THIS was the day the Stacks laid down a marker.
Slighted, accused of bully-boy tactics, they went out and showed what they're all about – quality football. They didn't rise to the bait, they sailed above it with crisp passing, top notch shooting and a forceful display of physical prowess. Strong in the tackle, aggressive, ready to mix it and all within the rules and the sprit of the game.
It was the best possible riposte to those words spoken by Martin Horgan, the St Kierans manager, last week. What Horgan said he said with feeling, with genuine conviction. He believed what he said. Let nobody doubt that. What he hoped to gain by saying it, however, is anybody's guess.
To influence the referee? Possibly. On the outside looking in it was hard to discern what the upside was for him and his players. All it was ever going to do was to provide a rallying point for the Rock management and players.
St Kierans looked flat right from the get go, Stacks looked anything but. The Tralee men grabbed hold of this game early on and never let go. Sure Kierans made a bit of a recovery in the second half, but by then Stacks were easing up. It wouldn't be wise to read too much into a recovery that only began once Kierans were 2-10 to 0-4 in arrears.
From the moment Greg Horan slotted over the game's first point within forty seconds of the throw-in, from the moment Shane Carroll sent the ball to the back of Seán Óg Ó Ciardubháin's net less than a minute later, there was only going to be one winner.
Austin Stacks played some fantastic football in that first half. Pa McCarthy and Denis McElligott were driving forces for them on the half-back line. Kieran Donaghy knitted the whole thing up nicely from the centre of the park. Up front Horan and Mikey Collins proved a real handful for Matthew Galvin and James Walsh down the flanks.
The Kierans full-back line was in real bother right from those early exchanges. Carroll had Padraig Reidy at sixes and sevens. The former inter-county man clearly isn't suited to the number three shirt and Stacks showed no mercy in exploiting that weakness.
Darragh Long was another man to flourish. He finished the day with 1-3 from play in brackets after his name. A ball winner, his accuracy and willingness to shoot served him well. Some of the Stacks movement was joyous.
For Long's goal – with about seven minutes remaining until half-time – Pa McCarthy burst forward, linked with Donaghy who later found Long. Long did what needed to be done.
Kierans were shipping a hell of a lot of water.
By half-time they trailed by eight points – 2-6 to 0-4. Ten minutes into the second half they trailed by twelve – further points from Long, Carroll and Donaghy extended the Rock's lead. Game over. It was only natural that Stacks would lose a certain amount of the intensity they'd shown up then.
The combination outfit were helped back into the game by a questionable enough penalty call by referee Paul O'Sullivan. John Buckley was in possession and making a dash for goal, he appeared to be charging and, yet, the call came for the penalty. Edmond Walsh made no mistake.
It seemed to breathe a bit more life into Kierans. Eamon John O'Donoghue followed up Walsh's penalty with a point. They'd go on to outscore Stacks five two over the rest of the game. Stacks were never in any real danger.
That's why it must have been so disappointing for the Stacks faithful to see TJ Hogan sent off on a straight red card for (what must have been quite forceful) dissent. He'll now miss this weekend's semi-final with Feale Rangers.
It's a game they're expected to win, even without Hogan; the thing is you just never know do you?
Maybe Hogan, from the bench, could have proved the difference. It's the only blot on the Rock's copybook – otherwise they were magnificent – and one they must hope won't come back to haunt them.
Austin Stacks: Darragh O'Brien, Ferghal MacNamara, Daniel Bohan, John Dennis, Pa McCarthy (0-1), Denis McElligott, Ronan Shanahan, Barry Shanahan, Kieran Donaghy (0-1), Greg Horan (0-1), Paul O'Donoghue, Mikey Collins (0-1), Darragh Long (1-3), Shane Carroll (1-5, 2f), Shane Callaghan Subs: Darragh O'Brien for Long, TJ Hogan for Collins, David Mannix for Callaghan, William Kirby for O'Donoghue
St Kierans: Sean Óg Ó Ciardubháin (Cordal), Eamon Kiely (Brosna), Padraig Reidy (Scartaglin), Dan O'Sullivan (Currow), James Walsh (0-1f) (Knocknagoshel), Flor McAuliffe (Brosna), Matthew Galvin (Ballymacelligott), Seamus Scanlon (0-1) (Currow), Aidan Breen (Ballymac), Mike Finnegan (Brosna), Edmond Walsh (1-6, 1-0 pen, 4f, 1 '45) (Knocknagoshel), Maurice Hickey (Castleisland Desmonds), Thomas Hickey (Castleisland Desmonds), Eamon John O'Donoghue (0-2) (Cordal), John Buckley (Currow) Subs: Eoin Murphy (Castleisland Desmonds) for Galvin, Barry Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds) for Finnegan, Shane O'Connor (Castleisland Desmonds) for O'Sullivan, Shane Curtin (Brosna) for Buckley
Referee: Paul O'Sullivan (Dromid Pearses)