HE stood on the terrace in O'Moore Park.
He watched, as all Crokes did, with ever increasing disappointment as those glorious opening twenty minutes turned to dust as the game progressed and the Crossmaglen machine kicked into gear. It was then that he turned to his wife and made the following declaration: "I will get the Crokes to Croke Park."
You get the feeling from talking to Noel O'Leary that he's an all or nothing kind of guy. Perhaps, that's the reason it took him so long to decide to take the plunge with the Crokes when chairman – and his current joint manager – Vince Casey came calling. Three weeks in all it took him to decide that this was to be his calling for, at least, the next twelve months. O'Leary had been there and done that so he knows what it takes to reach the promised land of Croke Park on Paddy's Day and to lift the cup.
"That's why I'm here," he says.
"I make no apologies to anyone, for being in a charge for that reason. I will go game for game, but I will get the Crokes as far as I can. The goal has to be Croke Park, because they deserve it for themselves, but it was a tough decision to take over. My mission will not be complete until I get them to Croke Park and that is not being cocky or anything, but this bunch of lads deserve to get to Croke Park. I think that this squad of players need it for themselves. They need to get to Croke Park, because they are good enough."
O'Leary had some pretty big boots to fill on replacing Harry O'Neill – the man who led the Crokes to their last three county titles (2000, 2010 and 2011) – and though we'd find it hard to imagine him being intimidated by anything, even O'Leary was bowled over by the amount of talent in the Lewis Road outfit's dressing room.
"I went into the dressing room for our first county league game and just to go in there and see what you had to players you had in front of you. There were stars everywhere, because they are stars. You would almost be afraid to talk to them," he admits.
"But in fairness to them, they listened when I spoke. They respected me and as ye know with me – there are no backdoors, I speak my mind. So they listened and I suppose that I had done it all myself helped, but I call it as it is and the lads to be fair have reacted well to it."
They've reacted well too to the defensive systems put in place by other teams in this year's championship – most notably by Laune Rangers in the semi-final.
It's a development that's totally understandable. What are teams supposed to do when playing the Dr Crokes of Colm Cooper, Jamie Doolan and Brian Looney? Give them the freedom of the park? Go man on man?
O'Leary, nevertheless, finds it hard to take at times.
"I keep saying it, but if we are not very careful in Kerry youngsters very soon will not want to play football. In fact some will give it up. If you are bringing youngsters to this sort of football they will turn away. Its not football as it should be played," he says.
Still it's the way of the world. A fact of life. The way things are. It mightn't be the way O'Leary would want it, nevertheless he's had to adapt.
"I and Vince [Casey] have had to change. We might spend three times every day on the phone talking about tactics. I have to do it, though I don't like doing it.
"Hopefully if we win on Sunday and we play outside the county we will be able to cope with the defensive walls that are being put up against us, because we have plenty practice in this county.
"Hopefully we will get out of Kerry and then we will probably have two buses parked in front of us," he continues.
"It is a fright to God that we are Kerry people and we are living on and playing northern football. Other clubs in the county have brought coaches down from the North to coach them how to play the blanket defence!"
Provactive stuff, but possibly an argument for another day. O'Leary's immediate concerns are clear – how to find a way past this DIngle outit. A Dingle outfit that defeated them in the County League already this year.
"We will not be resting on our laurels or taking Dingle lightly. Any club team that can get to a county final, you have to show them respect. They seem to score goals like confetti – you just kick the ball up in the air and the next thing it's in the back of the net. They score goals for fun so that is a major worry."
On that score you can't say they haven't been warned.