By Michael O Connor
New ground for Clare. A feeling not enjoyed since before the euro came into being and motorways were commonplace. Promotion from the league and at least four championship games in a season has been the Clare’s year to date. A season that showed a steely determination to get out of division four was achieved and narrow league final defeat. It all very nearly ended in tears as an unfancied Waterford team took advantage of a poor performing Clare side in Cusack park. A reprieve was taken with both hands to set up a glamour tie against Kerry this weekend past at GAA headquarters.
A love of Kerry football has always been engrained into the football folk of west Clare mainly due to the estuary crossing for decades to play North Kerry sides and vice versa and also a sense of being with fellow coastal neighbours.
An attendance of over 5000 gathered in Ennis for what many expected to a one sided formality at worst and a keen contest for half an hour at best. Colm Collins had the joy of selecting his two sons for this encounter with Eamonn Fitzmaurices men who were reigning munster champions
Anthony Maher was sent off ten minutes from time for the Kingdom, but a strong second-half showing from Kerry ensured Clare received no reward for their brave display.
After Shane Hickey's early black card, Clare received another huge setback when Paul Murphy goaled for Kerry in the ninth minute, but ten minutes later Shane McGrath's reply saw the Banner men lead by 1-8 to 1-7 at the break, with Podge Collins busy all over the field and even when another debutant Paul Geaney increased Kerry’s lead after 13 minutes Clare did not panic.
The home side with Shane Brennan, Shane McGrath and Enda Coughlan all hitting points to tie the match after 18 minutes. A huge cheer lifted the rafter when Clare hit the front when a great run by Podge Collins ended with McGrath blasting to the back of the net. The Kerry response was impressive. Declan O’Sullivan settled them with a point and further efforts from Paul Geaney and Anthony Maher restored parity again at 1-5 apiece after 22 minutes. Sean Collins and Stephen O’Brien exchanged points before Geaney hit his thirtd point of the half. However, Clare finished the half strongly with David Tubridy levelling from play and then edging them in front at the break with a 20 metre free. Indeed once again it must be noted that some of the better Clare players during the league in the forward divisions were unable to carry that form onto the championship stage
It was only after the resumption that play began to go as expected for the Kerry supporters, and three points in a row after the restart from Stephen O'Brien, Paul Geaney and Bryan Sheehan turned that deficit into a two-point lead as they led (1-10) to (1-8). Bryan Sheehan was to the fore for Kerry in the third quarter and they surged ahead with points from Stephen O’Brien, Paul Geaney and Sheehan once more. Despite Clare slowing down in the scoring stakes the defence was tight marking and did not cave in as in other seasons. After 55 minutes Enda Coughlan pulled one back for Clare and there were just two between but at this stage Clare required at least one goal to gain a real chance entering the final five minutes .
Unfortunately for Clare, Bryan Sheehan and Declan O’Sullivan broke free from their markers and doubled that lead and further scores from Paul Geaney and Barry John Keane put them half a dozen clear with five minutes left. Anthony Maher was sent off for two yellow cards with ten minutes remaining. Late scores that needed to be goals for Clare did not materialise as David Tubridy and Eoin Cleary struck late points to keep Kerry on their toes yet it is they who now look forward to a date with Cork on July 6th and Clare wish for a home qualifier draw.
CLARE: Joe Hayes, Mark Mc Mahon, Kevin Harnett, David Ryan, Ciaran Russell, Gordon Kelly, Shane Hickey, Gary Brennan, Shane McGrath (1-2), Sean Collins (0-1), Podge Collins, Shane Brennan (0-1), Martin O’Leary (0-1), David Tubridy (0-4), Enda Coughlan (0-2). Subs: Jamie Malone for Hickey, Rory Donnelly (0-1) for O'Leary, Shane McNelis for Hartnett, Cathal O’Connor for S Brennan, Eoin Cleary (0-1) for Coughlan.
KERRY: B Kelly; Paul Murphy, Mark O Se, Sean Enright; P Crowley, Killian Young, F Fitzgerald, Anthony Maher (0-1), D Moran; Darren O’Sullivan, B Sheehan (0-4), M Geaney (0-1). Stephen O’Brien (0-2), Declan O’Sullivan (0-2), Paul Geaney (0-6). Subs: Aidan O'Mahony for Moran, D Walsh for Darren O'Sullivan, J Lyne for M Geaney, B J Keane (0-1) for O'Brien, Ciaran Donaghy for P Geaney, P Kilkenny for Fitzgerald.
Referee: D Gough (Meath).