Geaney in top form as young guns point way for Fitzmaurice
Kerry 0-32 Clare 0-10
If Eamonn Fitzmaurice thumbed through the papers yesterday morning, he might have noticed the kind of comparisons he'd have been desperate to avoid.
It was pointed out that by picking seven debutants to face Clare yesterday, he mirrored Kerry's championship opener of 1975 when they'd beat Tipperary with a team, almost half of which was made up of new faces before sweeping to an unlikely All-Ireland. That win would start what would prove to be a glorious era for the county, and one by which every team since has been judged.
For better or worse, those seven new faces getting their first airing in Fitzgerald Stadium yesterday would dominate the post-match discourse. Either they would be worth all the talk or be desperately oversold.
In some ways, it was a no-win fixture for Kerry and those new players but all things considered, they couldn't have wished for a much smoother baptism.
Fitzmaurice's side could hardly have been more professional, dominating from pillar to post. As Clare manager Colm Collins put it afterwards, to a man the new faces "acquitted themselves really well".
Shane Murphy was at home in goals, a position that has seen plenty of change over the last few seasons. Jason Foley and Ronan Shanahan were assured in defence. From wing-back, Gavin White added extra pace and a new dimension to a Kerry attack that looked ponderous and lateral at times last year.
Up front, Micheál Burns was the first to be substituted but only because he'd covered so much ground. The Dr Crokes man played his best football in the short period when the game was still up for decision. Seán O'Shea was given the frees from the off and didn't shirk the responsibility. The boy wonder David Clifford grabbed his first championship point.
For Fitzmaurice, the risk involved in pitching in so many new faces was minimal.
"It's great to get the lads football. David Clifford was a minor last year, but with the exception of him, all the others have been training with us," he explained.
"A lot of them would have had last summer and many of them would have been involved in 2016.
"They have been developing away in the background, and they were ready. They were ready to play today. They've been chomping at the bit, looking for a chance.
"They have an awareness too. All you have to do is look at the experienced players that weren't playing today, that if you don't take your chance you mightn't get a second one. A lot of credit is due to the debutants. They have a lot of big-game experience, and they played a lot of big games in the league against Division 1 opposition. They were ready."
There's no arguing with that. Kerry had this game done and dusted by the 22nd minute when they led by 0-10 to 0-3. By that stage all six of the starting Kerry's forwards had scored from play. By 28 minutes, the margin had moved to double figures and by half-time the lead stood at 12 points (0-16 to 0-4). By early in the second half the game slowed to challenge game pace but Kerry, with Paul Geaney imperious, were still hungry enough to rack up 32 points.
But perhaps more importantly they conceded just 0-10. The Kerry defence has come under stern examination but here, save for the opening five minutes or so, they looked to have the measure of what Clare could throw at them. David Tubridy wasn't allowed exert his usual influence while Keelan Sexton was withdrawn before the day was done.
"You're speaking to a back," Fitzmaurice replied when asked if there was more satisfaction in the low concession rate than the 32-point haul.
"I can't ever remember being involved with a team myself that scored 0-32. We might have got a couple of goals that got you up to that cumulative, but I can't ever remember kicking 32 points. It is a huge score. We had a good bit of ball and we were attacking so that helped us to keep it down at the other end. It is satisfactory to keep the score down and not concede a goal."
The problem for Kerry is getting an accurate reflection of where they are at after this game. Clare simply didn't show up and didn't put as much traffic in front of their own goal as might have been expected.
"One of the things we have always talked about is we don't play not to lose," Collins said. "What we said coming down was there are only two results here, win or lose. The margin, while it's terrible, the margin doesn't matter to me. We lost the game, that's it and if you are going anywhere you have got to go and try and win the game. I don't think we did very well in that area.
"The way we set up it was designed to work offensively for us as well. It didn't and too many of our attacks were ponderous and slow and when we got to a certain point rather than attacking them we turned backwards. That's going nowhere and it's a tough defeat to take. I didn't see it coming anyway."
SCORERS - Kerry: S O'Shea 0-7 (4f, 1 '45), P Geaney 0-7 (1f), J O'Donoghue 0-4 (2f), S O'Brien, BJ Keane 0-3 each, M Burns, D Clifford (1f), 0-2 each, A Maher, J Barry, M Geaney, D O'Sullivan (1f) 0-1 each. Clare: E Cleary 0-5 (4f), D Tubridy 0-2 (1f), J Malone 0-2, P Lillis 0-1.
Kerry - S Murphy 7; P Crowley 7, R Shanahan 7, T Morley 7; J Foley 7, P Murphy 8, G White 7; D Moran 7, J Barry 8; M Burns 8, S O'Shea 8, S O'Brien 8; D Clifford 7, P Geaney 8, J O'Donoghue 7. Subs: M Geaney 7 for Burns (46), BJ Keane 8 for O'Donoghue (51), B O Beaglaoich 7 for Shanahan, A Maher 7 for Moran (both 57), D O'Sullivan for Clifford (60), K Donaghy for O'Shea (65).
Clare - E Tubridy 7; C O'Dea 5, C Brennan 5, G Kelly 7; C O nAinifein 5, J Malone 8, A Fitzgerald 7; G Brennan 6, C O'Connor 6; K Malone 6, E Collins 5, P Lillis 5; E Cleary 6, D Tubridy 6, K Sexton 5. Subs: G O'Brien 5 for K Malone (45), E Courtney 5 for Tubridy (51), G Cooney 5 for Sexton (57), E O'Connor 5 for O nAinifein (59), C Finucane for O'Dea (66).
Ref - B Cassidy (Derry)