Dazzling Darran's deft flick lights up Kingdom
KERRY 1-20 LIMERICK 0-10
ALL-IRELAND SFC QUARTER-FINAL
A predictable outcome benchmarked by probably the most unpredictable moment of the 2011 football championship.
Gaelic footballers only dream of doing things as outrageous and unconventional as Darran O'Sullivan did in the 26th minute of this encounter.
But in the rigid and reticent environment that most teams operate within these days such freedom of expression is rarely, if ever, countenanced.
Jack O'Connor admitted afterwards that it wasn't one that had come straight off the training ground. You don't do what he did and risk the wrath of managers, team-mates and just about everyone else if it doesn't come off.
It was a touch of class, a moment of brilliant improvisation from the one-time QPR triallist that nudged Kerry towards the obvious conclusion of a comfortable win over opponents they now have the measure of even at half tilt.
When Gianfranco Zola got one like it in an FA Cup tie for Chelsea against West Ham nine years ago, it was raved about for weeks afterwards; ditto Lee Sharpe's elegant strike for Manchester United against Barcelona back in the '90s.
This took a similar flight path to both those memorable goals.
Bryan Sheehan, a dynamic presence in the Kerry midfield throughout, weighted his fist pass a little slowly across the goalmouth to the flying O'Sullivan.
With the ball veering behind him, O'Sullivan checked and in mid-flight, with the deftest of back flicks with his right foot, sent the ball spinning between a sequence of Limerick defenders caught totally unaware for a 1-5 to 0-2 lead.
When O'Sullivan departed the action on 31 minutes with a hamstring injury, he had already amassed 1-3 which may well have been 3-2.
Kieran Donaghy had carved an opening for him after only five minutes but he couldn't repeat his Munster final heroics as his shot sailed too high and just before his departure Stephen Lavin bravely blocked a shot that looked destined to beat Brian Scanlon.
Without him the game lacked electricity and was much more pedestrian in his absence.
Kerry were doing little more than going through the motions, using the match to 'blow out the dirty petrol' in the system as their former midfielder Darragh O Se might have said in the past.
In that case, Croke Park's carbon neutral status has been heavily threatened!
The concern for them now is that since the league they really have had only one competitive game to test them -- against Cork in the Munster final.
As much as they will improve from this run-out at Croke Park, they won't arrive back in the place in three weeks' time as battle-hardened as they would like and that has to represent a concern for O'Connor, who again focused on what he feels is a flawed system.
"It is a big worry, what can I say?" said O'Connor of the four-week lay-off that led into this game.
"It is just the scheduling and structure that drives managers mad. You know you want to be playing games every two weeks. It is very hard for the lads mentally to be watching other teams playing games.
"Training sessions per match must be through the roof. I don't know, I haven't figured it out but it must be crazy stuff.
"I haven't got the solution but certainly four and five-week gaps are not good at all, so hopefully down the line there will be a tighter structure.
"The league runs off pretty well, they play games week after week. In 2009, our best performance came after we played five weekends in a row up here in the quarter-final against Dublin, so there is no such thing as burn-out. It's training that burns you out, not matches."
Kerry won this comfortably without the likes of Colm 'Gooch' Cooper and Kieran Donaghy ever firing on all cylinders. The telepathy built up between the two was curiously missing for much of yesterday and the radar-like passing from Gooch was well read at times by Limerick corner-back Tommy Stack.
Darran and Declan O'Sullivan both continued their rich seasonal vein of form while Sheehan was a productive force at midfield, where he had some aerial success too until Limerick got Jim Donovan on the field for the second half.
For Kerry, getting game-time into Tomas O Se and Paul Galvin was important too and O Se in particular showed few ill effects from his lack of exposure to inter-county football over the last 12 months, helping himself to two second-half points and a host of beautifully struck foot passes.
But chinks in the defence were all too apparent with Tom O'Sullivan much too casual in possession and Aidan O'Mahony struggling to deal with the pace of Stephen Kelly.
Eoin Brosnan also showed vulnerability when Kelly and others ran down his channel.
"We'll have a look at the video. Hopefully there'll be room for improvement there. There will need to be," reflected O'Connor.
For Limerick, this defeat will have felt a lot better than the Munster semi-final reversal when they showed little or no resistance. They lost by two more points than they did at the Gaelic Grounds but there were times when they will have felt they weren't too far adrift.
They picked off the first three points of the second half with Kelly posing a serious threat and closed to 1-8 to 0-7 before Kerry kicked on again, with seven of the next eight points giving them a 10-point lead by the 60th minute.
That advantage might have been greater but for Brian Scanlon's excellent save from Declan O'Sullivan's effort two minutes earlier.
The manner of that 11-point Munster defeat in June had seriously challenged the squad and management, Limerick manager Maurice Horan admitted afterwards.
"We were about to completely break apart as a panel after the game against Kerry at the Gaelic Grounds. We had a meeting the following week and it was no holds barred.
"We all talked about whether we wanted to have a lengthy career in inter-county football, be it as management, personnel or players.
"Our last four losses have been to Kerry, Kerry, Cork and Kerry over the last two years so we have to hold our heads up high. We are playing against the very best and we are competing."
Still, Limerick will be disappointed with the returns from Ian Ryan and Ger Collins in their inside-forward line.
For Kerry, the season is opening up for them now, provided their sharpness can return, but O'Connor knows this performance wasn't sufficient.
"The further you go in the championship, the hotter the pace is," he said. "Today won't take it another step."
Scorers -- Kerry: B Sheehan 0-6 (4f, 1 '45), Darran O'Sullivan 1-3, C Cooper 0-3 (2f), Declan O'Sullivan, T O Se 0-2 each, J O'Donoghue, K Donaghy, K Young, A Maher 0-1 each. Limerick: S Kelly 0-4, I Ryan 0-2 (2f), G Collins, S O'Carroll, J Riordan, B Scanlon (f) 0-1 each.
Kerry -- B Kealy 7; K Young 8, M O Se 8, T O'Sullivan 5; T O Se 8, E Brosnan 6, A O'Mahony 6; A Maher 6, B Sheehan 8; P Galvin 6, Declan O'Sullivan 8, D Walsh 5; C Cooper 6, K Donaghy 6, Darran O'Sullivan 8. Subs: K O'Leary 7 for Darran O'Sullivan (32), S Enright 6 for O'Mahony (48), J O'Donoghue for Galvin (62), D Bohan for Brosnan (62), S Scanlon for Sheehan (62).
Limerick -- B Scanlon 8; T Stack 7, S Lucey, J McCarthy 6; S Lavin 7, P Ranahan 6, J Riordan 6; S Buckley 6, S Gallagher 5; S Kelly 8, S O'Carroll 7, J Cooke 5; G Collins 5, I Ryan 5, E O'Connor 5. Subs: M O'Riordan 5 for Lucey (8), J Mullane 5 for Cooke (h-t), J O'Donovan 7 for Gallagher (h-t), B Fitzpatrick for O'Riordan (58), E Hogan for Mullane (62).
Ref -- P McEnaney (Monaghan)