Crokes get out of jail to end Cratloe dream
Dr Crokes 0-13 Cratloe 0-12Munster club SFC final
THOSE hurling shockwaves reverberating from Nowlan Park were almost matched in a sensational decider at the Gaelic Grounds when Clare's first-time champions Cratloe had Kerry's kingpins at their mercy but just couldn't finish them off.
The bookies – who had made Dr Crokes 1/33 favourites – looked very stupid indeed when Clare's rank outsiders, the dual-club with a side that included seven of the county's All-Ireland winning hurlers, dramatically clawed their way back from seven points down to seize the lead with four minutes of normal time left.
The game took one of its many dramatic lurches when Colm Cooper got sent off for a second yellow card in the 54th minute, just after Cratloe had pulled level. And when sharpshooter Cathal McInerney kicked a free to give Cratloe the lead, a massive shock looked on the cards, evoking memories of 1992 at the same Limerick venue, when Clare famously beat Kerry in the Munster SFC final.
Spurred on by the brilliance of county hurlers McInerney, Podge Collins, Conor McGrath, midfielder Fergal Lynch and tireless wing-back captain Martin 'Ogie' Murphy, the barnstorming Banner boys had the Kerry giants on their knees and needed only to pull their sling-shot one more time to end their provincial reign.
But history did not repeat itself as 14-man Crokes, in their fourth successive final, used all their nous and experience to pull their sixth title out of the fire thanks to an equalising free by Daithi Casey and the winner, deep into the second minute of injury-time, from heroic midfielder Johnny Buckley.
Extra-time looked inevitable until Buckley's calmly taken decider, set up by midfield partner Ambrose O'Donovan, but the anti-climax that accompanied the final whistle spoke volumes.
Dr Crokes had just become only the second team, after Nemo Rangers, to win three Munsters in a row. But their muted celebrations confirmed what everyone in the 2,384 crowd was thinking: that the better team on the day had lost.
The Clare champions may have been second-best in the first half, failing to score for 26 minutes and trailing 0-10 to 0-3 at half-time, but the quality of the running game and some of the scores they kicked in the second half outdid anything produced by the defending champions, and Cratloe certainly deserved to take it to extra-time.
"Has the Gooch changed jerseys?" one wag quipped when McInerney, who went off with a bloody nose and came back on wearing No 30, gave a virtuoso second-half performance, kicking 0-5 (2fs) including the sort of long-range, angled points that Kerry's red-headed menace usually produces.
"They were better than us in the second half, it was like a train coming at us and we just didn't have any answers," admitted relieved Crokes mentor Vince Casey, whose defending champions looked surprisingly lacklustre.
"But the lads really showed the character to pull it out of the bag there at the finish with two very good scores. That's the value of experience and the togetherness and character in the team.
"That's the first time anyone has really put it up to us for a long time and when the game was on the line with 14 men, they showed they could pull it out. Thankfully we got those last two points and are in an All-Ireland semi-final (against Castlebar Mitchells) and that's all that matters."
Crokes didn't help their cause by kicking eight wides in the first half when they totally lorded midfield and looked set for a landslide victory. But when Cratloe shortened their kickouts and started running at them, they lost their shape, and could have no quibbles about Gooch's dismissal.
He held up and sprayed the ball around brilliantly before half-time but Barry Duggan held him scoreless subsequently. He picked up his 41st-minute booking for dissent and his second yellow for upending Conor McGrath with a late tackle.
"It was totally out of character," Casey said. "He went for the shoulder, there was no malice in it, it was just the pace of the other man."
Teenage substitute Michael Burns (17) stepped up to the plate to help save their title, winning and holding up vital ball, earning the free that Casey slotted. Buckley's injury-time intervention was equally heroic considering he had picked up a dead leg that seriously curtailed his previously massive influence.
Crokes started Gavin O'Shea for the injured Jamie Doolan and lost wing-back Shane Myers in the warm-up to a groin strain, but their big-name forwards like Brian Looney and Kieran O'Leary never got going and their defence struggled badly when Cratloe applied their brilliant pace.
Collins was immense, a whirling dervish of energy and skill who started at full-forward against Fionn Fitzgerald but moved around the attack like a spinning top.
He almost got in for a goal just before half-time, forcing David Moloney to deflect his snap-shot off the woodwork and drew gasps at one stage when he back-heeled a ball off his marker to win a sideline ball.
Yet McInerney was even more spectacular. "John Payne (his marker) won everything that came in there in the first half but McInerney is a very good forward," Casey observed. "He kicked two fantastic scores from the far wing and it's very hard for a back to do anything about a forward in that form."
ScorerS – Dr Crokes: C Cooper 0-4 (1f), A O'Sullivan, B Looney, D Casey (1f) 0- 2 each, F Fitzgerald, J Buckley, K O'Leary 0-1 each. Cratloe: C McInerney 0-5 (2fs), C McGrath 0-2, S Chaplin, L Markham, S Collins, F Lynch, E Boyle (f) 0-1 each.
Dr Crokes – D Moloney; K Ward, F Fitzgerald, J Payne; L Quinn, E Brosnan, M Moloney; A O'Donovan (capt), J Buckley; A O'Sullivan, D Casey, B Looney; K O'Leary, C Cooper, G O'Shea. Subs: M Burns for G O'Shea (46), D O'Leary for Ward (49), S Doolan for Quinn (55).
Cratloe – P Deloughrey; D Ryan, B Duggan, S Chaplin; M Murphy (capt), M Hawes, E Boyce; F Lynch, C Ryan; S Collins, C Duggan, L Markham; C McInerney, P Collins, C McGrath.
Ref – C Lane (Cork)