Disappointing second half for Kingdom

Munster SFC Semi-Final: Clare 0-12 Kerry 1-15

James O'Donoghue of Kerry in pain during the match between Clare and Kerry
James O'Donoghue of Kerry in pain during the match between Clare and Kerry

Damian Stack, Cusack Park

Context matters, it really does. On its face the Kingdom's victory over their hosts on Saturday evening was nothing at all out of the ordinary. They won comfortably enough. They never looked like being beaten and when they were good they were very, very good indeed.

Why then all the long faces amongst the Kerry faithful walking out of Cusack Park? Because when Kerry weren't good they were actually well below par, showing the same sorts of vulnerabilities and issues that dogged them in the league final at the end of March.

Midfield in trouble. Physically not quite at the races against a supremely well conditioned side. Increasingly unsure of what they were about the longer the game wore on, as their structure and game plan seemed to melt in the summer showers.

Probably too the pattern of the game played into this, the script flipped from the Kingdom's previous sojourns across the mighty Shannon. In previous visits to the Banner, Clare had started well, Clare had pressed Kerry early and opened out a lead or at least remained competitive into the final quarter.

It was then and only then that the Kingdom clicked into gear, pulling away for a comfortable finish. This time around it was Kerry who faded in the final quarter, outscored eight points to two over the final forty minutes (including a ten minute plus break in play for the serious injuries to Kevin Harnett and Seán O'Shea).

That's the thing which tends to stay in the mind, that's the thing which led to those long faces. It was all so different after the first half. At the break the Kerry support was positively purring after seeing their side play some beautifully intricate football.

After fifteen minutes - without ever hitting the heights - Kerry were three clear against a Banner side struggling to put scores on the board, despite creating ample opportunities.

Still though with Kerry beginning to ramp it up - creating two goal-scoring chances, one for Stephen O'Brien blocked on the line by Conall Ó hAinféin and one for Paul Geaney saved by Gordon Kelly - it had all the hallmarks of being a difficult night at the offices for the hosts.

It took Clare seventeen minutes to get their opening score - a pointed free from David Tubridy - but it didn't really change their fortunes as Kerry pushed on, despite losing David Moran to a black card for a body check on Cian O'Dea sixteen minutes in.

After thirty one minutes Kerry were seven clear and the lines of running and the movement in the Kerry front six was really impressive. The developing partnership between James O'Donoghue and David Clifford was probably the most encouraging part of it all.

On thirty one minutes O'Donoghue played a beautiful ball to Clifford for the eighth point and then two minutes later - with an Eoin Cleary point for Clare in between - Clifford repaid the favour for O'Donoghue for a brilliantly executed goal.

O'Donoghue's finish, low and hard to the keeper's left, was classic O'Donoghue. His improvisational pull on a loose ball for a point four minutes later (after a Clifford effort on goal was saved by O'Dea) equally so.

Little wonder the Kerry crowd were enthused as their side went in at the break nine points clear - 1-9 to 0-3 - and when Kerry started the second half with another couple of points, both from the boot of Seán O'Shea, both from placed balls, it was hard to imagine a way back into the game from the Banner.

That Kerry were able to expand their lead further by the forty ninth minute to twelve following a lovely point by Adrian Spillane - 1-13 to 0-4 - probably had an effect on what was to follow.

Perhaps Kerry took their foot off the gas thereafter, safe in the knowledge that they had the game won. Such an approach would be anathema to Peter Keane though and with places there to be won (and lost) one would have expected more from the Kingdom.

Inasmuch as we can question Kerry, we have to credit Clare. They were really good from there to the end, outscoring Kerry as we've said eight points to two with Gary Brennan thundering into the game in a major way.

The Clondegad man had played on the half-forward line in the first half, but moved more centrally for the second and took the game over, driving his side forward with intent and no little anger.

Clare were playing like men who knew they hadn't performed up to scratch for much of the match - the ball they played into the full-forward line in the first half was dreadful, long and high, backs ball all day long - and played like men who were determined to put that right, running directly and forcefully at their guests.

The dismissal of Kerry midfielder Mark Griffin on a second yellow card after fifty five minutes didn't help Kerry's cause, of course, nor did O'Donoghue's departure through injury, but the game had begun to slip from Kerry's grasp before then.

The Banner had whittled Kerry's lead down to seven - 1-14 to 0-10 - before the lengthy break in play for the injuries to O'Shea and Harnett and maintained their dominance, outscoring Kerry two points to one after play resumed and before the full-time whistle.

An underwhelming end to a game in which Kerry at times showed real promise. A six point victory in Ennis is probably par for the course, but a cursory glance at the scoreboard doesn't tell nearly the full story.

Kerry have work to do.

Clare: Stephen Ryan, Gordon Kelly, Cillian Brennan, Kevin Harnett, Seán Collins, Aaron Fitzgerald, Conall Ó hAiniféin, Seán O'Donoghue, Cathal O'Connor (0-1), Eoin Cleary (0-5, 3f), Gary Brennan, Jamie Malone (0-3), Cian O'Dea, David Tubridy (0-3, 1f), Darragh Bohannon Subs: Gavin Cooney for D Bohannon, half-time, Kieran Malone for S O'Donoghue, 48, Eoghan Collins for S Collins, 52, Cormac Murray for C Brennan, 60, Alan Sweeney for K Harnett (inj), 79. Black card: Dean Ryan for C Ó hAinféin, 41

Kerry: Shane Ryan, Jason Foley (0-1), Tadhg Morley, Tom O'Sullivan, Gavin Crowley, Jack Sherwood, Shane Enright, David Moran (0-1), Adrian Spillane (0-1), Diarmuid O'Connor (0-1), Seán O'Shea (0-5f), Stephen O'Brien, David Clifford (0-3, 1f), Paul Geaney (0-1), James O'Donoghue (1-1) Subs: Gavin White for J Sherwood, half-time, Micheál Burns (0-1) for S O'Brien, 45, Robert Wharton for G Crowley, 49, Tommy Walsh for J O'Donoghue (inj), 52, Jonathan Lyne for S O'Shea (inj), 71 Black card: Mark Griffin for D Moran, 17, Tommy Walsh not replaced, 85

Referee: James Molloy (Galway)


The game in 60 seconds

Main man

In the running from Kerry were probably Jason Foley, Tadhg Morley, Diarmuid O'Connor and an excellent James O'Donoghue, but we have to give it to Gary Brennan who again showed that he's in the top ranks of inter-county footballers. A class act, he's rarely looked as effective as he did on the weekend.

Talking Point

How unlucky is James O'Donoghue? The poor guy just can't buy a break. Just as he's showing the best form he's shown in a couple of seasons what happens? He gets injured. Everybody with a love of the game must hope it's only a relatively minor set-back to the Legion man.

Key moment

It has to be James O'Donoghue's goal - following the exquiste pass by David Clifford - to a large extent it killed off the game, although you could argue that the size of Kerry's half-time lead led to the complacency which allowed the Banner to battle back into the game.