IT’S a tale for the younger generation at Austin Stack Park this afternoon to tell their grandchildren in the decades to come: I was there the day David Clifford won his first senior county championship medal.
The boy wonder already owns a couple of Hogan Cup medals, two All-Ireland minor titles, senior Munster Championship crowns, a brace of All-Star gongs and more man-of-the-match figurines than once adorned the shelves of the trophy shop above Jimmy O’Brien’s iconic Fair Hill hostelry.
But a Kerry SFC medal is something very special and what makes it extra magical is that David’s big brother and today’s man-of-the-match, Paudie, has one of his own to put on the mantelpiece in the Clifford family home in Fossa.
Despite having both Mike Moloney and Fionn Fitzgerald breathing down his neck for much of the hour, Clifford’s sheer class is such that, at times, he could have been the only man on the field with his trademark languid style, masking true genius, seeing him almost effortlessly evading whatever tackles were attempted.
He contributed 1-3 as East Kerry powered past four-in-a-row seeking Dr Crokes with relative ease and, right from the off, it was clear that it was looking very much like it was going to be the divisional side’s day.
With Spa’s Mike Foley to the fore, they glided into an early lead and, despite Johnny Buckley bossing proceedings around the middle, Crokes were finding it difficult to break down an stubborn East Kerry defence in which Jack Sherwood was simply outstanding. Was there a better defender in this year’s championship than the swashbuckling Farranfore man? No, there most certainly was not. End of discussion.
Trailing by three points at the break, 0-5 to 0-8, Crokes were always chasing this game and by the time Clifford’s supremely taken goal illuminated a bleak and damp Austin Stack Park in the 34th minute – to give his side a seven points advantage – it was very obvious that the black and amber championship specialists were having an off day.
It was far from a classic, it got over-heated on occasions and referee Brendan Griffin from Clounmacon sent three players to the line – East Kerry’s Pa Warren (second yellow) and Crokes duo Mark O’Shea (straight red) and Mike Moloney (second yellow) – but the attendance got good value for money, with David Clifford’s guile and class alone worth the €20 handed over before reaching the turnstiles.
Glenflesk hotshot Darragh Roche was set up by David Clifford for East Kerry’s second goal and, in fact, they could have had two more with Crokes goalkeeper Shane Murphy showing great agility to deny the two Clifford brothers in turn.
By the time Kerry captain Gavin White pounced on a loose ball to boot the only Crokes goal to the net, the game was already well decided and bonfire materials were being gathered around Spa, the home club of team captain Dan O’Donoghue.
It is 20 years since East Kerry last won the Kerry senior championship when the astute Sean Counihan inspired them to complete a glorious three-in-a-row in 1999 – the year David Clifford was born – but there is absolutely no doubt that they deserved this success, having recovered from an opening round defeat to grind their way back into contention and playing some champagne football in the latter stages of the tournament.
Crokes, for their part, never stopped running, never stopped tackling and never stopped trying this afternoon – some of their players were out on their feet well before the final whistle – but they came up against a slick outfit assembled by Jerry O’Sullivan and the victory will set off great celebrations in six parishes bordering Killarney town this Sunday night and long into the week.
A crowd of 8,258 squeezed into Austin Stack Park for today’s big clash and although the atmosphere was quite subdued all through, apart from when Clifford raised a roar, those lucky enough to be there witnessed the start of what could be a long and fruitful reign at the helm of Kerry football for a very talented district board side.
On a miserable November day in Tralee, they played true sunshine football and the the rays of success will continue to light up Spa and Glenflesk and Gneeveguilla and Firies and Fossa and Listry throughout the long and dark nights of winter.
East Kerry scorers: D Clifford 1-3 (0-1 free); D Roche 1-2 (0-1 free); E Cronin 0-4; M Foley 0-3; P Clifford 0-1; P Doyle 0-1.
Dr Crokes scorers: T Brosnan 0-4 (1 free); G White 1-1; M O’Shea 0-1, K O’Leary 0-1.
East Kerry: J Devane (Spa), C O’Donoghue (Glenflesk), J Sherwood (Firies), N Donohue (Firies), D O’Donoghue (Spa), S Cronin (Spa), P Warren (Gneeveguilla), L Kearney (Spa), R Buckley (Listry), E Cronin (Spa), P Clifford (Fossa), B.O’Donoghue (Glenflesk), D Clifford (Fossa), D Roche (Glenflesk), M Foley (Spa).
Subs: D Spillane (Spa) for R Buckley (blood); R Buckley for D Spillane; D Spillane for B O’Donoghue; P Doyle (Gneeveguilla) for Foley; D Brosnan (Gneeveguilla) for S Cronin; P de Brun (Firies) for D Roche, M McCarthy (Spa) for E Cronin.
Dr Crokes: S Murphy, J Payne, F Fitzgerald, M Moloney, D O’Leary, G White, B Looney, J Buckley, M O’Shea, M Burns, M Potts, G O’Shea, B Looney, K O’Leary, D Casey, T Brosnan.
Subs: D Naughton for G O’Shea; A O’Sullivan for D O’Leary; J Griffin for B Looney; P Clarke for M Potts; B Falvey for M Burns, C O’Regan for J Payne.
Referee: B Griffin (Clounmacon).
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