Cliffords combine to ease Kerry past a feisty Armagh challenge
Allianz Football League Division One: Armagh 0-13 Kerry 1-13
EVEN a half from David Clifford was cause for Kerry celebration but in truth there was more difference between the visitors and Armagh than just the Fossa superstar.
The Kingdom's attacking prince came off the bench to score 1-2 in the second period, enough to seal a Division One final place and inflict a deserved defeat on the Orchardmen after the visitors had dominated the opening third of the game.
Armagh battled back, throwing themselves at the Kerry rearguard in the final 10 minutes, but apart from one shot struck straight at goalkeeper Shane Ryan by Jason Duffy they did not show anywhere near enough guile to unlock the opposing defence. Paddy Tally's work is already paying off, with Tadhg Morley marshalling the defence impressively.
Sure, 'scores are scores', but Armagh may well be concerned that their starting six forwards managed only two points from play, both by Tiernan Kelly, and the entire team only recorded six such scores.
Rian O'Neill worked hard but struggled to escape the close attentions of Jason Foley, while Andrew Murnin got little change out of Dylan Casey, with Tom O'Sullivan also on top of Rory Grugan.
Armagh were second best around midfield too, with Diarmuid O'Connor excelling, although Ciaran Mackin dropping deeper in an attempt to protect his defence was a factor in that.
There was a Championship edge to this encounter at times, but only really in the last 10 minutes of each half, even though throw-in had been delayed by a quarter of an hour to allow in a crowd of more than 11,000.
Many of those in attendance were disappointed that David Clifford was not in the Kerry line-up, yet even without him the Kingdom were soon well on top, coasting with the strong wind at their backs.
The early exchanges were mis-leading, with Armagh going ahead through Kelly after Kerry had struck several wides, and Armagh's outfielder-turned-goalkeeper Ethan Rafferty confidently chipping kick-outs to team-mates.
However, the visitors soon set their sights right, and began to seize plenty of possession, reeling off seven consecutive scores while the hosts went 25 minutes without scoring.
Even with the Kingdom continuing to rack up their off-target tally, it seemed that they were cruising comfortably towards victory.
Yet Armagh roused themselves after Kelly ended their long scoring drought in the 28th minute, and nominal full-back James Morgan then popped up to shimmy through for a score.
Brian O Beaglaioch was teed up for a simple point but Rian O'Neill pointed in added time and Jemar Hall scuffed a shot to the net - but that 'goal' was ruled out as a free out had already been awarded.
Still, it was 'game on' at last, especially with Jack Savage being black-carded just before the end of added time, much to his disgust after tangling repeatedly with an Armagh man.
With the extra man and the wind, Armagh would have expected to cut that deficit further, especially with Stefan Campbell now on the pitch as a replacement for Hall. 'Soupy' did get off the mark in just over a minute - but that was to be his last score.
Paudie Clifford quickly replied, and although Armagh corner-back Greg McCabe got a great score, David Clifford produced an even better one - or at least a more valuable one, latching on to a long ball before netting a low left-foot effort.
Although Rian O'Neill converted a free the next minute, the goal appeared to take the wind out of Armagh's sails, and it was another eight minutes before the same player scored in the same fashion.
With Savage at last back on to restore party in terms of personnel, albeit four minutes late as his colleagues played keep-ball, it was score for score after that, David Clifford spinning superbly to point from the right.
Kerry had a sniff of another goal as Rafferty pushed up on a Kingdom kick-out, Paudie Clifford sending Savage into space, but the Kerins O'Rahilly's clubman chose to take his point rather than aim for the unguarded net.
Armagh needed a goal of their own to put serious pressure on Kerry but could not find any gaps until Duffy burst through in the 65th minute, only for the Cullyhanna lad to opt for power rather than placement with his shot.
A Savage free instead sent Kerry five points clear and although Grugan pointed a free following a cynical foul on Rian O'Neill, and Jarly Og Burns swung over a beauty, that was the last of the scoring, despite more than five minutes of added time.
There were chances, of course, with Rian O'Neill shooting wide on the spin, then - even more amazingly - David Clifford was off-target after Kerry, and Paudie Clifford, again exploited space in behind the advanced Rafferty.
Armagh had a late free, which he sent in towards the 'square', but Kerry cleared it - although even a levelling goal would not have denied them top spot.
Jack O'Connor can now decide how strong a side to send out against Tyrone, potentially to send the Red Hands down, while Armagh still have a final place to play for away to Donegal.
Armagh: E Rafferty; G McCabe (0-1), J Morgan (0-1), A Forker; A McKay, N Rowland, J Og Burns (0-1); Ciaran Mackin, B Crealey; J Hall, C O'Hanlon, T Kelly (0-2); R O'Neill (joint-capt.) (0-5 frees), A Murnin, R Grugan (0-2 frees).
Substitutes: J Duffy for O'Hanlon (18); Connaire Mackin for Rowland (h-t); S Campbell (0-1) for Hall (h-t); N Grimley for Ciaran Mackin (49); C O'Neill for Murnin (56).
Yellow cards: O'Hanlon (12); Rowland (34); Ciaran Mackin (49).
Kerry: S Ryan; D Casey, J Foley, T O'Sullivan; G O'Sullivan, T Morley, B O Beaglaioch (0-1); D O'Connor (0-1), J Barry; P Clifford (0-2), J Savage (0-5, 0-2 frees), A Spillane; T Brosnan (0-1 mark), K Spillane, S O'Brien (0-1).
Substitutes: D Clifford (1-2) for K Spillane (h-t); P Geaney for Brosnan (57); M Burns for A Spillane (61); J O'Connor for Barry (64); G Horan for O'Brien (71).
Blood subs: D Clifford for Savage (12-14); J O'Connor for D O'Connor (50-53).
Black card: Savage (1st half added time-49)
Yellow card: Foley (32).
Referee: Jerome Henry (Mayo).