THEY could have hardly imagined it would be as easy or as impressive. Or did they? Co-manager saw some early signs at a midweek training session last week and felt Sunday could be a tough day for Castlehaven.
"We only had fifteen minutes of football, but the way the forwards were moving I thought 'these guys are ready to explode," Casey said after Sunday's emphatic seven-point win as Dr Crokes retained their provincial club title with much more than that to spare.
As they have done in practically every championship match they have played since the start of summer - with the one exception against KilmurryIbrickane - Dr Crokes won in Pairc Ui Chaoimh pulling up. In the end they need hardly have disturbed the silverware from its Lewis Road home and ferried it to Leeside. After about ten minutes of actiojn on Sunday it's winter resting place was assured, and it wasn't going to be west Cork.
There is little doubt but that Dr Crokes focus in on a bigger prize. There remains a spot in the trophy cabinet for the Andy Merrigan Cup and there was much in Dr Crokes performance here to suggest they could be as close to it now as anything time since 1992.
This was as fine a collective performance from Dr Crokes as has been seen in some time and despite protocol dictating otherside some Crokes players and officials couldn't but acknowledge the excellence of the display. Another clean sheet from the defence. General dominance around midfield. Lovely, long, accurate foot passing. Forwards running perfect lines. Forwards kicking perfect scores. In many ways it was a masterclass of clean, elegant yet simple football, and if there was no surprise as to the practitioners of it, then the timing did raise an eyebrow or two.
December. Nineteen points are seldom kicked in high summer, nevermind when Christmas trees are beginning to appear behind windows. It would be trite to say the usual suspects were to the fore. Seldom has a team looked so complete from goalkeeper to corner forward, and even when all players (naturally) don't perform to the max all the time, it's rare that those deficiencies are either obvious or exposed.
On Sunday Brian Looney - again - was fantastic; so too were Jonathon Payne, Shane Myers, Johnny Buckley, Kieran O'Leary. The rest made their contribution, too. It's always the way. Colm Cooper doesn't have to be George Best every day he goes out, but the idea that he could be George Best any day he goes out is enough to occupy the minds of any defence. Some days that's sufficient.
As for Castlehaven, well, they were poor. Made poor by Dr Crokes - patently - but also by their own naivety. There was praise in some quarters for their willingness to forego a stacked defence in favour of going mano a mano with the defending champions. That was a mistake. Sure, it might have lent for a better spectacle of a match and opened up vast acreage for Crokes to kick those lovely scores, but it gave the Cork champions precious little chance of actually winning.
Castlehaven were cynical, too. Their tackling was terrible and their persistent fouling was cynical. They lost Sean Dineen to a double booking midway through the second half for a needless, dangerous and stupid round the nexk tackle on Cooper. Castlehaven were seven points adrift at that stage and never really looking like they would turn this game around. Dineen's dismissal simply added insult to injury.
If that 'Haven signing off on their chances of a Munster title, the writing was on the wall very early for the West Cork men after the Kerry champions had raced into a 0-4 to 0-0 lead after eight minutes, with a Colm Cooper brace and scores from Dáithí Casey and Johnny Buckley. If Haven wanted to cause a shock, they needed to keep it tight for the first quarter. They didn't. More so, they couldn't, as the Crokes were too slick and clinical for them.
Even at this early stage, it was noticeable that Crokes' midfield pairing of the excellent Johnny Buckley and Ambrose O'Donovan had the edge over the Haven's Seán Dineen and Dermot Hurley. But as well as that, the Crokes' attack had too much pace for the Haven backs, the movement, angled runs, support play and finishing of the Crokes forwards was breathtaking to watch, while the Kerry side's defence stood up to the best that Castlehaven could offer.
A sublime Damien Caha-
lane outside-of-the-foot effort in the 10th minute opened Castlehaven account but a damning statistic is that no Haven forward scored from play in the first half – both Brian Hurley and Mark Collins sent over frees.
Crokes, on the other hand, had all six forwards on the scoresheet, from play by the 17th minute when Chris Brady made it 0-7 to 0-2. Hurley had sent over a free by then for the Cork champs.
But Castlehaven were a distinct second best, through no fault of their own as this Crokes team is on a different level, and with Colm Cooper, Kieran O'Leary and Brian Looney on top form in attack, the Killarney side looked like scoring every time they attacked.
While Castlehaven battled hard – their spirit can't be questioned – they were just found wanting, despite the best efforts of Mark Collins (their best performer) and Damien Cahalane, who both added scores before half-time, as Crokes led 011 to 0-4. It could have been worse for the Haven, if not for a point-blank save from keeper Paudie Hurley to deny Crokes corner-back Fionn Fitzgerald.
The second half saw the Haven fight on, trying to take the game to the Crokes, but the damage was done in the first-half.
After Seán Dineen and Collins swapped scores with Gooch and the excellent Looney, Ambrose O'Donovan hit the post before Dineen was sent off for that rash challenge on the Gooch. No complaints.
Mark Collins, again, pointed to leave his side just six points down, 0-13 to 0-7, before a debatable Shane Nolan effort was flagged wide. Sensing that Castlehaven were trying manfully to raise their game, Crokes, now with the extra man, tagged on five quick scores to lead by 11, 0-18 to 0-7, at one stage. It really was that easy for them.
So easy in fact that Dr Crokes could afford to empty their bench and preserve energy for the O'Donoghue Cup final next Sunday and a trip to London the Sunday after.
Somewhere amid the early and muted celebrations Castlehaven outscoring Crokes by five points to one in the closing minutes, with Collins (2), Seánie Cahalane, David Burns and Damien Cahalane all on target. It was hardly noticed and hardly mattered.
The records will show a seven-point win for Dr Crokes. The reality was a whole lot easier than that. Scorers Dr Crokes: Brian Looney (1 45) 07, Colm Cooper (2f), Kieran O'Leary 0-3 each, Jamie Doolan, Johnny Buckley 0-2 each, Dáithí Casey, Chris Brady 0-1 each. Castlehaven: Mark Collins (4f) 0-6, Damien Cahalane (1 45) 0-2, Brian Hurley (f), Seán Dineen, Seanie Cahalane, David Burns 0-1 each. DR CROKES: David Moloney; John Payne, Michael Moloney, Fionn Fitzgerald; Luke Quinn, Eoin Brosnan, Shane Mywers; Ambrose O'Donovan, Johnny Buckley; Kieran O'Leary, Dáithí Casey, Brian Looney; Chris Brady, Colm Cooper, Jamie Doolan. Subs: Shane Doolan for E Brosnan (20); Gavin O'Shea for C Brady (48); David O'Leary for S Myers (52); Andrew Kenneally for J Doolan (57); Kieran Ward for F Fitzgerald (60). CASTLEHAVEN: Paudie Hurley; David Limrick, Liam Collins, Tomás O'Leary; Roland Whelton, Damien Cahalane, Chris Hayes; Seán Dineen, Dermot Hurley; Seánie Cahalane, Mark Collins, Mark Cahalane; Shane Nolan, Brian Hurley, Stephen Hurley. Subs: Alan Cahalane for M Cahalane (30); Timmy O'Donovan for D Limrick (ht); David Burns for S Hurley; Stephen Collins for R Whelton (54) REFEREE: Michael Meade (Limerick)