Banner give Kerry the test they need in season opener
Munster Under 21 FC Quarter-final: Kerry 1-17 Clare 2-8
It's not surely the role they envisaged for themselves or, indeed, wanted when they rocked up to Stack Park last Wednesday evening, nevertheless it's one they played to a tee.
Clare were the perfect foil for Kerry on this occasion. Good enough to cause problems, to ask questions, to probe and press, to evoke a response, but not quite good enough to seal the deal.
No shame in that, this is an exceptionally good Kerry team. To do as well as they did speaks really well of this Clare team. They carried a real punch as two goals at crucial moments would prove.
The second of those seemed to suggest, momentarily at least, that Kerry could be vulnerable. Instead Jack O'Connor's side bounced back strongly, showing a grit and a determination that will stand them in good stead as this championship progresses.
Clare too were possessed of that kind of stuff. If they weren't they would have sank without a trace early in the match when the Kingdom opened out a five points to one advantage after just twelve minutes.
Seán O'Shea with two of those points, was the star of the show for Kerry early doors. Bit by bit, however, Clare fought their way back into the game.
A goal chance by Éimhin Courtney - pulled wide - on thirteen minutes was the first real sign that they could get at this Kerry defence.
Two minutes later Aidan Davidson pointed sweetly and two minutes after that again Kealan Sexton fed Conor Finucane for a point (a goal again was on). Still Kerry were moving nicely. Tom O'Sullivan did as Tom O'Sullivan does and popped up for a well-taken score. O'Shea pointed another free for the hosts.
Then Conall Ó hAinféin, a man with strong west Kerry connections, went on a blistering run down the heart of the Kerry defence before planting brilliantly past Shane Ryan in the Kerry goal. All of a sudden it was a one point game again - 0-7 to 1-3.
Kerry's response to this set-back was pretty emphatic. Matthew Flaherty, excellent through-out, pointed pretty much straight away and then Dingle's Cathal Bambury set up full-forward Matthew O'Sullivan for a goal of real quality. Crisis? What crisis?
Clare finished the half strongly with points from Ó hAinféin and Finucane (a free) to make it 1-8 to 1-5 at the break and shortly after the break the Banner closed back to within two with another Finucane free.
If it was a challenge to Kerry it's one they met head on with points from O'Shea (another free) and second half sub Killian Spillane (on for O'Sullivan who picked up a knock in the first half).
With a four point lead Kerry were relatively comfortable. Defensively they seemed a little more solid too, with plenty numbers back shoring up the half-back line.
Appearances can be deceiving, however.
One dink ball was all it took to catch Kerry flat-footed and all of a sudden both Courtney and Oisín Hanrahan were bearing down on goal. A pass from Hanrahan to Courtney later and for the second time Ryan was picking the ball out from the back of his net - 1-10 to 2-6 and all to play for.
To their great credit Kerry weren't rattled by this. They took it in their stride and calmly and coolly began to re-establish their advantage. Points for Spillane and the excellent Flaherty followed before Sexton got Clare back on the board.
Clare did seem to have an outside chance of another goal when Finucane broke free on forty five minutes, but aside from that they seemed becalmed and Kerry buoyed.
Points from Bambury and Flaherty followed as Kerry proceeded to out-score the Banner five points to one over the final quarter of an hour of the game.
No question the better team won, no question either other than that Clare made the Kingdom work for it. It's of small consolation to the Banner, but Kerry will be grateful to them for that.
Kerry: Shane Ryan (Rathmore), Tom Leo O'Sullivan (Dingle), Jason Foley (Ballydonoghue), Tom O'Sullivan (0-1) (Dingle), Brian Sugrue (Renard), Andrew Barry (Na Gaeil), Daniel O'Brien (Glenflesk), Barry O'Sullivan (Dingle), Brian Ó Seanacháin (Ballydonoghue), Brandon Barrett (Ardfert), Seán O'Shea (0-4, 2f) (Kenmare), Matthew Flaherty (0-3) (Dingle), Conor Geaney (0-2, 1f) (Dingle), Matthew O'Sullivan (1-1) (St Michaels / Foilmore), Cathal Bambury (0-2) (Dingle) Subs: Killian Spillane (0-3) (Templenoe) for M O'Sullivan, 34, Jack Morgan (Austin Stacks) for D O'Brien, 41, Cormac Coffey (Kerins O'Rahillys) for B Sugure, 52, Lee O'Donoghue (0-1) (Glenflesk) for C Geaney, 54, Roibeard Ó Sé (An Ghaeltacht) for B O'Sullivan, 59, Ivan Parker (Churchill) for C Bambury 60
Clare: Killian Roche, Einne O'Connor, Darren Nagle, Colm Pyne, Conall Ó hAinféin (1-1), Rory McMahon, Cillian Brennan, Darragh Bohannon, Cian O'Dea, Aidan Davidson (0-1), Kealan Sexton (0-1f), David Egan, Éimhin Courtney (1-0), Alan Sweeney, Conor Finucane (0-5, 4f) Subs: Rowan Danagher for E O'Connor, half-time, Oisín Hanrahan for D Egan, 36, Jonah Culligan for C Pyne, 40, Sean O'Donoghue for D Bohannan, 41, Cathal Downes for A Sweeney, 49, D Foran for A Davidson, 52
Referee: Alan Kissane (Waterford)
The game in 60 seconds
Seán O'Shea was a beacon for Kerry in the first half and Killian Spillane did really well upon his introduction, but in the end we have to go with Matthew Flaherty who was impressive throughout and exceptionally good in the second half.
The Under 21 championship is a preposterously short competition for a county like Clare. This was a really good Clare side who deserved more than a single game to test themselves and improve. A round-robin would make much more sense.
Killian Spillane's point in response to Éimhin Courtney's second half goal for the Banner. It was a statement that Kerry weren't going to be unduly rattled by Clare's hard charge.