THIS is a game, one would imagine, that Kerry should be winning.
Coming off the back of two games against the old enemy they should be in fine fettle. The fact that both games – more so the second than the first – showed up flaws in the Kingdom's game, flaws in their system of play, is a positive, not a negative. Kerry will be stronger for it.
Clare were stronger for having played and been defeated by Tipperary in their quarter-final. They learned from that defeat – on a scoreline of 1-10 to 0-8 in Cusack Park – and applied those lessons in their victory over Limerick in Ennis last Sunday, when they ran out 1-12 to 0-9 winners. Reports from the Banner county suggest that they were sluggish in that first game, anything but against Limerick.
They attacked the game with vim and vigor and with full-forward Barry Keating in fine form took the game to their neighbours. Keating, who scored 1-6, 1-1 from play, will have to be watched closely by Cathal Ó Luing. Keating is a man more than capable of plucking the ball from the sky and making life miserable for his marker. Clare's midfield is said to be impressive too with Eoin Hanrahan and Dara Walsh (scorer of 0-1 against the Treaty) in fine form at the moment. Full-back Jack O'Dea and centre-back James Woods are others to look out for.
The Banner men have something of an inside track on Kerry football with former Lispole footballer Donal Ó hAiniféin as one of the teams selectors – incidentally his son Conal is a talented wing-forward on the team. Nevertheless anything other than a victory for Kerry would be a surprise.
Despite the defeat they did make some real progress from the drawn game in last Friday evening's replay. Particularly at midfield where manager Mickey Ned O'Sullivan introduced Ardfert's Kevin Shanahan (pictured below) (who also took the captain's armband).
"We won nine out of twelve of our own kick-outs in the first half," O'Sullivan said after the game.
"Whereas last week we won one in three of the kick-outs and one in three of the breaking balls, we reversed that tonight, but at the same time the sheer physicallity beat us."
Another innovation, although, perhaps, not a successful one just yet was the positioning of Conor Jordan as a sweeper. Nevertheless it's a tactic we're sure to see employed once more against Clare this Saturday afternoon.
"Well basicially that is to close down space and hopefully that we create space inside for our lads, but obviously we weren't winning the ball inside and that was it, it didn't work," O'Sullivan confirmed.
It didn't really stem the tide at the back and, as O'Sullivan suggests, it did upset the balance in the forwards. Still given the way football is going, even at underage level, Kerry do need to look at ways of strengthening their defence, espeically having coughed up three goals on their home turf. The forwards will have to find their equilibrium.
Perhaps, the biggest worry for Kerry is not complacency, rather it's their morale after last week's defeat. Clare will be bouyed by their victory. Kerry dishearted. Mickey Ned doubts it'll be a problem.
"Don't worry this team won't go down," he said definantly.