Confident Cratloe boss refuses to rule out shock victory
FOR Cratloe, just a glance at Dr Crokes' match stats over the course of their championship season to date is all it would take to feel very intimidated about this Munster final challenge.
Their average winning margin in their five-match Kerry campaign was 12 points, while in Munster they cruised home by six against Castlehaven and then had 17 points to spare over Loughmore-Castleiney in the semi-final.
The closest any team came to them was East Kerry, who ran them to four points in round three. Thing is, the East Kerry divisional side were made up of six teams, among them Spa, the side that beat Cratloe by 2-11 to 0-10 in the Munster intermediate final four years ago.
Mission impossible then Cratloe on the back of these cold figures that stack everything in the Crokes' favour, but manager Colm Collins doesn't think that way. He never has.
"Kilmurry Ibrickane have proved that Crokes are not an unbeatable team," he says defiantly.
"I felt that last year Kilmurry could have beaten them. If the game went on for another couple of minutes I felt that they would have won it. Crokes are a fantastic football team and we have tremendous respect for them, but having said that we feel that we've a great chance and we're going to have a right go at it," he adds.
Such defiance, even confidence has been at the core of Cratloe's football story over the past couple of years, but especially this year – a journey that would have been over before it started if they'd paid the slightest bit of heed to the weight of history and the stats contained therein.
In Clare they were playing junior football less than a decade ago, while in capturing an historic first senior title this year big blueblood football clubs in Kilmurry Ibrickane, Cooraclare, Kilrush Shamrocks, Éire Óg Ennis and Doonbeg were all disposed of with varying degrees of ease along the way.
Doonbeg got closest when running them to three points in the county final, but it flattered the Magpies to be so close.
"It was fantastic to make the big breakthrough," says Collins, "and everyone has been on a fierce high since winning the county final and then turning out 24 hours later to beat Ballinacourty. It was a remarkable achievement.
"They played much better the second day that the first day – they showed great heart and spirit and finished so strong. You would have expected that maybe they would have tired, but they didn't.
"It was great fighting, because it would have been easy to lay down and say 'we have our job done', but they didn't. They're very ambitious and hopefully now Crokes will find out all about that next weekend," he adds.
For Collins and nine of the starting team it will be a second chance at Munster final glory, four years on from when Mike 'Stam' O'Donoghue haul of 2-3 ambushed their intermediate titles hopes in Mallow.
"It was a big thing for football in the club to get to the Munster final in 2009," recalls Collins.
"We had a great victory against the Cork champions Valley Rovers in the semi-final, but on the day of the final things just didn't' work out for us. We had a couple of injuries and didn't really play as well as we could have in the final.
"The crucial thing that day was that Barry Duggan got a back injury – their danger man was Mick O'Donoghue and we really didn't have anyone else to mark him after that. He got a couple of goals and we were punished heavily for that.
"You can't make mistakes in a Munster final. Looking at Crokes, if you make a mistake you're going to be punished, so we've got to make sure we don't make any, because sloppy and we will be finished by these boys. We have to retain the ball when we win it, then use it and score – no more about it," he adds.
It's this possession game, with Colm Collins' son Padraic at the hub of operations roaming around the field – in much the same way he was for the Clare hurlers in 2013 – that holds the key to Cratloe's hopes of unlocking the Crokes defence.
"Crokes aren't a negative team and we're not a negative team," says Collins.
"So because of that it should be a very good game. I feel that we've got to produce the performance of the year to win the Munster final. We've got to tidy up all the bits and pieces; we've got to get everything right, that's just it. If we do that I'd be very confident."
Joe Ó Muircheartaigh is the sports editor of the Clare People