The concern for every other team in the Kerry county championship must surely be that the all-conquering men from the east comfortably defended their crown without ever exercising their full potential.
Yes, there were flashes of brilliance dotted here and there across their four championship outings, more often than not supplied by David Clifford, but there was no complete performance, no display where East Kerry went to an appreciably high level and stayed there for longer than half an hour.
David Clifford is good at football pic.twitter.com/sRHd8rEOWW— Eoin Sheahan (@EoinSheahan) September 26, 2020
And yet for all that, they came out 12-point winners on Saturday evening. Their average winning margin for the championship as a whole was nine points. They conceded just 0-17 in the semi-final and final combined. They held Mid Kerry scoreless for 26 minutes of the second half, held them scoreless from play between the 29th and 58th minute.
Even more disconcerting for those who will seek to halt East Kerry's three-in-a-row bid next season is the reality the champions' hand will be stronger again in 2021 following Kilcummin’s short-lived stay at senior level.
“Unless you're involved with Kerry, you’ll do well to meet a squad as strong as that in your career,” winning captain Dan O’Donoghue said of the East Kerry 2020 class.
Both he and manager Jerry O’Sullivan acknowledged the champions had gotten back to the mountain top without blazing a trail on the ascent.
“Remember that this was only our fourth game this year. We played about ten games last year to win a county final, between challenge games and everything. You are going to have to allow for rustiness. It clicked when it needed to click, and it was great,” said O’Sullivan, neatly summing up their two-month season.
“These things come in cycles. We have a good team now. In ten years' time, this team might not be there at all. You’re just going to have to take it as it comes. It is up to everyone else to put in the work to get up to that level.”
The winners struggled to find much semblance of a rhythm in the opening half. But what they did achieve was a scoring return almost each time they took aim at the opposition posts.
Having kicked nine second-half wides in their semi-final, O’Sullivan’s charges were far more efficient here. They split the posts on nine occasions in the first period, registering just two wides. Outside of David Clifford, there were impressive scoring contributions from Evan Cronin, Darragh Roche (mark) and midfielder Ronan Buckley.
Such economy in attack was wholly lacking at the other end of the field. Mid Kerry grafted hard to make life difficult for the favourites, forcing plenty of turnovers in the process, but a final product was sorely lacking.
In most circumstances where East Kerry provide the opposition, a two-point interval deficit — 0-9 to 0-7 — is a satisfactory enough half-time position. Not here, though. Mid Kerry's first-half wide count stood at eight, one of those a Ronan Murphy goal chance. There was another effort which hit the post, a further shot dropped short.
Peter O’Sullivan’s side were made to pay dearly for this wastefulness when East Kerry hammered in two goals in a three-minute spell at the beginning of the second half.
What is there to be said about the first green flag other than it showcased everything that is special about Clifford? Losing Kerry teammate Peter Crowley, he took possession from Dara Moynihan before unleashing a shot with his right from the 20-metre line which lifted the net clean off the ground.
Brother Paudie set up Darragh Roche for their second. At 2-9 to 0-7, it was game over. The goals formed part of an unanswered 2-4 from the winners which swelled their lead to 12 points shortly after the second water break.
Losing manager Peter O’Sullivan didn’t need to be told his side’s poor conversion rate had been a significant factor in deciding the outcome.
“We had said before the game that we needed to take 85% of our chances to be in with a chance. At half-time, we possibly should have been ahead. We came out and missed a free after half-time. There was another chance short and then the goal came. Instead of it being a one-point game, it was a five-point game. The second goal killed us altogether.
“It is a bit of a kick in the stomach to lose the final by as much as we did after putting in such an effort to get to the final.”
Has to be David Clifford’s goal. Opened up a five-point gap when it arrived on 34 minutes and, more pertinently, the wonder score compounded Mid Kerry’s wastefulness up to that point. Totally deflated, the challengers offered nothing for the remainder of proceedings.
East Kerry’s second-half showing, easily their finest half an hour of football in this year’s county championship. As Paul Murphy said afterward, they couldn’t have timed it better. Jerry O’Sullivan’s charges landed 2-5 without reply, while also holding their opponents scoreless for 26 minutes.
Back-to-back county glory for East Kerry, the first division to successfully defend the Bishop Moynihan Cup since South Kerry did three-in-a-row in 2006. And when you consider East Kerry earlier this year won a fifth consecutive county minor title, the division’s dominance doesn’t show signs of abating any time soon.
Mid Kerry will look back with massive regret at their eight first-half wides, as well as the two missed opportunities right before East Kerry’s two-goal burst early in the second period. Two second-half points is a return they'll be most disappointed with.
David Clifford. Kicked 1-4 from play, his goal being of a most audacious nature. He also had a direct hand in two first-half scores finished by teammates, winning a free which Darragh Roche converted and providing the assist for Darragh Moynihan’s opening point.
Mid Kerry handed the David Clifford brief to Mike Breen, but not much joy did the Beaufort defender have. Pa Kilkenny, who was expected to pick up Clifford in the corner, filled Breen’s spot at centre-back, winning his duel with the older of the Clifford brothers.
Bar throwing out a couple of yellow cards in the first-half, including one to David Clifford, Paul Hayes kept himself out of proceedings as much as possible.
A number of players on either side will be on club duty next weekend as the Kerry junior and intermediate county championships draw towards a conclusion.
D Clifford (1-4); D Roche (1-3, 0-1 mark, 0-1 free); E Cronin (0-3, 0-1 mark); R Buckley, D Moynihan (0-2 each); B O’Donoghue (0-1 each).
L Carey (0-6, 0-4 frees); D Roche, C Kennedy (0-1 free), G O’Grady (0-1) each.
East Kerry: S Ryan (Rathmore); N Donohue (Firies), J Sherwood (Firies), C O’Donoghue (Glenflesk); S Cronin (Spa), D O’Donoghue (Spa), P Murphy (Rathmore); M Ryan (Rathmore), R Buckley (Listry); D Moynihan (Spa), P Clifford (Fossa), B O’Keeffe (Rathmore); D Clifford (Fossa), D Roche (Glenflesk), E Cronin (Spa).
M Foley (Spa) for O’Keeffe, D O’Brien (Glenflesk) for M Ryan (both 47 min); B O’Donoghue (Glenflesk) for S Cronin, J O’Donoghue (Glenflesk) for E Cronin (both 56); P Doyle (Gneeveguilla) for Moynihan (58).
S Cahillane (Keel); D Mangan (Laune Rangers), P Wrenn (Milltown-Castlemaine), M Breen (Beaufort); P Crowley (Laune Rangers), P Kilkenny (Glenbeigh-Glencar), J Brosnan (Glenbeigh-Glencar); C McGillycuddy (Glenbeigh-Glencar), R Murphy (Beaufort); D Roche (Milltown-Castlemaine), C Kennedy (Beaufort), F Clifford (Laune Rangers); G O’Grady (Glenbeigh-Glencar), L Carey (Beaufort), D O’Sullivan (Glenbeigh-Glencar).
C Teahan (Glenbeigh-Glencar) for Clifford (40); J O’Connor (Beaufort) for Kennedy (45); C Moriarty (Milltown-Castlemaine) for O’Sullivan, G Horan (Milltown-Castlemaine) for Brosnan (50); S O’Brien (Beaufort) for Roche (52).