It's about looking forward now, not back

With Clare brushed aside with minimum effort, Paul Brennan says the Kerry's focus immediately turns to a Munster Final against Cork which shouldn't be as easy as people might think

Kerry captain Shane Murphy leads his team out for the match against Clare during the Munster GAA Football Senior Championship semi-final match between Kerry and Clare at Fitzgerald Stadium. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Kerry captain Shane Murphy leads his team out for the match against Clare during the Munster GAA Football Senior Championship semi-final match between Kerry and Clare at Fitzgerald Stadium. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

In the days and weeks leading into last Sunday's match the Kerry defence and defenders have commanded - demanded - much more talk and examination than the forward unit. That's not to say the chattering classes hadn't been, well, chattering in anticipation of what David Clifford and Seán O'Shea might produce on the senior Championship debuts. Not to mention the cautious excitement at the probable return to action of James O'Donoghue after the Legion man was seen for just seven minutes since the start of the year. But it was the defence - the personnel and the structure - that was exercising most people's minds in the run up to last weekend.

What came to pass, then, has shifted the focus totally onto the front foot, as it were, with the cohesion and movement and accuracy of the forwards the major takeaway from Killarney. Thirty-two points (23 from play) is fine kicking by any metric, and even if one factors in how poor the Clare resistance was, it still stands out - and will remain so - as a shining example of exemplary point scoring that was metronomic in its regularity over the 70 or so minutes.

It's hard to say just how much of Sunday's result was down to Kerry being very good in what they did and how much Clare's system failure contributed to such a miss-match, but the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Kerry looked so good because there was so little pressure put on them by Clare, but Clare were so bad because Kerry's pace and clever running and commendable attitude from the first whistle made them so.

Needless to say, Kerry won't have it so easy again for the rest of the summer, but who's to say that any defence - and we include Dublin in that - will be able to live with Burns, O'Shea, O'Brien, Clifford, Geaney and O'Donoghue if they can keep their form and health in tact through the rest of June and into July and August?

That's what has everyone looking forward now, not back, with the Munster Final two weeks from next Saturday becoming even more anticipated than before last weekend. Cork's comfortable win over Tipperary in their semi-final had aroused some interest in the Kingdom, where is was fully expected that Clare would be successfully negotiated one way or the other. Now it's set up for what could be a hugely pivotal game in the Championship, aside from the provincial title on offer.

The Rebels didn't exactly pull up any trees throughout a very indifferent Division 2 campaign in the League (remember, Tipperary and Clare beat them in the spring) and they have yet to win a game in the redeveloped Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The city stadium has never been the Championship fortress to the Cork footballers that Fitzgerald Stadium is to Kerry - indeed, the counties' last meeting on Leeside ended with a 0-24 to 0-12 Kerry win in the 2014 Munster Final.

Quite what Cork manager Ronan McCarthy will have made of the Kerry attack last Sunday - and what he can and will do to curtail it - is one of the more fascinating aspects ahead of what will be a unique Saturday evening Munster Final on June 23.

His counterpart Eamonn Fitzmaurice will appreciate more than most that no matter how much Cork football appears to have slipped down from the top tier in recent years that there will still be a cranky kick in the Rebels when it comes to playing Kerry. And whatever about Kerry's dominance in the Munster Minor Championship over the last five years, Clifford, O'Shea, Burns et al will still appreciate how much effort it took to beat Cork in those Championships.

Whatever small concern was there among Kerry supporters after Cork's semi-final result, that has surely been erased by last Sunday's demolition of Clare, but that will play perfectly into Cork's hands now. Everyone is talking about Kerry and how they have a forward unit that looks well capable of taking on Dublin and challenging for All-Ireland honours. There will be little talk of Cork derailing Kerry's six-in-a-row bid in Munster, which, of course, sets McCarthy's men up for the perfect ambush. It goes without saying that Fitzmaurice's main work over the next 16 days will be to cool the inevitable excitement that will be bubbling around the camp this week, especially among those seven debutants, who are fully entitled to feel pleased with themselves.

Better that Kerry train this week and next with the confidence that comes from a win like last Sunday's than had they huffed and puffed to see off Clare, but the goal remains the same: win Munster and go directly to the Super 8s as provincial champions.

Monaghan's shock defeat to Fermanagh in Ulster last weekend throws another strong team into the Qualifiers, and while that result obviously diminishes Monaghan's stock as a real contender this year, no one will want to be taking on the Farney men in a win or bust Qualifier on July 7 or 8.

That's a hypothetical for another day, but for now all Kerry can do is head back to the cover of Currans and start hatching plans for the Munster Final. To that end the management, like the rest of us, can be excited about what they saw last Sunday but they, unlike the rest of us, will see and learn a whole lot more over the next two and a half weeks.

"Obviously we're privy to what's going on in training and the training form has been very good for the last two, two and-a-half weeks in particular, and I think every player brought their training form to Killarney today and it was great to see," Fitzmaurice said on Sunday.

"Usually the training form doesn't lie. It's something we've been very loyal to over the last couple of years and I think we saw it again today. All of those lads while they didn't play much league football they've been playing very well the last couple of weeks and I think they showed it again today.

"You'd be hoping that the games we're having in training, that those would be as competitive or as close to inter-county game as you can get, but in terms of actually playing against another team, no they wouldn't have, but they'd be very familiar with each other. A lot of them would have played a good bit of league football and we play a lot of football in training, they get plenty of chances to play together."

Take it then that things will get fairly hot and heavy in Currans this week and at the final inter-squad match in the Stadium, probably seven days before they play Cork.

Assuming everyone's fit for action and that no one's form suffers in the next fortnight, it could be taken that the same team will start on June 23 - but there's an equal chance that the management will want to throw some curve ball at Cork and put a stick in the spokes of the Rebels pre-planned match-ups working off last Sunday.

Come what may on Munster Final day, Kerry are up and running now and there isn't much not to be excited about so far. Of course, that ropey defence wasn't really tested at all by Clare and it'll be a surprise - a disappointment even - if Collins, O'Neill, Connolly and Kerrigan don't ask some tough questions of Foley, Shanahan and Gavin White.

But Sunday was about Kerry's forwards and it's all about looking forward now, not back.