Almost 12 months on from the night of one of Kerry’s lowest moments in the Munster MFC, the Kingdom survived a late onslaught from Clare at Cusack Park, Ennis last evening to book their place in this year’s final.
Last year Kerry surrendered an 11-point lead in the provincial semi-final against Tipperary before losing out but Mickey Ned O’Sullivan’s current young guns were full value for this win that has set-up a Munster decider against the Premier — a team that already beat the Kingdom this season.
But O’Sullivan is more bullish ahead of the rematch: “We know that Tipp were probably 10 points the better team when we met them last but we are looking forward to another crack. We are a better team now, we are playing a better brand of football and the lads are getting more confident.
“There is more to come from this team. They play a beautiful brand of football. We just decided to stand back and let them play instead of telling them how to play. We were holding them back I felt.”
Leading 0-10 to 2-3 at half time, Kerry bossed the second period as Clare struggled, notching just 1-1. But Conor Cleary’s second goal — rifling home a 59th minute free — set-up a cracking finale, dragging them to within a point, 0-14 to 3-4.
Kerry didn’t panic though, instead they used the ball intelligently and worked scores from the excellent centre-back Ronan Murphy, and subs Sean Moloney and Niall Sheehy to guarantee a victory they deserved.
Trailing 0-2 to 0-1 after the early exchanges, it was Clare that made the first serious move of the game just five minutes in when full-forward Eoin Cleary was dragged down in the square after a surging run. His twin brother Conor was clinical with his penalty, passing the ball into the top right corner to send Clare 1-1 to 0-2 ahead.
And by the time their second goal arrived midway through the half, Kerry had outscored the home side 0-4 to 0-1 — to move 0-6 to 1-2 ahead.
With the Kerry full-back line looking very fragile early on, the excellent Clare skipper Jamie Malone took full advantage, driving past three Kerry backs before slipping home an excellent solo goal, as Clare hit the front again (2-2 to 0-6).
But as the half wore on Kerry settled with Cillian Fitzgerald (2), Gavin O’Shea and Conor Keane giving them a 0-10 to 2-3 ahead at the break.
A Darragh Carmody brace for Kerry was sandwiched by a Brian Crowley point and the visitors led 0-13 to 2-4, with 10 minutes left.
In a thrilling finale, Kerry held their nerve to book their final spot against a county that has held the upper-hand over them as this level in recent years.
Scorers for Kerry: J Savage (3f) 0-5, C Fitzgerald 0-3, C Keane, D Carmody 0-2 each, G O’Shea, B Crowley, R Murphy, S Moloney, N Sheehy 0-1 each.
Scorers for Clare: C Cleary (1-0 pen, 1-1f) 2-1, J Malone 1-2, E Cleary 0-1f.
KERRY: G Curran; C Ó Luing, G Crowley, S O’Connor; B Crowley, R Murphy, G Horan; K Murphy, E Ó Conchúir; G O’Shea, J Savage, C Fitzgerald; D Carmody, D Daly, C Keane.
Subs: S Moloney for D Daly (ht); N Sheehy for J Savage (60); G O’Sullivan for C Fitzgerald (60).
CLARE: L Corbett; S Garry, F Pyne, J Brown; E Clancy, C Murray, C McNelis; J Malone, E Hanrahan; S Corry, N Deasy, K Malone; B Lynch, E Cleary, C Cleary.
Subs: S McGuire for F Pyne (ht); M O’Leary for K Malone (ht); J Downes for N Deasy (37); E Courtney for E Hanrahan (44); M Bohannon for C McNelis (50).
Referee: Richard Moloney (Limerick).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved