SFC- 1/4 Final v East Kerry

East Kerry remains favourites to win the county title, and East Kerry continues to confound. For large parts of this quarter-final, they were ordinary – made to be so as much by Kenmare’s doggedness as the dog of a day it was in Killarney. Lifting them above the ordinary were Dara Roche and himself, David Clifford extraordinaire.

The former kicked two outstanding points from play in the second half, the first of which gave East Kerry the lead for the first time in the 38th minute. The latter did what he does: seven points, including three wondrous scores from play, three converted frees and a mark. 

On a tough day, weather-wise, not made for polished football, East Kerry dug deep into the less pretty side of their game to work hard and eke out this three-point win, and two more narrow wins next weekend and a fortnight after that will do them just fine. With Clifford in the zone – and with James O’Donoghue to return after serving the second game of a two-match suspension here – one still cannot count against the pre-Championship favourites to win their third county title in four years. But the semi-final draw has handed them arguably the toughest draw: they play Dingle next weekend in a fixture that will surely ask even more questions of them than a stoic Kenmare Shamrocks team – led by Sean O’Shea – did this afternoon.

If the game needed a lightning jolt to enthuse the 700 or so hardly souls, it came early and with a kick. The game was just two minutes old when David Hallissey collected Jimmy Lehane’s pass and made a big nuisance of himself in the small square, with the Shamrocks midfielder going down under an illegal challenge and Billy O’Shea splaying his arms to signal a penalty.

Paul O’Connor’s confidently hit spot kick, low and down the centre, past Shane Ryan was the perfect start for the club side and for the game in general, lest anyone feared the divisional team might make a procession of it from the outset. Fear not. It would be 38 minutes before the 2019 and 2020 county champions would lead in this game, that Dara Roche boomer carrying them to a 0-8 to 1-4 lead.

It took eight minutes before East Kerry got their first score, Paudie Clifford knocking over a point, before Sean O’Shea replied with his own boomer from near the 45-metre line. Points from Ronan Buckley, Roche (free) and David Clifford tied things up at 0-4 to 1-1 by the 24th minute as the rain, wind and underfoot conditions mitigated against any sort of top-of-the-ground fast football. 

O’Shea converted a free after a Chris O’Donoghue handled the ball on the ground after an excellent defensive interception before up the other end Roche almost seized on a loose ball in the Kenmare goalmouth after goalkeeper Kieran Fitzgibbon spilt a David Clifford shot that dropped short.

Moments of individual brilliance – David Clifford aside – were in short supply, but Stephen O’Brien slalomed past a couple of tackles, checked inside and lofted over a delightful point in the 27th minute to make it 1-3 to 0-4 before Paul Murphy drew a late free, which David Clifford converted to make it 0-5 to 1-3 at half time.

David Clifford and O’Shea traded long-range points from free early in the new half, before Clifford won a free for Roche to convert from short-range to make tie it up again at 0-7 to 1-4.

No one was writing off Kenmare at this stage, with the Shamrock’s lesser lights keeping a tight lock on Ruairi Murphy, Jonathan Lyne, Donal O’Sullivan and, to a lesser extent, Paudie Clifford.

Roche nailed his two super scores from play either side of a Sean O’Shea free from a tight angle, and when O’Shea fired over a ‘45’ that Paul Murphy had judiciously conceded, it was still all square at 1-6 to 0-9.

It was going to take some a little above the ordinary to tilt this game one way or the other, and it was really only going to come from one source. In the 45th minute, David Clifford found his range from out neat the stand sideline, and four minutes later he raked over his fifth score from a more central position. It still only nudged East Kerry two in front but it felt like a watershed few minutes.

In the 58th minute, Paul O’Connor’s shot dropped short but Hallissey was able to drift in a punch it over the crossbar to make it a one-point game again, and just as it had been in the early quarter-final when Mid Kerry led Templenoe by a point after 57 minutes, the prospect of extra-time looked as likely as anything else.

Right on the hour mark, however, Clifford won and converted a free, and three minutes into the four added on he claimed a mark near the stand side, duly converted it and roared his relief at everyone and no one in particular in the stand.

In the final minute, Paul O’Connor lobbed a couple of teasing balls into the East Kerry goalmouth, the first of which Dan McCarthy got a paw on to direct the ball onto the post with Ryan beaten. Seconds later O’Connor repeated the trick, but Ryan sucked the ball in this time and that was that.

Everyone’s champions-elect are into the semi-finals, alongside Dingle, Feale Rangers and Mid Kerry, but suddenly they might not be the raging favourites they were a month ago. Or maybe they are just timing their run perfectly. Time will tell.

EAST KERRY: Shane Ryan (Rathmore), Pa Warren (Gneeveguilla), Jack Sherwood (Firies), Chris O’Donoghue (Glenflesk), Paul Murphy (Rathmore), Daniel O’Brien (Glenflesk), Darragh Lyne (Killarney Legion), Padraig Lucey (Killarney Legion), Ronan Buckley 0-1 (Listry), Ruairí Murphy (Listry), Paudie Clifford 0-1 (Fossa), Jonathan Lyne (Killarney Legion), David Clifford 0-7 (3f, 1m) (Fossa), Dara Roche 0-4 (2f) (Glenflesk), Donal O’Sullivan (Kilgarvan). Subs: Cian Gammell (Killarney Legion) for P Lucey (ht), Patrick Darcy (Glenflesk) for D O’Sullivan (48), Paul O’Shea (Kilcummin) for J Lyne (60)

KENMARE SHAMROCKS: Kieran Fitzgibbon, Dara Crowley, Tommy O’Sullivan, Cian O’Sullivan, Dara O’Shea, James McCarthy, Shane O’Sullivan, David Hallissey 0-1, Kevin O’Sullivan, Jimmy Lehane, Sean O’Shea 0-5 (3f, 1’45’), Dan McCarthy, Stephen O’Brien 0-1, Paul O’Connor 1-0 (pen), Tommy Cronin. Subs: Pearse O’Brien for J Lehane (54), Jamie O’Regan for S O’Sullivan (58)

REFEREE: Billy O’Shea