WHILE a 17-point win against a dangerous Division 2 side has to be seen as a job well done, there will be serious concerns over the extent of the late injury picked up by David Clifford in Kerry’s 3-22 to 1-11 win over Clare in Killarney on Saturday evening.
The Fossa forward seemed to hurt himself in the act of blasting in Kerry’s second goal in the 65th minute, and duly trudged off two minutes later in clear discomfort. Kerry fans will hope the substitution was just precautionary, as this would not be a good time to be without their marquee forward for any considerable length of time.
Clifford scored 1-6, with 1-4 of that from play, though if anything the 22-year-old had a quiet night. His partner in crime Séan O’Shea rifled over 1-7, and was particularly prominent in the opening minutes, when Kerry raced into an early lead that they would never surrender.
Kerry started the game at 100mph, kicking five points inside the opening eight minutes, and it looked like they couldn’t miss in those opening exchanges, with O’Shea looking especially lethal with three brilliant points.
Clare did not register their first score until the 17th minute, by which stage Kerry had already landed five of their own, and the game already looked safely in the bag from a Kerry perspective.
One of the big takeaways from the game was how Clare goalkeeper Stephen Ryan was forced to kick 24 of his kick-outs long due to Kerry’s high press, with Kerry retrieving 13 of these kick-outs, despite Clare having a huge midfield.
It would be particularly worrying for Cork, who have been extremely reliant on Micheál Martin’s short kick-outs to gain possession in their year’s league campaign. If both Cork and Kerry were to win their respective Munster semi-finals against Limerick and Tipperary then you would imagine that Cork might seriously struggle to win primary possession against the Kingdom’s middle eight, should Martin be forced to go long.
Though to be fair, given Limerick's demolition of Waterford they can't look past their first game of the season.
Clare only managed two short kick-outs in the first half when the game was still up for grabs, so Tipperary can expect to get the same treatment in the semi-final.
There were negatives in Kerry’s play that manager Peter Keane will have been concerned with. The 11 wides they kicked, after that sublime opening eight minutes, was certainly one, while they turned the ball over 11 times, of which eight of those occurred in a sloppy period in the middle of the first half.
Indeed, Clare will have been frustrated that they conceded 1-3 in the first half that originated directly from their own mistakes, as without these costly errors Clare would have been in touch at halftime, which saw Kerry lead by 1-11 to 0-5.
One area that will have been very pleasing from a Kerry viewpoint was the manner in which they restricted Clare’s dangermen Eoin Cleary and David Tubridy. Cleary did kick four points from play, but three of those were ridiculous Stephen O’Neill type efforts, which a defence will always be happy enough letting attackers have.
Tubridy did manage an excellent goal late on, but he was forced very deep throughout in order to get his hands on the ball. To restrict an attack that recently bagged 1-18 against Cork and 2-18 against Mayo to just 1-11 is a clear illustration of how miserly they are becoming at the back.
Gavin White was the standout performer in defence. He was tigerish in the tackle throughout and even contributed two second-half points after typical lung bursting runs.
Perhaps the one chink of light that future opponents may derive from the game is that a team can get joy from running directly at the heart of the Kerry defence, as shown by David Tubridy’s late goal.
The Kerry bench looks capable of really impacting games later in the year. Killian Spillane is after getting himself the dreaded reputation of being an excellent impact sub, which he further enhanced on Saturday evening in the manner in which he kicked three excellent points after being introduced in the 53rd minute.
Dr Crokes’ Micheál Burns was the man who replaced Clifford and he grabbed a goal for himself late on too, while Tadhg Morley and Tommy Walsh provide a great deal of experience off the bench also.
Keane will know that he requires a full 20-man effort if they are to dethrone the Dubs later this year.