Kerry’s Stephen O’Brien in action against Clare in the 2018 Munster SFC semi-final. Pic: Paudie Healy.
Munster SFC Semi-Final
Clare v Kerry
Saturday at 7pm
Championship season is upon us. Well, sort of.
While this weekend technically signals the start of Kerry’s latest All-Ireland tilt, it has become nigh on impossible for the average supporter to get excited about the Munster Senior Football Championship. In fact, it’s fair to say that excitement is at an all-time low. The competition has been won by just three teams since 1935, Clare in 1992 the one earth-shattering anomaly over that mind-numbingly predictable 83-year period.
Kerry and Cork have won the rest and the latter’s recent demise has made the outcome even more inevitable. The Kingdom haven’t been defeated in Munster since 2012 and Peter Keane’s charges can secure the county’s seventh consecutive title with victory in this year’s final on June 22.
Clare have stood between Kerry and a Munster final in five of the last six seasons but they have been fairly soundly beaten every time, perhaps most notably this time last year when they conceded 0-32 en route to a humbling 22-point defeat in Killarney.
If the Banner County are better equipped to cause a shock this time out they’re doing a fine job of hiding it. They just about avoided relegation to Division 3 of the National League and their victory over Waterford in the Munster quarter-final was about as underwhelming as any victory can be. Clare failed to register a single score in the last 32 minutes of that game, eventually hanging on for a forgettable 0-9 to 0-8 win.
Without putting too fine a point on it, it’s unlikely that Colm Collins’ team will be brimming with confidence heading into this particular showdown with Kerry. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion and the bookies agree: the reigning champions are 1/80 to prevail in Cusack Park tomorrow night.
Collins summed the whole thing up earlier this year when he was asked by the Clare Champion about the excitement of the championship.
“The excitement of the Munster championship,” he laughed. “I’ve a pain in my face talking about this. It’s ridiculous.”
He then went on to suggest an alternative championship structure that would not include the provincials. We hear you, Colm.
So what’s the point of this game, or, indeed, the Munster SFC as a whole?
In truth, there isn’t any and we can only hope that the newly formed Fixtures Review Committee find it in their hearts to scrap the provincial championships altogether and finally put us all out of our misery.
Football fans outside of Ulster are largely apathetic towards the provincial championships and that is likely to be reflected in tomorrow’s attendance, especially with the Champions League final between Tottenham and Liverpool taking place at the slightly later time of 8pm.
But look, we might as well preview our championship opener regardless.
Kerry’s impressive National League run seems like a really long time ago. That’s probably because it was a really long time ago. Nine weeks have passed since that final defeat to Mayo and it really feels as though we’re starting all over again from scratch.
And it’s not as though Peter Keane’s men can start to build a whole pile of momentum now, regardless of how tomorrow’s game goes. There will be a three-week lay-off before the Munster final, where they will face Cork (who were recently relegated to Division 3 of the National League) or Limerick (who finished second last in Division 4).
After that there will be another three-week lay-off before we get down to the real business of the Super 8s.
All things considered, Kerry’s games in Munster are little more than glorified warm-ups and with a number of starters out of contention through injury, Peter Keane has named an interesting lineup for his side’s championship bow.
Rathmore’s Shane Ryan gets the nod for the Clare game having started between the sticks for most of the league. Brian Kelly of Legion, who played very well for his club in April, is a reliable alternative on the bench.
Shane Murphy, meanwhile, is currently out of the picture. Some journalists seem to be under the impression that the Dr Crokes netminder, who missed the league campaign due to club commitments, “opted out” of the Kerry set-up but it’s my understanding that he was informed by management that he was surplus to requirements – for this year at least.
Out the field, Tom O’Sullivan was ever-present throughout the spring and he retains his place, albeit at the slightly unfamiliar position of corner back. Versatile Firies man Jack Sherwood had been tried out at centre back in recent challenge matches and that’s where he’ll line out tomorrow.
Gavin Crowley showed well towards the end of the league and he and Templenoe clubmate Tadhg Morley start at half back and full back respectively, while Jason Foley and the recalled Shane Enright complete the back six.
Gavin White is reportedly back to full fitness following his nasty elbow injury but the athletic Dr Crokes all-rounder, who was nominated by his club to captain Kerry this year, is named as No. 26 in the panel.
Some observers, this writer included, have wondered aloud if White might be suited to a role at centre field and he certainly appears to have all the tools to excel at 8 or at 9. It’s a move that appears to make sense, especially when you consider the fact that Kerry have decent cover in the half back line.
With Jack Barry unavailable, Keane has opted for the physical midfield combination of David Moran and Adrian Spillane for the trip to Clare.
The forward division is more cut and dry. With Dara Moynihan out, Diarmiud O’Connor lines out at half forward alongside Seán O’Shea and Stephen O’Brien while David Clifford and Paul Geaney are joined by James O’Donoghue in the full forward line.
Two Kerins O’Rahilly’s men, Gavin O’Brien and Tommy Walsh, had very good leagues so you would imagine that both will be there or thereabouts moving forward, although the former is not named in the matchday squad this time out.
Dr Crokes half forward Micheál Burns and experienced Legion man Jonathan Lyne are named on the bench.
Verdict: Kerry by nine.
Kerry team v Clare
1. Shane Ryan (Rathmore)
2. Jason Foley (Ballydonoghue)
3. Tadhg Morley (Templenoe)
4. Tom O’Sullivan (Dingle)
5. Gavin Crowley (Templenoe)
6. Jack Sherwood (Firies)
7. Shane Enright (Tarbert)
8. David Moran (Kerins O’Rahilly’s)
9. Adrian Spillane (Templenoe)
10. Diarmuid O’Connor (Na Gaeil)
11. Seán O’Shea (Kenmare)
12. Stephen O’Brien (Kenmare)
13. David Clifford (Fossa)
14. Paul Geaney (Dingle)
15. James O’Donoghue (Killarney Legion)
16. Brian Kelly (Killarney Legion)
17. Mark Griffin (St Michael’s/Foilmore)
18. Brian Ó Beaglaioch (An Ghaeltacht)
19. Michael Geaney (Dingle)
20. Graham O’Sullivan (Piarsaigh na Dromoda)
21. Tommy Walsh (Kerins O’Rahilly’s)
22. Jonathan Lyne (Killarney Legion)
23. Micheál Burns (Dr Crokes)
24. Robert Wharton (Renard)
25. Conor Geaney (Dingle)
26. Gavin White (Dr Crokes)