Work to be done after a modest start
Damian Stack reflects on last week’s performance against the Banner and takes a look ahead to tonight’s clash with the Deise
Most likely it's the goal that people will remember. The pass from Cathal Bambury, the venomous strike. Impressive as all that was - and it was impressive - the point he kicked almost twenty minutes earlier was even more spectacular and even more instructive.
He took the ball from Matthew Flaherty, he turned and he shot. It was high and curling and, even though just for a moment there was a fear it might edge wide, in the end it was perfectly judged.
In a team of players weighed down with All Ireland medals, players like him, players without an All Ireland minor medals in their back pockets are rarities. You'd wonder if that might weigh negatively on a player, wonder if a slight inferiority complex might hold him back.
With that point Matthew O'Sullivan announced his arrival as an equal to those with one or two All Ireland titles to their name. That was then and this is now. It showed that the Ballyfoilmore man is in no way burdened by an inferiority complex.
At most he might have a chip on his shoulder and that works very much to his and Kerry's advantage. A Kerry footballer with a point to prove is a very dangerous animal indeed and O'Sullivan could yet have a major say in the destination of this Munster (and All Ireland) title.
He provides a focal point to the attack, a different option, different ways of playing the game. After his star turn in the McGrath Cup Jack O'Connor - the man who reinvented Kieran Donaghy as a full-forward - name checked O'Sullivan and the usefulness of a big man on the edge of the square.
It's saying something that O'Sullivan was able to keep Killian Spillane out of the side. Spillane is widely considered the dauphin of Kerry football, the king in waiting. An outrageously talented footballer, a finisher par excellence and, yet, he had to wait until O'Sullivan went off injured to get a chance to stake his claim.
And stake it Spillane did with three points of the highest quality. Spillane is another man with a point to prove, he's not the type of player to be satisfied with a role on the bench and after that display he shouldn't be there much longer.
Even a team with as much quality as this Kerry side can ill afford to leave a player like Spillane on the bench. That said Kerry's forwards showed up reasonably well. O'Sullivan we've already mentioned, but others such as Matthew Flaherty and Seán O'Shea played to their usual high standards.
One concern for Jack O'Connor is Kerry's rate of scoring return in the second half , just 41% having kicked eight wides and dropped a further two shots short into Killian Roche's hands.
That must have been a particularly frustrating turn of events for the manager considering Kerry had a 75% scoring return in the first half and only kicked their first (and only) wide of the half in the twenty sixth minute.
The Kerry forwards were well supplied with ball as the Kerry midfield held the whip hand throughout. The Kingdom won 75% of their own kick-outs (Shane Ryan's kick-outs were on point) and 43% of the Banner's.
Barry O'Sullivan was especially impressive on primary possession winning five kick-outs, including two marks. Even his colleague at midfield Brian Ó Seanacháin - not a natural midfielder we'd argue - claimed two marks himself.
Kerry's defence, however, wasn't nearly as solid as the manager would have wanted. Conall Ó hAinféin's first half goal was far too reminiscent of goals conceded to Limerick and Cork in last year's championship for comfort.
"We were just a bit vulnerable to Clare running at us at times," was O'Connor's assessment.
"But we came to grips with it better in the second half and look we kicked 1-17, happy enough with that, but at bit of work to do defensively regarding teams running through the middle.
"Traditionally Kerry teams don't play a running game and maybe we're not used to coping with that as well. That's the one area. We still kicked 1-17 which is not a bad score."
All that said one got the strongest impression that O'Connor wasn't too disheartened even by that aspect of the performance. If it rears its head again in Dungarvan tonight or even against Cork in Pairc Uí Rinn it'll be a different story, but for now it's simply something to work on.
"We were a little bit off it because our preparation," he said.
"I had that flagged before hand, probably hasn't been what it could have been for the past couple of weeks. That was our first game together since January 8. That told at times tonight, but in horse racing terms we needed the run and I feel we'll improve from here and we need to improve.
"Clare were in that game up to the fiftieth minute at least and they were dangerous. They obviously were very fit and had a lot of work done. We had that flagged before hand that they were coming down with a degree of confidence and we felt they would give us a right game.
"They gave us a really stiff test and that's what we needed, we needed to be tested tonight and we were tested and we hope that the test will help us improve."
Kerry probably won't need to improve too much to see off Waterford - although we should be careful of writing them off, they triumphed over Kerry in the 2003 final remember - but the Kingdom should do nevertheless.
"We'll have just one session now before we go to Dungarvan next Wednesday night," O'Connor explained.
"Lads want games, we're waiting a long time for this competition to start and lads just want the games. We're just hoping for the good weather to continue because tonight was a great night for football.
"It's a good job it wasn't last Wednesday night because there was hailstones the size of golf balls around the place here! We weren't at our best and we hope to improve from the run and hope to improve for next Wednesday night."
Waterford do have some work done and do have a couple of senior players at their disposal - Conor Murray is one to watch - and are based on the minor side of three years ago that ran Cork to within six points (1-14 to 1-8) in the Munster semi-final.
Still it's hard to envisage anything other than a Kerry victory, especially when you consider they have a game under their belts and the Deise come into this tie cold without a game played.
Kerry play Waterford tonight [Wednesday, March 15] in Dungarvan at 7.30pm.