SO here we are again. Defeat. Wretched defeat. What do Dr Crokes have to do to crack this particular nut?
It was all going so swimmingly well. Or so we thought. They'd learned from their mistakes of twelve months ago and under the new management team of Noel O'Leary and Vince Casey had adopted a more expansive game plan.
More kick passing. Longer ball. Move it at pace. Move it forward. Get it into Colm Cooper and Jamie Doolan and Chris Brady as soon as possible. Let them do what they do. Let Daithí Casey and Brian Looney shoot from distance too. Let them surge and stream forward in support.
Beautiful lines, swift passing, exceptional movement: that was the Dr Crokes we'd come to know and love over the course of the county, Munster and All Ireland championships. On Saturday we rarely saw any of that. They were static. They were laboured. They were, quite simply, shell-shocked. It was boys against men in Semple.
Ballymun were stronger, fitter, faster and, crucially, bigger. They probably didn't have the same level of skill as the Crokes do – not that they weren't skilled, they were – it simply didn't matter. With their bulk they bossed this game.
The first two or three minutes was as good as it got for the Killarney men in the first half. Johnny Buckley won the throw-in. Crokes won an early '45. They missed it. When that was followed by an absolutely beautiful point by Jamie Doolan the feeling was that all was right in Crokes' world.
How wrong can you be? James McCarthy showed us all what he's capable of. He won pretty much every kick-out for the next fifteen minutes. If he didn't win it then Philly McMahon or Alan Hubbard snapped up the breaks. Crokes were struggling, badly, to get any sort of possession.
Jason Whelan had Luke Quinn in all sorts of bother. Eoin Brosnan was finding Kevin Leahy a handful. Mike Moloney had a job on his hands to curb Dean Rock. Crokes were creaking. All over. Wides by the northsiders kept Crokes in touch. In the first half they kicked seven. They really should have been out of sight. At the very least they should have had a decent lead built up. Yet coming up on the quarter hour they were level at two apiece.
Crokes wouldn't have been worried at that point. The goal, however, changed everything. Davey Byrne fed Ted Furman. Furman burned John Payne and hit a belter past David Moloney. A three point lead was the least their efforts deserved. It gave them the confidence they needed. If they didn't believe before, they believed now: Crokes were there for the taking.
They should have had a second just a few minutes later. The move deserved to end in a goal as Dean Rock set Kevin Leahy up with a ball across the face of goal. David Moloney was having none of it. Crokes were holding on by their fingertips. Rock and Davey Byrne hit further points before half-time. Crokes responded with a belter from Daithí Casey and a trademark Cooper point (assisted by the hardworking Kieran O'Leary) just before the whistle.
The feeling at half-time was that it could have been a hell of a lot worse. Crokes didn't deserve to be as close as they were, but who cares about deserve? They were. Still they had to, had to, come out of the blocks well in the second half.
They didn't. Ballymun continued from where they left off. They hit two unanswered before, arguably, the game's defining moment. Philly McMahon brought Casey down in the box. Penalty. An opportunity missed, as Chris Brady's shot was comfortably saved by Seán Currie. To add insult to injury McMahon extended Ballymun's unanswered run to three just minutes later. Down by six, Crokes were teetering on the brink.
Eoin Brosnan was pushed forward to midfield and with the Kerry captain stationed alongside him Johnny Buckley began to finally make an impact on this game. Crokes roared back into it.
They began to play as we suspected they could. Four points were converted on the bounce. Cooper, Casey with two and Johnny Buckley with a beauty showed what this Crokes side were truly capable of. Not that it was all one way traffic during this period where Crokes brought it, improbably, back to a two point game.
Ballymun could have had a few more scores, perhaps even a goal if not for the brilliant defending of John Payne (by now well recovered from his difficult first half). They weren't rattled by Crokes' recovery. They kept their cool. They slotted a free through Rock and a point shortly after. The game was, to all intents and purposes, over. Fionn Fitzgerald pegged them back with a beauty, but any dreams Crokes had for a late equalising goal were just that – dreams.
Derek Byrne hit one last point for Ballymun. The icing on the cake and the final nail in Crokes' coffin.
Dr Crokes: David Moloney, John Payne, Michael Moloney, Fionn Fitzgerald (0-1), Luke Quinn, Eoin Brosnan, Shane Myers, Ambrose O'Donovan, Johnny Buckley (0-1), Kieran O'Leary, Daithí Casey (0-3, 1f), Brian Looney, Chris Brady (0-1), Colm Cooper (0-2), Jamie Doolan (0-1) Subs: Shane Doolan for O'Donovan, David O'Leary for Myers, Kieran Ward for Quinn, Gavin O'Shea for Brady
Ballymun Kickhams: Seán Currie, Eoin Dolan Sean George, Enda Dolan, Alan Hubbard Karl Connolly, James Burke, Philly McMahon (0-1), James McCarthy, Davey Byrne (0-1), Kevin Leahy, Jason Whelan (0-1), Ted Furman (1-1), Dean Rock (0-5, 3f), Conor Weir Subs: Elliot Reilly for Weir, Derek Byrne (0-1) for Leahy, Shane Forde for Connolly,. Andrew O'Brien for Furman
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo)