Crokes can dare to dream big again
Dr Crokes 2-16 Kenmare Dist 1-12
Refreshed, re-energised, rebooted, Dr Crokes haven't taken long to reassert their authority in Kerry after a two-year hiatus that followed their four-in-a-row from 2010 to 2013.
The core element of a team that added three Munster titles but fell short of an All-Ireland final each time remains.
But it's the injection of youth, particularly off the bench, that should fire the Killarney side with optimism that this campaign has quite a bit to run yet. On this evidence they look like a team that is only going to improve.
They did an impressive number on Kenmare District in Fitzgerald Stadium, putting pressure on their opponents' kick-out sufficiently in the first half to build a commanding lead.
When Kenmare lost their most productive player, the flying Patrick Clifford, to a bad shoulder injury after 30 minutes the climb got sufficiently steeper and they were never able to get Stephen O'Brien and Killian Spillane consistently into the game.
Long before the end they were resigned to the fact that there would be no repeat of their heroics when these teams last met in a county final, a late extra-time winner giving the amalgamation their last win.
Colm Cooper's fingerprints were all over this win. While Brian Looney matched Cooper's contribution from play - four points each - and Kieran O'Leary delivered a thundering first-half goal and was always a menace across the inside line, Cooper created so many openings and controlled the game when the lead was established.
At one stage in the second half he took off up the wing on the terrace side and burned two Kenmare opponents for pace that some think has receded to pop a fine score. A 70-metre dash? No problem. There's not a chance Kerry, not just Eamonn Fitzmaurice, will allow him to hang up his inter-county spurs, and the prospect of one last stab at the captaincy will surely seal it.
When Teddy Doyle scored a goal to retrieve some hope after Johnny Buckley's goal at the other end had opened up a seven-point lead early in the second half, Crokes scored the next five points and Cooper was involved in the first four of those, setting up Looney for two, scoring one himself from play and then winning the free that he himself converted.
"You could see as the game wore on," said selector and former manager Harry O'Neill, who does the media duties instead of current manager Pat O'Shea.
"I turned to Pat and said the more we can get Cooper on the ball to control it, we win this game.
"He was awesome there. Talk about his pace being gone? That point he got down the wing was phenomenal. He just took the game by the scruff of the neck in the last 20 minutes and showed what a player he is."
Crokes haven't set the world alight too often in this championship but when it mattered most they delivered.
Buckley had his problems on the ground with Clifford but with Ambrose O'Donovan and Eoin Brosnan in support behind from centre-back, where he was brought in to track Spillane, they were commanding in the air. Eventually the cracks showed.
They were starting to take water on board in the 26th minute when John Spillane's attempted pass to Clifford was cut out and Crokes countered hard with Fionn Fitzgerald, who dominated his head-to-head with county colleague O'Brien, placed O'Leary in the corner.
O'Leary had much to do but he lanced inside and made the perfect angle to squeeze a left-footed shot into the corner for a 1-7 to 0-5 lead.
Paul O'Connor got it back to four points by the break but one of Crokes' many recent All-Ireland minor medal winners just on the field, Micheal Burns, made an instant impact on the restart with a point that left Kenmare's defence chasing shadows.
When Gavin White found Buckley unmarked behind the Kenmare defence on 35 minutes - Cooper again produced some deft approach work - the finish pushed Crokes seven clear, but the response from Doyle threatened a comeback.
It was short-lived, however, as Crokes set to work again, with Looney and Cooper to the fore. At the back Michael Moloney grew in stature beside Fitzgerald as the game progressed.
Another of the recent All-Ireland minor winning vintage, Jordan Kiely, came on to kick one of the scores of the game, to pose more questions of the management in the future as to what the right balance is.
"That is the big ask, the big test for us, to try and get that balance right. Micheal Burns, Jordan Kiely, Tony Brosnan, it's an embarrassment of riches on the sideline," accepted O'Neill.
Crokes look like they might just have the next Kerry goalkeeper in their armoury too: Shane Murphy's handling and kick-outs were top class.
Brosnan, now 36, felt Kenmare's decision not to play a sweeper paid off, while their work on their opponents' kick-out paid off.
"It was a 15 on 15 game and it probably suited us. We did a good bit of work on their kick-outs during the week. Nothing was left to chance," he said.
By the end Crokes were running down the clock. O'Connor had a shot rebound off an upright while Killian and Adrian Spillane picked off late points. Tadhg Morley was industrious but the precision tackling of Crokes repeatedly pushed them backwards.
For the majority of the Kenmare squad - only Tuosist's Peter O'Shea wasn't from Templenoe or Kenmare on the starting 15 - they must dust themselves down and face each other in next week's intermediate final.
For Crokes, they're entitled to dare to dream again.
Scorers - Dr Crokes: C Cooper 0-7 (3fs), B Looney 0-4, K O'Leary 1-1, J Buckley 1-0, A O'Donovan, S Murphy ('45'), J Kiely, M Burns 0-1 each. Kenmare District: P O'Connor 0-8 (7fs), T Doyle 1-0, A Spillane, K Spillane 0-2 each.
Dr Crokes - S Murphy; J Payne, M Moloney, F Fitzgerald; G White, E Brosnan, D O'Leary; A O'Donovan, J Buckley; D Casey, G O'Shea, B Looney; A O'Sullivan, K O'Leary, C Cooper. Subs: M Burns for O'Sullivan (ht), J Kiely for O'Shea (48), L Quinn for D O'Leary (48), M Milner for E Brosnan (55), PJ Lawlor for O'Donovan (59), T Brosnan for K O'Leary (59).
Kenmare District - K Fitzgibbon (Kenmare); Gavin Crowley (Templenoe), Kieran O'Neill (Templenoe), D Crowley; T Morley (Templenoe), D O'Shea (Kenmare), J Spillane (Templenoe); P Clifford (Templenoe), P O'Shea (Tuosist); S O'Shea (Kenmare), A Spillane (Templenoe), T Doyle (Templenoe); S O'Brien (Kenmare), P O'Connor (Kenmare), K Spillane (Templenoe). Subs: K O'Sullivan (Kenmare) for Clifford (30), F O'Sullivan (Tuosist) for P O'Shea (ht), M Crowley (Kenmare) for J Spillane (ht), P Spillane (Templenoe) for S O'Shea (55).
Ref - B Griffin.
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