Wednesday 22 January 2020

Billy Keane: Bonny Banner boys play with real pride and skill but Kerry have all the resources on the bench to book their place in decider

Kerry's James O'Donoghue in action against Clare's Shane Brennan. Photo: Sportsfile
Kerry's James O'Donoghue in action against Clare's Shane Brennan. Photo: Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The journey over the big river was well worth the crossing and the togging out in winter onesies. Clare gave Kerry plenty of it.

Ennis was full of Kerry people, who crossed the Shannon by ferry and car and we were worried from very early on. The Banner was unfurled in the gale and her boys went into an early lead.

It was a mid-summer's day plucked from the depths of winter. Men wore woolly hats and women with short arms stood on step ladders to harvest winter underwear from the far reaches of hot press hibernation.

We met up with Radio Kerry's Ambrose O'Donovan and Billy O'Shea in The Queens Hotel. That's the Queens in Ennis, which has no connection to the Queens in Cheltenham, where virtuous men often go astray.

The boys told of a huddle in the Kerry dressing room a few days before a big game. Present were one Páidí Ó Se, Ger Lynch and Tommy Doyle. The three backs' preference was for "heavy showers, a big wind and plenty of beltin'".

There was no shortage of any of those elements in a frantic first-half, adjudicated over by a referee who failed to give Donnchadh Walsh an obvious penalty just before he sent him off on a second, and alas deserved, yellow.

David Tubridy bent cucumbers into bananas before converting a deserved penalty.

David took over the family pub in Doonbeg a little while ago. I was there once and found it very much to my liking. Doonbeg is in the heartland of Clare football.

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Just a few miles off the coast of Clare there lies the rocky Aran Islands, a place famous for Aran Banners, the tastiest potato of them all.

And isn't it a near miracle then that such wonders are grown in a place so exposed to the Wild Atlantic, with soil no deeper than the length of your index finger stuck into a deep-fill apple pie.

The people of Clare, too, are famous for making the most of their resources. Their footballers beat Kerry 25 years ago in the Munster football final, and it was no fluke or a glorious mayfly day out.

I was there. Kerry had no excuses. It was the day Marty Morrissey made his now famous statement that "there won't be cow milked".

That mighty Clare team ran Dublin close in the following year's league final and played classy, open football - 'against all the odds' is as much a part of West Clare as sets, jigs and reels.

The game in Clare has spread, but as many as nine of the Banner team hail from West Clare.

In the end they could not match the resources of Kerry, but true to form and those who came before them, the bonny Banner boys gave their all.

The name of the Banner County might possibly have come from the massive support given to Daniel O'Connell at the Clare election of 1862.

Daniel was a Kerryman and Clare backed him to the hilt with bands and banners.

Just like Dublin, the main street in Ennis has a monument to a Kerryman at the top end. And Daniel O'Connell looks down over Barr na Sráide.

The Banner always supported the notion of freedom, although some in the county did support Dev and Trump, which goes to prove that no one is perfect.

Courage and conviction, though, are the twin sentinels of the Banner County, where pride of place, parish and culture are the cornerstones of Clare football.

Kerry pulled away largely thanks to the skills of James O'Donoghue, who is back to his best, but Tubridy kicked a great point and Clare were desperately unlucky when Jamie Malone's rasper nearly turned the crossbar to scrap.

Peter Crowley drove on. There is no reverse in his gearbox. Kerry showed some courage and their bench was full of players who were as good as those who were on the field from the start.

I was sitting just in front of the Clare players who were taken off. They were absolutely shattered.

In a way, 14 against 15 suited Kerry. There was more space and when the game opened up Kerry found paths through that were unmanned by the brave but exhausted Clare sentries.

Kerry showed courage, skill and a will to win when the day seemed lost.

The opening of Páirc Uí Chaoimh 3 will be a sellout. I was there at the opening of PUC 2, back when men wore longer hair than the women and only Italians ate pasta. Kerry and Cork drew in a classic with the crowd spilling over on to the field.

We will be there, God willing, for the official opening of PUC 3, even if 4 might be beyond some of us.

Cork scraped home against Tipp. They showed great bottle, application and no little skill in saving the game with a brilliant, last-minute fisted goal.

I mean no disrespect to Tipp, but the powers that be in Cork were praying for a Kerry v Cork Munster final.

Cork must always be respected. Forget about Cork being lucky to beat Waterford and Tipp by the minimum margin. They wouldn't take it too well down by The Lee if Kerry christened their new home with a big win.

The Rebels seemed to have found their best team by accident. There's pace now. Watch out Kerry. Cork is a county famous for ambushes.

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