brennan was his usual dynamic self, the latter tactic didn’t work and Clare switched to a running game after the break, after which they outscored Kerry 0-9 to 0-6.
But, again, the game wasn’t up for grabs by then.
For much of the first half, Kerry’s attacking talents were able to get free and run at the Clare defence.
They could’ve had three goals in the opening quarter, but for a goalline clearance by Conall Ó hAiniféin from Stephen O’Brien’s shot, and Sean O’Shea and Paul Geaney hitting either post - O’Shea, especially, should’ve scored.
As it was, they led by only two, 0-3 to 0-1, after 23 minutes. However, in the next 14 minutes, they outscored Clare 1-6 to 0-1.
Three frees, two of which were won by Adrian Spillane, got Kerry motoring. Then, O’Donoghue and David Clifford sparked to life.
O’Donoghue’s steal set up Diarmuid O’Connor’s debut point, before feeding Clifford for another.
In the 34th minute, Clifford wouldn’t settle for a point when supplying O’Donoghue for a bullet of a goal to the bottom corner from 21 yards out.
Clifford almost addedanother, but for a goal-saving block by Cian O’Dea. O’Donoghue scooped the rebound, soccer-style, over the bar.
It was 1-9 to 0-3 at the break as Clare’s scoring woes continued from their 0-9 to 0-8 win over Waterford.
It took 18 minutes for their first point, a David Tubridy free, and 33 for their first from play, from Eoin Cleary.
The margin went as high as 12, 1-13 to 0-4 after 49 minutes, before the revival began.
Jamie Malone kicked three points, while David Tubridy’s superb score lifted the crowd all the more, but six was as close as they got.
“When we changed tactics, we got a lot of joy,” said Colm Collins, who suffered his sixth Championship defeat to Kerry in his sixth year as manager.
I thought we were very, very naive in the first half with some of the balls we played in. We played into their hands really.
"There was a bit of a breeze into the town end and we thought that long ball would work but it didn’t.
"We had a tactical substitution at half-time and we decided in the second half to run the ball and we got a lot more success out of it.
"We had some great defensive displays and we turned over ball and won possession.
"We didn’t get the rewards on the scoreboard but we’d have been a lot closer if we did.”
E Cleary (0-5, 3 frees); D Tubridy (1 free), J Malone (0-3 each); C O’Connor (0-1).
S O’Shea (0-5 frees); J O’Donoghue (1-1); D Clifford (0-3, 1 free); D Moran, P Geaney, D O’Connor, A Spillane, M Burns, J Foley (0-1 each).
S Ryan; K Hartnett, C Brennan, G Kelly; S Collins, A Fitzgerald, C Ó hAiniféin; C O’Connor, S O’Donoghue; E Cleary, G Brennan, J Malone; C O’Dea, D Tubridy, D Bohannon.
G Cooney for Bohannon (ht), D Ryan for Ó hAiniféin (BC, 42), K Malone for O’Donoghue (49), E Collins for S Collins (53), C Murray for C Brennan (61), A Sweeney for Hartnett (70+10, inj).
S Ryan; J Foley, T Morley, T O’Sullivan; S Enright, J Sherwood, G Crowley; D Moran, A Spillane; D O’Connor, S O’Shea, S O’Brien; D Clifford, P Geaney, J O’Donoghue.
M Griffin for Moran (BC, 18), G White for Sherwood (ht), M Burns for O’Brien (45), R Wharton for Crowley (49), T Walsh for O’Donoghue (53, inj), J Lyne for O’Shea (70+2, inj).
M Griffin (66).
J Molloy (Galway).
Derek McGrath and Ger Cunningham review the weekend's hurling with Anthony Daly