LAST Sunday was one of those dark, dreary December days, one of those days when it would be normal to have a low scoring game as heavy underfoot conditions should militate to slow down players and make scoring difficult for the forward divisions. But what we saw in Pairc Ui Chaoimh as Dr Crokes captured their second successive Munster club title was the direct opposite.
While the Cork pitch was in superb condition, the display by the lakeside men was as close to perfect fifteen-man total football as I have seen from any club side since these club championships were inaugurated in 1971-72.
Nemo Rangers and Crossmaglen, who have won thirteen championships between them, in particular, are the only two clubs in my opinion whose football displays would have matched Dr Crokes scintillating display last Sunday. And I have seen all the great club sides who have participated in this competition down the decades.
There was a massive gulf between the teams last Sunday and Castlehaven struggled in all areas of the field as Crokes slipped into top gear from the very first seconds. Johnny Buckley fielded from the throw in, raced through the home defence and Daithi Casey pointed following Buckley's pass. Eleven seconds gone and already the writing was on the proverbial wall, and not just because of that point as I will now elaborate on.
Two more white flags were quickly raised, eleven minutes gone and it was Dr Crokes 0-3, Castlehaven 00. However, in those eleven minutes the Cork champions had sent out a signal that really was to copperfasten Dr Crokes complete domination. Castlehaven were not going to inflict that horrible swarming, crowding, thirteen men behind the ball tactic, which many experts had predicted they might do. Instead, and this is to their eternal credit, they opted to play man for man, six defenders each picking up a Crokes attacker, and as soon as the sideline men had decided on this strategy of play whatever little hope they might have had of pushing the Killarney to the limit was cast aside.
Now given and creating vast open spaces we saw the Kerry champions at their brilliant best as they proceeded to give an exhibition of all that is good and great in gaelic football. Castlehaven were in a different league as they struggled to contain the swift, flowing moves of their opponents, attack after attack was launched at their goal and they came from every section of the field.
The Crokes men were in their element, running into open spaces all over the place, supporting each other from the full back line up as John Payne in the number two jersey had his best ever hour in the black and amber in this last line of defence. (He, along with Brian Looney were my 'men of the match').
While it was a superb fifteen man display with not one weak link Payne was the shinning light in front of goalkeeper David Moloney who continues to assure supreme confidence in his handling of the ball, high or low?
Joint managers Noel O'Leary and Vince Casey, in their first year in charge, have done a tremendous job in landing the Kerry and Munster crowns. While their predecessor Harry O'Neill achieved the same double there is something very different about this year's side. They have incorporated the use of the foot pass much more into their play and this was very evident again last Sunday as they moved the ball with great precision from defence to attack. The minimum of hand passing, with precision kicking and nearly always giving the forward a 60/40 advantage of gaining possession over his opponent.
Ambrose O'Donovan and Johnny Buckley have developed into a superb midfield partnership. Two big strong men, both excellent in the air, both very mobile, extremely fit and like all the Crokes players - and this really for me is the secret of their brilliance - so comfortable, confident and dare I say cocky when in possession of the ball.
Most top club teams have maybe seven or eight players who are born with and have developed natural ball skills but each one of the Killarney town men now possess every skill necessary to be part of this Kerry and Munster championship winning side.
Of course, all of what I have written here would mean nothing if the fitness levels were not of the required standard and again in this regard the Crokes have reached the pinnacle of fitness required to play the game, which we have witnessed not alone last Sunday but all during their march to their two provincial crowns.
I have never before seen 19 points kicked in a club championship game at this time of year, and when you see sixteen of these coming from play it really copperfastens the greatness of this team.
Noel O'Leary stated after the game that this was the greatest Dr Crokes team ever. I have watched and at times played against the Crokes over the last 57 years and this present side is easily the best I have seen for style and pure football. However, to win the AllIreland ttile in Croke Park on March 17 might class them with Crossmaglen and Nemo Rangers as one of the greatest club sides of all time.
And one last little detail about their make up that sets them apart: their sportsmanship and behaviour on the field last Sunday was simply above reproach. Congratulations to this exemplary club and to captain Kieran O'Leary and his team mates.
Fogra: No rest for the wicked as my mother used to say and as my book - My Beautiful Obsession, Chasing the Kerry Dream - publishers, Collins Press, continue to lay out my signing schedule with Killarney Bookshop on Main Street my port of call this Saturday from 2-4pm. If anyone wants to drop in get a book signed for Christmas or simply have a little chat. I would be delighted to see you. Two further pit stops in Listowel and Cahersiveen are on the horizon before the festive season.