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Dublin: 11°C Wednesday 14 April 2021

A return to Kerry colours after 3 years and a minor attacking star shining at senior level

Daithi Casey and Sean O’Shea caught the eye for Kerry yesterday.

Daithi Casey and Sean O'Shea kicked the crucial points for Kerry today.
Daithi Casey and Sean O'Shea kicked the crucial points for Kerry today.
Image: INPHO

THE SPOTLIGHT WAS on David Clifford beforehand yesterday in Killarney and that was natural.

After his staggering scoring returns at minor level over the past two seasons – amassing 10-68 (10-50 from play) over the course of 12 championship outings since the start of the 2016 campaign – it was inevitable that Clifford would be a draw for punters.

Almost 11,000 fans passed through the turnstiles for a late January encounter that saw Kerry ultimately dug out of a hole by a couple of other attackers that could create new options for them in 2018.

A rollercoaster of a Killarney afternoon was swinging Donegal’s way when they crept in for their third goal in injury-time.

But centre-forward Sean O’Shea stepped up to hold his nerve under pressure and slam over a free from 45 yards out before substitute Daithi Casey galloped clear and clipped over the winning point for Kerry.

The 2016 All-Ireland minor winning captain and the 2017 Kerry county senior championship winning captain will provide food for thought for Eamonn Fitzmaurice after their respective cameos.

They are two contrasting figures. O’Shea has been anointed for greatness since his exploits on 2015 and 2016 minor winning sides, fast-tracked onto the senior squad last senior where he was exposed to an elite environment without getting gametime.

He finished with 0-7 to his credit yesterday. The Kenmare player nailed three frees in a second-half phase where the stakes were raised, conversions that were more impressive considering he kicked his first free wide and screwed his second along the ground before gathering the breaking ball to point.

By the 15th minute O’Shea had swept over three points from play and in general he illustrated how his inventive centre-forward play at underage level can transfer to the senior stage.

Amidst the wave of underage prospects ushered into the panel, 27-year-old Casey has moved into contention. It was just under three years since his last senior outing for Kerry, a second-half substitute on 1 February 2015 in the defeat to Mayo.

He was cut from the panel after that year’s league and became a forgotten man when it came to Kerry inter-county conversations. Yet his form on the Dr Crokes team that have collected two county titles, one Munster and one All-Ireland over the past 15 months, has been persuasive.

Sprung from the bench for the last 20 minutes he made his mark and notched that critical late point.

“I thought the free in particular from Sean was a great kick because there was a lot riding on it,” remarked Fitzmaurice afterwards.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“And the way the game had been so back and over the whole time, it was a big kick and Daithi got a great score then to win it.

“He (Daithi) has been playing absolutely fantastic football for Crokes and he was on our radar last year. He is a great guy, works hard, good for him to be back in.

“For a Killarney man to get a great score like that at the end of the game and to win the game by a point is all good.”

By the time of those late O’Shea and Casey points, Clifford was watching on from the bench. He was called ashore in the 49th minute but while he didn’t shoot the lights out in the manner the home support may have dreamed about, it was still a solid showing from the Fossa youngster.

David Clifford and Caolan Ward Kerry's David Clifford and Donegal's Caolan Ward. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

It was a day where everyone was paying close attention to Clifford, those watching on in the stand and terraces, the Kerry players in possession out the field and most strikingly the Donegal defence. First Leo McLoone and then Caolan Ward took up guard next to him, the instructions clearly being to restrict space available in his attacking zone.

Clifford kicked a single point but he was fouled for that free he tapped over and provided the assists for 1-2 in the opening period. His kicking was rushed on a couple of occasions in front of goal but he acquitted himself well considering the spotlight that was trained on him.

It was a day of experimentation for Kerry with O’Shea one of eight players making their senior debuts. Cormac Coffey, Micheál Burns, Matthew Flaherty and Killian Spillane are products of the 2014 All-Ireland minor side, with O’Shea and Brian Ó Seanacháin emerging in the 2015 minor side and Clifford introduced a year later. For goalkeeper Shane Murphy his club form with Dr Crokes triumphant sides earned him the chance to impress.

Micheal Burns Kerry footballer Mícheál Burns. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

For all the good news going forward, Fitzmaurice did not need reminding of the glaring issue at the back. He was right to point out that there was a lack of cohesion from so many players unfamiliar with lining out alongside each other at senior level.

But Donegal charged into prairies of space, despite operating with 14 men after Nathan Mullins 20th minute dismissal, and bagging three goals illustrated the second-half trouble they caused.

Paddy Neilan shows Nathan Mullins a red card Nathan Mullins is sent-off by referee Paddy Neilan. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“We were open there’s no doubt (and) we conceded goals,” stated the Kerry boss.

“Donegal you could see were looking for that long kickout and getting a knock on and going on. We didn’t deal well with it today but like I said it’s something we can improve on for the future.

“There was a bit of inexperience, some of the things we did were naive but I think that’s the payback. You have to be prepared to take that when you’re trying out a lot of new players together.”

His philosophy will be to keep handing opportunities to Kerry’s new breed. The challenges keep coming, Mayo in Castlebar next Saturday night another significant test.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

Casey hits winning point, O’Shea fires 0-7 and 3 red cards shown in Kerry Donegal clash

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Fintan O'Toole

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