Football McGrath Cup at Austin Stack Park, Tralee
Kerry 0-14
Clare 0-13

by Joe Ó Muircheartaigh

Cork raised some eyebrows when hitting five past the Kingdom last Wednesday in cantering to a 12-point McGrath Cup victory and for vast tracts of this Sunday afternoon clash in Tralee it looked as if Clare where about to inflict some more early-season pain on the All-Ireland champions.

That’s because, for 50 minutes of this entertaining contest, it was Clare that were in the ascendancy — they were much the better team and full-value for the leads they built up at various junctures up to that point.

Early on when good points from play by Jamie Malone, Emmet McMahon, Ronan Lanigan and Cathal O’Connor had them 0-4 to no score to the good after just eight minutes; at half-time after a strong finish that yielded points by captain Eoin Cleary (2) and Padraic Collins ensured once more that they led by four as matters rested at 0-7 to 0-3; early in the second half when a brilliant run the length of the field by Manus Doherty for a fisted point edged them five clear, but above all when Cleary’s third of the day had them 0-11 to 0-7 ahead with 20 minutes remaining.

That’s really when opportunity knocked for Clare to kick on and record a first win in competitive senior football against Kerry since January 2016 when they recorded a 0-12 to 0-9 victory in this same McGrath Cup competition in Fitzgerald Stadium.

Opportunity knocked because they seemed to have more hunger than Kerry on the day, but perhaps it was this reality that finally roused a big effort from the Kingdom coming down the stretch as they outscored an under-pressure Clare side by 0-7 to 0-2 in the final 15 minutes to edge home to a victory.

It may not have been what Clare’s play on the day deserved, but it’s what happened after two-time All-Star Tom O’Sullivan — one of seven Kerry players who saw action in last year’s All-Ireland final victory that started this tie for Jack O’Connor’s charges — kickstarted their escape to victory.

After a cheap turnover he fired over from distance in the 55th minute and it’s as if a light was turned on in every Kerry player as a cause that looked like being lost was very much alive — a change in momentum that was hammered home when further points by Tony Brosnan, O’Sullivan and Ronan Buckley had the sides level by the 62nd minute.

From there it was a real dogfight, one that Kerry won in the end despite the best efforts of Keelan Sexton. He edged Clare back in front on 66 minutes, but Kerry’s response was swift as Tony Brosnan and Darragh Roche found the range to put them ahead for the first time going into injury time.

Sexton then leveled on 72 minutes only for super-sub Roche to have the final say with a winner two minutes later.

It’s what teams of Kerry’s quality can always do, but it was rough justice on Clare.

Scorers for Clare: Keelan Sexton (0-3, 1f), Eoin Cleary (0-3f), Cathal O’Connor (0-1), Emmet McMahon (0-1), Jamie Malone (0-1), Padraic Collins (0-1), Ronan Lanigan (0-1), Manus Doherty (0-1), Aaron Griffin (0-1).

Scorers for Kerry: Tony Brosnan (0-5, 4f), Killian Spillane (0-2), Darragh Roche (0-2), Tom O’Sullivan (0-2), Micheál Burns (0-1), Dara Moynihan (0-1), Ronan Buckley (0-1).

Clare: Stephen Ryan (Kilrush Shamrocks), Manus Doherty (Éire Óg), Cillian Brennan (Clondegad), Ronan Lanigan (Éire Óg), Cian O’Dea (Kilfenora), Jamie Malone (Corofin), Alan Sweeney (St Breckan’s), Cathal O’Connor (Coolmeen), Darren O’Neill (Éire Óg), Emmet McMahon (Kildysart), Eoin Cleary (St Joseph’s Miltown), Dermot Coughlan (Kilmurry Ibrickane), Padraic Collins (Cratloe), Keelan Sexton (Kilmurry Ibrickane), Ciarán Downes (Kilmihil). Subs Ikem Ugwueru for Coughlan (44), Daniel Walsh for Sweeney (44), Aaron Griffin (Lissycasey) for McMahon (44), Gavin Cooney (Éire Óg) for Collins (50), Dara Nagle (Liscannor) for O’Dea (50), Gearóid Cahill (Corofin)  for Downes (50), Darragh McDonagh (St Joseph’s Miltown) for O’Connor (62), Dan Keating (Kilmihil) for Malone (62), Shane Griffin (Lissycasey) for Cleary (66), Cathal Downes (O’Curry’s) for O’Neill (66).

Kerry: Shane Murphy (Dr Crokes), Dylan Casey (Austin Stacks), Jason Foley (Ballydonoghue), Tom O’Sullivan (Dingle), Mike Breen (Beaufort), Tadhg Morley (Templenoe), James McCarthy (Kenmare Shamrocks), Diarmuid O’Connor (Na Gaeil), Jack Barry (Na Gaeil), Dara Moynihan (Spa), Micheál Burns (Dr Crokes), Barry Mahony (St Senan’s), Tony Brosnan (Dr Crokes), Eddie Horan (Scartiglen), Killian Spillane (Termplenoe). Subs Barry Dan O’Sullivan (Dingle) for O’Connor (10), Darragh Roche (Glenflesk) for Horan (25), Ronan Buckley (Listry) for Mahony (38), Greg Horan (Austin Stacks) for McCarthy (44), Ruairi Murphy (Listry) for Burns (44), Stefan Okunbar (Na Gaeil) for Barry (56), Jack O’Shea (Austin Stacks) for Breen (62), Dylan Geaney (Dingle) for Moynihan (62).

Referee: James O’Regan (Cork)

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