Crokes can expect another tough test from Clare champs Kilmurry-Ibrickane
Munster Club SFC semi-final: Dr Crokes v Kilmurry-Ibrickane, Sunday, November 12, Lewis Road, Killarney at 2pm
Dr Crokes take the penultimate step this Sunday on their way to defending their Munster title, and they will be more than glad of home venue after their travels to and travails in Clonmel last time out. Given that they face Clare champions Kilmurry-Ibrickane for a place in the provincial final, Dr Crokes won't be sorry they don't have to cross the Shannon estuary to face a team that has always cause them a fair degree of discomfort on their previous meetings.
Crokes might have had nine points to spare over the Clare club in last year's Munster quarter-final in Quilty, but the 2-8 to 0-13 escape from the west Clare village in 2012 remains fresh enough for the Kerry champions to pay due care and attention to another potential pitfall on their path to a successful All-Ireland title defence.
Crokes' quarter-final win over Clonmel Commercials ten days ago came at a price with the red card and suspension of Alan O'Sullivan, but his misfortune will be another man's opportunity, and there will be plenty of eager bodies trying to take - and keep - O'Sullivan's starting place. To that end, Crokes fielded what was nearly a completely new team for last weekend's East Kerry SFC quarter-final win over Kilcummin, but in the end they had to call on the old reliables to bail them out of trouble against a Kilcummin team who spotted potential weakness and seized up it. Ironically enough, O'Sullivan played a leading role at centre-back and kicked two points from play, while David O'Leary and Tony Brosnan were the only other two starters to score.
Trailing 0-7 to 0-11 entering the final quarter, Dr Crokes had to call on Johnny Buckley, Michéal Burns, Brian Looney and Daithi Casey, and points from the latter three, and O'Leary and Brosnan, got them over the line just about.
Few teams learn quicker or better from game to game, and there's no doubt Pat O'Shea and the management team will have been working hard to iron the kinks out of the last two performances for what is certain to be a stern test from Kilmurry-Ibrickane. It's possible that Tony Brosnan could take O'Sullivan's place, with Brosnan playing the full forward line and Casey moving to midfield, but as ever it will take a 20-man effort for Crokes to win.
Colm Cooper hasn't started the last three games for Crokes, and it remains to be seen if the management err on the side of caution with him once more, even though he has recovered fully from a hamstring injury and is fit to play if required.
Other players given the weekend off against Kilcummin were Shane Murphy, John Payne, Fionn Fitzgerald, Mike Moloney, Luke Quinn, Gavin White, Gavin O'Shea and Kieran O'Leary, and the hope will be that they'll be refreshed for the visit of the Clare champions.
Home advantage should be a huge asset to Crokes, if for no other reason that the Quilty pitch in November can be a great leveller. It's always played heavy whenever a Kerry club has gone there, and Dr Crokes are a 'top of the ground' type of team. Heavy pitches can't be forwarded as much of an excuse at this time of the year but there's no doubt but they will much prefer the familiar surrounds of Lewis Road on Sunday as much as Kilmurry-Ibrickane won't relish travelling to a ground they lost at in 2011 when beaten 0-12 to 0-9 under John Kennedy's managership.
A three-point win over first-time finalists, Clondegad, in the Clare final could suggest that Kilmurry-Ibrickane aren't as all-powerful as some might think, but Dr Crokes can't afford to allow that thinking creep into their mindset. A focussed performance, with the requisite input from the usual suspects, will be enough to see Crokes through by six or seven.
Who are Kilmurry-Ibrickane?
Last Sunday week's county final win over Clondegad was Kilmurry-Ibrickane's sixth Clare county championship title since 2008 (Kilmurry-Ibrickane and formerly Quilty have 15 Clare SFC titles in all), and with back-to-back wins in 2016 and 2017 they come to the party with as much recent consistency as Dr Crokes. Very much the kingpins of Clare football in the last decade, Kilmurry-Ibrickane contested the 2008 Munster final, won the provincial title in 2009 and contested the All-Ireland Club final in March 2010. They won consecutive county titles in 2011 and 2012, before suffering a temporary dip in their dominance before re-emerging again to claim the last two Clare titles.
Defender Martin McMahon and forward Keelan Sexton were the only two Kilmurry-Ibrickane men on the Clare senior panel that played against Kerry in last year's Munster Championship, while Enda Coughlan and Shane Hickey were part of the Clare panel in 2016.
Other notable players for the Clare club are goalkeeper Ian McInerney, Evan Talty, Martin McMahon and Noel Downes.