When the Munster final ended, the urchin army poured out of the stands as they always do and headed directly for David Clifford. The quickest man on the pitch though was Kerry selector Mike Quirke who immediately put his basketball skills to good use to box out the space around the Kerry captain and shepherd him in behind a line of stewards at the foot of the Mackey Stand. There’ll be other days when he’ll stand and sign and selfie till teatime and beyond. This wasn’t that day.
Just over 24 hours after losing their mother, Clifford and his older brother Paudie were exceptional in a facile 5-14 to 0-15 win over Clare in Limerick. David scored 2-6 and got man-of-the-match, Paudie rattled in a goal and set up another 1-2. That Clare were desperately poor doesn’t take away from what the Cliffords did here. Putting one foot in front of the other is an achievement for most people the day after losing a parent, never mind a couple of boys in their 20s.
“When I initially heard the news yesterday, the initial reaction was that I didn’t expect the lads to play,” said Jack O’Connor afterwards. “But when I talked to them, they were adamant that they had discussed it as a family and with the extended family. The decision was that they wanted to play and we certainly weren’t going to stand in their way.
“And by and large, it has worked out well. They honoured their mother in the best way possible and made everyone proud. That is a tough blow, to lose your mother at such a young age. They wouldn’t have slept much last night. But they get great solace in being with the group and I am sure the lads will really look after that as a group over the next few days.”
As Kerry captain, David went up to collect the cup at the presentation. The gathered 12,499 crowd, as they had all day, offered warm and sympathetic applause and he lifted an appreciative hand in thanks. There was no acceptance speech. Everyone knew it was the right call.
Kerry move on now to Group One of the All-Ireland series, alongside Mayo, Cork and whoever loses the Leinster final between Dublin and Louth next Sunday. Their easy win here confirms that Mayo will head to Killarney for the opener in a fortnight, while Clare will bring Donegal to Ennis. Colm Collins’s side face into a mini-Ulster championship, with Monaghan and the Ulster runners-up in there too. They’ll need to be much better than this to get anything out of it.
“Very disappointed with our display,” Collins said afterwards. “We played very poorly, to state the obvious. You won’t win many games conceding five goals.
“You can’t give away cheap possession to a team that runs and transitions as quickly and as well as they do. It is a disaster. We were the architects of our own destruction in a lot of cases in the first half. That’s it. We have three important championship games to face up to now. Just have to regroup now and get on with it.”
In Castlebar, Galway gathered up their 49th Connacht title with a 2-20 to 0-12 victory over Sligo. A couple of Matthew Tierney goals in the first half torched any hope the underdogs had of making names for themselves. An eight-point half-time lead turned into 14 by the end and even at that, Galway could afford to bring Shane Walsh, Damien Comer and Rob Finnerty off.
Afterwards, Pádraic Joyce acknowledged that Galway are in a good place heading into the All-Ireland series. They have Tyrone in Salthill in a fortnight, the sort of big day that has always tickled his fancy.
“We would be happy,” he said. “We’re fine, we’re building all the time. Just because we lost the final last year doesn’t mean we have a God-given right to come back this year and be in the final again, or win the final. We’ve got to work hard for it and the lads are working really hard.
“We know where we’re at and we have a tough month ahead of us again, with Tyrone at home, Westmeath away and the losers of the Ulster final. They are going to be great games as well for us as management. I love these type of games where they are all different tactically. You learn a lot from them and realise where your squad is at and it throws up a different challenge.”
It was a chastening experience for Sligo, likely the first of a few over the coming month. Tony McEntee has never been the type to sugarcoat matters – and he was straight and to the point when asked afterwards about their prospects in Group Three.
“I think the pressure is going to be on us in the next three games, we play Kildare, Roscommon and then Dublin. These four games were always about learning for us – if we get a single win against any of those teams it will be massive for us.
“In all honesty, we are so far behind in Division Four, coming to Division Three, compared to those Division One and Two teams. Realistically, if we get a good result, if we get a win against any of those teams, we’ll be very pleased. Clearly at this stage we’ll be targeting that first win against Kildare the next day.”