KERRY kingpins Dr Crokes didn't so much dig deep, as tunnel their way to safety from the depths of almost certain defeat against Aherlow in the AIB Munster Club football semi-final.
No doubt Liam Kearns, the manager of Aherlow, and his players are still wondering how it is that Crokes, and not the Tipperary champions, are the side facing Nemo Rangers in the Munster final at Limerick tomorrow.
The semi-final entered stoppage time with Aherlow leading by two points, only for the Killarney club's centre-back Luke Quinn to score two points and bring the match into extra-time. Kearns was fuming as the equalising point was timed 20 seconds over the three minutes added on by ref Rory Hickey.
And to make it worse for Aherlow, Quinn got a lucky extra-time goal when his attempt at a point fell short, but slipped through Aherlow 'keeper Brian Moroney's hands for a score that spurred Crokes on to clinch the victory. Funny old game, isn't it? Not that Aherlow found it amusing and even Eoin Brosnan, Kerry's three-time All-Ireland winner, doesn't find much to smile about at the memory of the match.
Crokes were in fine fettle as they disposed of Austin Stacks in a 'townies derby' to win the Kerry County final in mid-October, but after that, they struggled for form. Still, it's always a good sign for a team that they can fall below their best and keep on winning, and the twice-postponed Munster final clash before Christmas has given Crokes a fresh impetus.
Says Brosnan: "We're looking at the positives more so in that we were gone very stale come the end last year. We won every game from June to December, and towards the end of it we were tired. There was no doubt about that.
"The level of performance from the county final, when we were playing with confidence and a bit of pep in our step, just wasn't there.
"We barely won our divisional championship game against Rathmore and were lucky enough to get over the line. Aherlow should have beaten us in the Munster club semi-final. We were playing week in, week out, and we were gone stale. But the break did us good. We were missing big players, Ambrose O'Donovan and Kieran O'Leary.
"Towards the end of last year they would just barely have been back around the time of the scheduled Munster club final without match practice.
"But they're back now. Everyone's back fully fit since the first of January. We've had a very good month's training. The staleness is gone and we've a fully fit panel."
The stage is now set for an eagerly-awaited Kerry-Cork clash at the Gaelic Grounds, all the more so because of the long wait for the match to be played. Mind you, if tradition counted for anything, Dr Crokes wouldn't even bother turning up.
Nemo were beaten All-Ireland finalists in 2008 against St Vincent's and, in total, have 18 county titles, 14 Munster club championships and seven All-Ireland club wins on their honours roll. Crokes have seven Kerry championships dating back to 1901, three Munster club championships and one All-Ireland club victory (1992) to their credit.
However, tradition and the weight of history has no bearing on tomorrow's match, although Brosnan does admit Nemo have an impressive record.
"Nemo are very formidable opposition. They have the record, they have the medals. My wife is first cousin with two of the team, Peter and William Morgan. I remember I was above in their house the Monday after they won the County final in Cork and I looked at a picture on one of the walls, and it was of the first County championship wins by Nemo in 1972.
"To think that a club has gone and won 18 county championships in 38 years in Cork just shows the record they've had over that time.
"Nemo have been the benchmark really, but having said that, we've confidence in our own team. We feel if we go out and play well, it will take a good team to beat us. There's no doubt Nemo are a good side, but we're a decent team as well," affirms Brosnan.
Nicely stated. Any team that has gone unbeaten since last June after a poor start to the county campaign, and which qualifies for the Munster final, is certainly a 'decent' side.
And when you consider that Colm 'Gooch' Cooper is in the attack, there's another reason for confidence.
However, Crokes are certainly not a one-man band, as Cooper would readily admit, and the strong pride in the club is a factor that has gelled the Killarney players into a strong and focused unit.
"It's not all about the Gooch. There are a few other forwards there that are a threat, such as Daithi Casey and Kieran O'Leary, who, if they start on Sunday, are players that I'm sure the Kerry selectors will be looking towards later in the year.
"Form-wise, it's hard to call. Obviously, going into Sunday, no team has had much match practice, so the form- guide really has gone out the window. Before Christmas you could have been picking on form and you could have said this team is playing well, this team isn't playing well.
"It's going to be whoever has trained better in the last three weeks; whoever gets that bit of luck and takes their scores will be the winner," says Brosnan.
Brosnan is only 30, but quit the Kerry side after the 2008 final. In the wake of that defeat to Tyrone, his selection by Pat O'Shea came in for criticism and, combined with work and family commitments, that was the turning point.
A solicitor who works in the family business in Killarney and who has a young family, he has concentrated on club football, but the fire of ambition burns bright. He admitted recently that football with Kerry had become a chore, and being self-employed meant fitting in work around the huge commitment and public scrutiny that came with playing for the Kingdom.
There was also the wish to play decent football for his club.
"I wanted to give Crokes a couple of good seasons while I still had the physical capacity to do so," explains Brosnan. "The old cliche about beginning and ending with the club is true, but too many ex-inter-county players come back to the club when their body is wrecked."
Brosnan's is certainly not wrecked and he is ready to put everything on the line for the cause tomorrow.