Casey hat-trick gives Crokes chance to lay semi-final ghosts to rest
Dr Crokes3-15 The Nire 0-6
Logic, and the bookmakers, suggest that when David eyeballs Goliath, Goliath wins. And Kerry giants Dr Crokes had no problem complying with that theory in emphatic fashion by swatting aside The Nire's challenge to claim a fourth provincial crown in six years.
Whatever hope the Waterford champions had of causing a shock depended on a blistering start but Crokes were in irresistible form, with man of the match Daithí Casey firing a first-half hat-trick to quickly put the game to bed.
Pat O'Shea's side hit 2-6 without reply in the opening 20 minutes with Colm 'Gooch' Cooper pulling the strings in attack alongside former Kerry skipper Kieran O'Leary.
They led by 17 points at the break, 3-9 to 0-1, and while the second half was a non-event, Benji Whelan's underdogs deserve credit for finishing in style to lose the closing 30 minutes by just a point.
Crokes set up a mouth-watering All-Ireland semi-final clash against Connacht's Corofin in February as they look to mark the 25th anniversary of their sole Andy Merrigan success by scaling the Hogan Stand steps again.
Before then there's an East Kerry Championship final against Aidan O'Mahony's Rathmore next weekend but selector Harry O'Neill hopes the Killarney powerhouse can right the wrongs of previous last-four losses in the new year.
"When we got our chances, we were more clinical," he said. "It was very pleasing. We were up and running early on. We had the chances, we took them.
"The movement from our forwards, that was one thing we were looking for.
"We'll get over Rathmore and then we'll throw our eyes to the thing that we haven't spoken about all along, which is an All-Ireland semi-final.
"I hope that we look back on the various bits and pieces from each campaign, pick out the good, the bad and the ugly out of each one and try and come up with the right way of approaching this."
The Nire had no answer to their pace, power and movement and a dream opportunity quickly turned into a nightmare.
Whelan was gracious in defeat paying kudos to "the different animal" they ran into in front of 3,055 in Mallow.
"You're taking on a different animal, they're operating on a higher level and it's very hard to come up to that level on a once-off when you haven't been exposed to it before," he said.
"It would've taken a great team to stay with them. I've watched a lot of Division 2 and 3 league games and they're operating at that level and we're not.
"They opened the gate in the first ten minutes and there was no closing it after that. There wasn't anything you could do.
"We were scratching our heads on the sideline, what do you do when a team does that to you? We were playing for pride in the second half and they kept working till the end, that's heartening to see."
O'Leary and Ambrose O'Donovan kicked early scores for Crokes before Casey finished a sweeping move involving Cooper, O'Leary and former Kerry ace Eoin Brosnan.
Casey, Looney and O'Leary stretched the gap to eight, 1-5 to no score, before Casey coolly slotting away a penalty after the lively O'Leary, who followed up with a super point, was brought down.
Dermot Ryan, a late inclusion, got The Nire off the mark in the 21st minute with the first of four superb points from play but rather than settle his side, it signalled a backlash from Crokes.
Casey hit a contender for goal of the year with a rocket to the top corner before Buckley, 'Gooch' and the energetic Looney gave them an unassailable half-time lead.
Former Déise dual star Liam Lawlor hit two second-half points along with three from Ryan as The Nire, who had All-Star hurler Jamie Barron black carded, battled manfully but Crokes coasted to a comprehensive win.
Scorers - Dr Crokes: D Casey 3-1 (1-0 pen, 1f), K O'Leary 0-4, B Looney, C Cooper (1f) 0-2 each,, E Brosnan, J Buckley, A O'Donovan, J Kiely, S Murphy ('45), C Brady, 0-1 each. The Nire: D Ryan 0-4, L Lawlor 0-2.
Dr Crokes - S Murphy, J Payne, M Moloney, G White; F Fitzgerald, A O'Sullivan, D O'Leary; E Brosnan, A O'Donovan; J Buckley, G O'Shea, D Casey; K O'Leary, C Cooper, B Looney. Subs: M Burns for O'Donovan (44), J Kiely for Casey (48), T Brosnan for O'Shea and L Quinn for Payne (both 51), C Brady for Looney (54), PJ Lawlor for O'Sullivan (56).
The Nire - T Wall; J Walsh, T O'Gorman, D Ryan; J McGrath, M Walsh, J Barron; S Walsh, D Guiry; S Lawlor, B Wall, S Ryan; L Lawlor, D Guiry, C Gleeson. Subs: C Guiry for D Guiry and J Mulcahy for J Walsh (both ht), C Mulcahy for Barron (37 BC), K Guiry for B Wall (54), K Brazil for L Lawlor (58).
Ref - K Murphy (Cork)