'One off' David Clifford sprinkles the spring stardust, but what of Galway?

As emphatic as this opening day statement was from Kerry, as conclusive as the evidence provided by Clifford of his extraordinary powers was, the takeaway from Tralee was the abysmal showing from Galway, whom many would place in a putative list of the top three teams in the country
'One off' David Clifford sprinkles the spring stardust, but what of Galway?

MAGNETIC: Kerry's David Clifford collects a pass ahead of Galway's Sean Mulkerrin during Saturday's Allianz Football League game at Austin Stack Park. Clifford hit 3-6 in the Kingdom's first outing of 2021. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It was an Old Trafford in 1964 that a young reporter, pre-occupied with the minutiae of a George Best wonder goal, asked his press box colleagues for the time of the goal.

‘Never mind the time, son’, ‘just write down the date’.

David Clifford is accumulating his own collections of celestial Gaelic football classics, adding to the canon on Saturday with a drag back and finish that sent one Galway defender sliding out of the ground and into the nearby Horan Centre car park.

Five minutes of the second half had elapsed - not that many were recording the time at that stage; Clifford’s third goal made it 4-12 to 0-6 but this Allianz League Division One South opener was done and dusted in the opening 20 minutes.

As emphatic as this 4-21 to 0-11 opening day statement was from Kerry, as conclusive as the evidence provided by Clifford of his extraordinary powers was, the takeaway from Tralee was the abysmal showing from Galway, whom many would place in a putative list of the top three teams in the country.

The Padraic Joyce project has hardly hit the buffers, but given how last season tailed off after a bright spring, next weekend’s derby against Roscommon has quickly become a must-win game, not just to avoid relegation but to put down a marker ahead of the knockout Championship game between the two counties in July.

Joyce was as non-plussed as everyone by Saturday’s 22-point capitulation. “We never got to the pitch of the game, it’s a Division One game, you are playing good teams and if you don’t get to the level, you are going to get beatings like that.

“It’s the second good clipping we’ve got in the last three or four games so we need to go back and see what we are at. Let’s see now where the characters are in the group.”

Kerry have taken plenty of heat since being mugged by Cork in their last game, so recognition of their performance is noteworthy. They looked to have tweaked the high press, using the athleticism of their wing backs to push on while the two midfielders mind the back door. They set traps on opposition restarts which they force wide as often as possible. Kerry were brisk and businesslike from the get-go and in the final third, they had an extra metre in the legs and a second upstairs on their visitors.

Consider too that Stephen O’Brien, Tony Brosnan, James O’Donoghue and Daithi Shaw have yet to stake their claim in that attack.

It was a special day for David Clifford in more ways than scoring, with his brother making a first start for the Kerry seniors and his first cousin, Paul O’Shea, introduced for his competitive debut and adding a point. 4-9 to take home to Fossa and Kilcummin, 3-6 of it for the Special One.

Clifford showed last November he has mortal moments – he is only 22 after all - but they were non-existent on Saturday. Three goals from play, four points from play, and two frees. Does that constitute the perfect GAA hat-trick? He declared on 50 minutes, Peter Keane parking his Mercedes Benz early.

Added Joyce: “Fantastic player, he’s a one off. And he also worked really hard for the team. They all did.” 

Knocking out 4-21 against a team they were fortunate to beat in Tralee just over a year ago was an encouraging affirmation for Peter Keane’s management that their protracted pre-season was time well spent.

However the manager didn’t pay “a blind bit of notice” to the final scoreline. “The key thing was to try and get out injury free. Three games in as many weekends is a big ask,” he said

“Some of our lads worked hard in lockdown, they’ve got fitter and stronger. There’s been huge expectation that Kerry are coming, but we’re a very young team who haven’t had much experience. A lot of pressure put on their shoulders.”

Exemplified by the Cliffords, Killian Spillane and Dara Moynihan, they were like spring lambs in the first half, feisty and energetic. “They hadn’t played football for five months”, Keane said, “and that’s what we do down here, play football. This is a county that is mad about football.”

Kerry opened up a 2-10 to 0-6 chasm by half time, with 2-9 of that total coming from their inside line of Spillane and the two Cliffords. Debutant Kenmare keeper Kieran Fitzgibbon – a late call-up after Shane Ryan picked up a knock Thursday – was a virtual spectator as David Clifford completed his hat-trick in the opening five minutes of the second half.

“Rotation is going to be key over the next couple of weeks”, said Keane. “It’s not like we are going to be eyeballs out for Dublin next Sunday. We are not looking at it as a preparation to face the All-Ireland champions.”

Nevertheless, facing Dessie Farrell’s side will provide a more reliable barometer of where Kerry are at this early stage of a compressed season. That is important. With a shortened league, and critically, a knockout championship, getting form, consistency and periodisation right is going to be a fundamental part of the campaign for the contenders.

Kerry supporters have waited more than a while for Paudie Clifford to join his illustrious brother in a starting line up for the county, untimely injuries being the spoiler. But the 25-year-old showed his spiky worth with a busy opening half in which he goaled once and could have had two more. The Fossa man has that edge to his game and was booked again in the second half, a trait that Kerry management need to keep an eye on.

Mercifully, in most respects, Kerry also fluffed other clear goal chances, but Tommy Walsh’s introduction provided an alternative focal point and route to scores. Sean O’Shea, meanwhile, ended with seven points from the full suite of placed balls.

Joyce saw the warning signs early, shuffling the pack as early as the 25th minute with Johnny Heaney and returning midfielder Peter Cooke making way as he threw in Ronan Steede and Cathal Sweeney. Dylan McHugh had a reasonable debut and Marty Tierney was the pick of the attack, such as it was. Moycullen’s Sean Kelly is likely to get a start against the Rossies, but there were plenty of other sheepish lads leaving Kerry on Saturday who need to get on their bike.

Scorers for Kerry: D Clifford (3-6, 1 free, 1 mark), S O’Shea (0-7, 3 frees, 2 marks, 2 45s), P Clifford (1-2), K Spillane (0-4), P. O’Shea (0-1), T Walsh (0-1, mark)

Scorers for Galway: P Conroy (0-2), S Walsh (0-2, one free), D Comer (0-2), M Tierney, D Connelly, S Kelly, K Molloy, R Finnerty (free) (0-1 each)

KERRY: K Fitzgibbon; B O Beaglaoich, T Morley, J Foley; P Murphy, G Crowley, G White; D Moran, J Barry; P Clifford, S O’Shea, D Moynihan; D Clifford, K Spillane, P Geaney.

Subs: P O’Shea for Geaney (41); D O’Connor for Moran (41); T Walsh for D Clifford (50); A Spillane for O Beaglaoich (55), G O’Sullivan for White (55), M Burns for Moynihan (61); M Breen for Murphy (65).

GALWAY: B Power; J Glynn, S Mulkerrin, L Silke; G O’Donnell, D McHugh, J Heaney; P Cooke, P. Conroy; P Kelly, M Tierney, E. Brannigan; D Conneely, D Comer, S Walsh.

Subs: C Sweeney for Heaney (25); R Steede for Cooke (25); S Kelly for O’Donnell (half time), R Finnerty for Kelly (half time), F O Laoi for Conroy (49), T Culhane for Connelly (57), K Molloy for Brannigan (59).

Referee: C Lane (Cork).

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