Casey fires classy Crokes to title glory
SAVING their best for the biggest day of all in the Kingdom, Dr Crokes retained their title in convincing fashion at Fitzgerald Stadium yesterday.
Under pressure heading into this county decider after a few below-par performances, Dr Crokes returned to form in style, controlling the game from the outset, helped in no small part by Colm Cooper's goal after just 20 seconds.
It was an early goal made by a Johnny Buckley and Kieran O'Leary combination that gave a sharp and clinical Dr Crokes the dream start, as they raced 1-3 to 0-0 ahead. It was a game where goals had a huge part to play, with Dr Crokes' second goal -- scored by Kerry panellist Daithi Casey after nine minutes of the second half -- the match-defining moment.
Before Casey made the most of a goalkeeping error to change the outlook of this final, Mid Kerry had battled back from a poor first-half display to burst into life in the opening stages of the second half.
Trailing 1-4 to 0-1 at the break (wing-back Pa Kilkenny scored their only first-half point on 22 minutes), the divisional side rattled off four successive points at the start of the second half to leave just two points between the teams -- Gavin O'Grady (2), Darran O'Sullivan and Sean O'Sullivan all making their mark.
But Dr Crokes then got a double slice of luck. Firstly, midfielder Ambrose O'Donovan was lucky to escape with only a yellow card after an off-the-ball incident, before Casey grabbed a fortuitous goal -- a pivotal score, as his manager Harry O'Neill explained.
"After five minutes of the second half they had four points kicked," he said. "It was back to two points and in the melting pot. The goal gave us that bit of breathing space and from there I thought we controlled the game."
Mid Kerry wing-back Bernard Murphy hit back straight away with a point but Crokes were now in control, with captain Luke Quinn, Fionn Fitzgerald, John Payne and Eoin Brosnan outstanding in defence, and Casey, Jamie Doolan and, of course, Cooper spearheading the attack.
O'Leary, Buckley and Cooper hit three on the bounce, as Dr Crokes eased 2-7 to 0-6 ahead at the three-quarter stage.
The game was effectively over at that point, as Mid Kerry star Darran O'Sullivan later conceded.
"Over the course of the game we weren't good enough," he said. "They performed. We didn't. We didn't play at all in the first half. You can credit Crokes with that or maybe we were just enjoying the day too much. We just didn't have it."
Mid Kerry then made a late surge, with Gary Sayers coming off the bench to score 0-2 and Colm Kerins also on target, but it was too little too late, as Dr Crokes were closing out this final in their inimitable style.
As impressive as the reigning champions forwards were, it was that rearguard performance against a much-vaunted Mid Kerry forward-line that really shone brightest on a wet and dreary day in Killarney.
"It was a strong defensive display," said O'Neill. "These guys always come up trumps for us in the big games, against Austin Stacks in last year's county final, against the might of South Kerry as well. I am delighted for them, especially for Luke Quinn. He had a fantastic game today in an area where we were supposed to be weak but he gave a Man-of-the-Match performance,"
To cap a wonderful day for Dr Crokes -- retaining the Kerry SFC title for the first time since 1914 -- midfielder O'Donovan had the final say, lofting over a huge score late on.
Winning the senior county title for the first time in Killarney, with their club grounds just across the road from Fitzgerald Stadium, Dr Crokes are now turning their attention towards a Munster quarter-final away to Waterford champions Ballinacourty next Sunday.
With the first-half collapse against Nemo Rangers in last season's provincial final still a painful memory, Dr Crokes captain Quinn said: "That day we didn't show up at all but we've learned from that and it won't happen to us again. We are looking forward now to seeing what Munster will bring."
Scorers -- Dr Crokes: C Cooper 1-3 (0-1f), D Casey 1-1 (0-1f), K O'Leary, B Looney, A O'Donovan, J Buckley 0-1 each. Mid Kerry: G O'Grady (2f), G Sayers 0-2 each, D O'Sullivan, S O'Sullivan, C Kerins, P Kilkenny, B Murphy 0-1 each.
Dr Crokes -- A Kelly; J Payne, L Quinn, D O'Leary; F Fitzgerald; E Brosnan, S Myers; A O'Donovan, J Buckley; A Kenneally, D Casey, B Looney; C Cooper, K O'Leary, J Doolan. Subs: C Brady for Doolan (52); B McMahon for Kenneally (55).
Mid Kerry -- M Moriarty; A Cahillane, F Griffin, G Hartnett; P Kilkenny, M Mangan, B Murphy; M Burke , D Walsh; D Kelliher, D O'Sullivan, S O'Sullivan; G O'Grady, C Kerins , J Flynn. Subs: G Sayers for S O'Sullivan (45); C McGillicuddy for Kerins (58); C Moriarty for Flynn (58).
Ref -- P Hayes (Kerins O'Rahillys)