TOMAS O Se's third red card in just 10 months marred Kerry's victory over Laois yesterday.
While this fifth league win in six games guaranteed Kerry top spot in Division 1, O Se's 10th-minute dismissal following an off-the-ball incident with a Laois player really took the shine off this four-point victory in Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney.
Afterwards, Kerry boss Jack O'Connor said: "It's always disappointing to lose people. But I can't comment on the incident because I didn't see it. I was looking away."
Five-time All- Ireland winner O Se was starting his first league game since his dismissal against Armagh last month, and this latest red card means that he is likely to miss Kerry's next two league games, at home to Mayo on April 8 and the semi-final.
The worst possible scenario for the Kingdom could see the Kerry wing-back miss out on the first round of the Munster SFC, if his ban is extended.
But 14-man Kerry battled for over 60 minutes to dig out victory against a Laois side that had turned a four-point half-time deficit (0-11 to 0-7) into a one-point lead (1-11 to 0-13) after 15 minutes of the second half, following a well-worked Colm Begley goal.
On the day he confirmed that Colm Cooper will return to training this week, manager O'Connor summoned his big-name players off the bench in the second half to steady the ship -- the introduction of Marc O Se, Paul Galvin, Kieran Donaghy and Anthony Maher acted as a calming influence, with Kerry responding to Begley's goal by reeling off five points on the trot.
Outscoring Laois 0-7 to 0-2 in the final quarter -- Bryan Sheehan (three), and 0-1 apiece from star man Patrick Curtin, Declan O'Sullivan, Anthony Maher and Aidan O'Mahony -- Kerry were full value for this win. But Laois manager Justin McNulty was left to rue his side's missed chances.
"We let Kerry off the hook. We weren't as clinical as we should have been in front of goal," McNulty said. "We hit 14 wides to their seven wides, hit the post twice and put three short to the 'keeper. We had 251 possessions to their 209. So we dominated the possession and shooting game but didn't win.
"We missed easy scores but Kerry didn't miss any easy scores. We have to learn to be as clinical as Kerry were. It's a learning experience for this team. We created the chances to win the match and used the numerical advantage well. Colm Begley was playing a stormer in that role until he got injured. That had an effect as well," he added.
While all of Kerry's forwards scored from play in the first half, it was the form of newcomer Curtin that most impressed O'Connor.
"Curtin really did himself a lot of favours today with the way he played. He kicked four great scores. It, hopefully, strengthens our hand going into the summer," O'Connor said.
"Even if the league finished now we would be happy enough because a lot of new fellas got exposure in the league.
"It's been a great learning ground for them. That's what the league really is about. It isn't the be-all or end-all to win it."
Kerry now look forward to a home game against Mayo on April 8 ahead of a semi-final, while Laois still have relegation troubles ahead of their final-round game against Down.
Man of the Match: Patrick Curtin (Kerry)
Scorers -- Kerry: B Sheehan 0-6 (5f), P Curtin 0-4, Declan O'Sullivan 0-3 (1f), Darran O'Sullivan 0-2, J Buckley, K O'Leary, B J Keane, A Maher, A O'Mahony 0-1 each. Laois: C Begley 1-1, R Munnelly 0-3 (1f), G Walsh, J O'Loughlin 0-2 each, K Meaney, D Strong, D O'Connor, P O'Leary, P Quigley 0-1 each.
Kerry -- T Mac an tSaoir 6; S Enright 6, A O'Mahony 6, K Young 6; T O Se 4, E Brosnan 6, J Lyne 6; S Scanlon 6, B Sheehan 7; B J Keane 6, Darran O'Sullivan 7, J Buckley 7; K O'Leary 6, Declan O'Sullivan 7, P Curtin 8. Subs: M O Se 7 for S Enright (h-t), A Maher 6 for S Scanlon (43), P Galvin 6 for B J Keane (45); K Donaghy 6 for J Buckley (45), J O'Donoghue 6 for K O'Leary (62).
Laois -- E Culliton 6; C Healy 6, K Lillis 6, P O'Leary 7; K Meaney 7, M Timmons 6, C Boyle 6; B Quigley 6, J O'Loughlin 7; C Begley 7, B Sheehan 6, D Strong 6; D O'Connor 7, G Walsh 7, R Munnelly 7. Subs: P Cahillane 6 for C Boyle (52), P Clancy 6 for B Sheehan (55), J Kavanagh 6 for C Begley (58).
Ref -- M Duffy (Sligo).