Full strength Dr Crokes expected to maintain dominance over Rathmore in dress rehearsal
IN a repeat of last year's senior club final - as well as the 2011 semi-final - East Kerry rivals Dr Crokes and Rathmore meet again at the penultimate stage of the competition with the score tied an one apiece.
While Rathmore surprised Crokes two years ago with a narrow win in the semi-final before going on to win the title, last year Dr Crokes restored the natural order with a 0-14 to 0-6 win in a forgettable final played in early May. Some 17 months on and the teams meet again, this time with Dr Crokes as defending champions, and very much the fancy to win through to yet another county final.
A cursory glance at the county league table shows practically nothing between the teams - Dr Crokes have 12 points with Rathmore on 10 points but with a game in hand - and it wouldn't be unkind to say that neither team had a county league match last weekend. Rathmore's game against O'Rahillys was called off while Dr Crokes 5-23 to 0-4 demolition of Spa hardly constitutes a contest of any sort.
Dr Crokes will for the first time in some time have their county men available and that means Colm Cooper, Eoin Brosnan, Johnny Buckley, Fionn Fitzgerald and Kieran O'Leary back on club duty, which will considerably strengthen an already formidable Crokes side. Michael Moloney, Luke Quinn, Ambrose O'Donovan, Brian Looney, Daithi Casey and Chris Brady (right) are just some of the players Crokes will weave in among the county men to form the team that has dominated club football in the county when it matters most over the last few years. Crokes only absentee is Shane Doolan who is two to three weeks away from playing after picking up an injury.
Rathmore is one of those senior clubs that always seems to be able to hold their ground at the top level without ever really threatening for the very top honours, although that senior club title two years ago represented a considerable leap forward. Whether they can build on that and repeat the trick here, or in the county championship itself, remains to be seen, but this game is another chance for Rathmore to pit themselves against the very best there is.
Aidan O'Mahony remains the team's fulcrum and if O'Mahony ticks around the middle then Rathmore generally play well. If Johnny Buckley obliges with a strong performance at midfield then Rathmore can be very hard to beat indeed. Donal O'Sullivan is a young player who is emerging as a very fine midfielder, and around that Paul Murphy, Conor O'Sullivan, George O'Keeffe, Mark Reen and Michael O'Riordan are players who can compete with the best of them.
Nonetheless, it remains a tough prospect for Rathmore, taking on a Dr Crokes team that will view winning this club championship as an insurance ticket into Munster before they begin the defence of the county championship title in earnest on Sunday week. Interestingly that county championship quarter-final is against Rathmore so it will be interesting to see if either team holds anything back in this dress rehearsal, of sorts, to the main drama.
It certainly wouldn't be Dr Crokes style to pull any punches when there's a major title at stake (indeed it wouldn't be there style at all) and for Rathmore this might be their best chance of toppling their neighbours and going on to win a county title, which would also give them a chance of sneaking into the Munster Club Championship should Crokes relinquish their county championship crown to a divisional team.
It all makes for a fascinating encounter in Fitzgerald Stadium - a ground familiar to both teams - and while Rathmore will be competitve it's more likely that Dr Crokes will want to put this one to bed early and lay down a bold marker for the following weekend's fixture. They are capable of doing just that and it's difficult to see it playing out any other way.
Verdict: Dr Crokes