Casey inspires clinical Crokes
DR CROKES 3-14
AFTER 11 months of waiting, Dr Crokes revelled in their moment of redemption yesterday.
Ever since their first-half horror show in last season's Munster club senior football final defeat to Nemo Rangers, the Kerry kingpins have been keen to exorcise those particular demons, and they did so in style against Cork student side UCC at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney.
It took the new high kings of Munster 20 minutes to settle into this provincial decider.
But by the time that Daithi Casey -- one of two former UCC players on the Crokes team, along with Johnny Buckley -- raised the roof of the net with his second goal, and Crokes' third with five minutes left, the Kerry club's remarkable year was complete.
It's a thought that Casey, Crokes' top scorer with 2-3, agrees with.
"We let ourselves down against Nemo last year," he said. "That was a defeat that really hurt all of us because we didn't do ourselves justice. I'd like to think that we have righted the wrongs of last year now, and hopefully we can keep going now."
Up next for the Killarney side is an All-Ireland club semi-final against their old nemesis, Crossmaglen Rangers, next February.
If Crokes can bottle the form they showed in the second half yesterday, they will have a chance against the Ulster giants.
After a stop-start first half by Crokes, after which they led 2-4 to 1-6 thanks to two quick-fire goals from Casey and Kerry senior Kieran O'Leary, they bossed the entire second half, with Colm Cooper, Jamie Doolan and Brian Looney taking it in turns to torment the UCC defence.
Three Cooper points in three minutes saw Crokes move 2-7 to 1-6 clear, before a Niall Daly effort for UCC stemmed the tide momentarily as Looney, O'Leary, Doolan, Casey and Cooper were now in the mood.
UCC manager Paul Murphy admitted afterwards: "At half-time I thought we were rightly in it, the game was in the melting pot, but then we came out and conceded three points in a row and it just took the steam out of us."
UCC captain Sean Kiely, one of their better players, and Paul Geaney did pull two points back for the Cork side at the three-quarter stage (2-9 to 1-9), but with Looney swinging over a brace and then setting up a Cooper score, Crokes were in total control.
And after UCC's Gavin O'Grady -- one of nine Kerry players to feature for UCC yesterday -- and Crokes' Ambrose O'Donovan swapped scores, Casey struck for a highlight reel goal, his powerful, rising effort all but ending this game with five minutes left, 3-13 to 1-9.
That was a goal to signal that start of the Dr Crokes party in front of their home support -- despite Paul Geaney's scrambled late UCC goal -- but manager Harry O'Neill admitted that it wasn't all plain sailing.
Especially in the opening half after Stephen O'Brien's 19th-minute goal pushed UCC 1-4 to 0-2 clear, with the Cork side more clinical in attack at this stage.
"I was worried when they goaled because they were not missing early on," O'Neill said. "I thought maybe it might be one of those days when everything would go over for them. Luckily, we responded quickly and got those two goals."
UCC's Gavin O'Grady has his own theory on that match-defining period when Crokes struck for those two goals.
"After we got the goal in the first half maybe we lost a bit of focus," O'Grady said.
"They got in for two handy goals before half-time and that deflated us. We did regroup but we had no answer to them in the second half, they just outplayed us."
With Crokes' wing-backs Shane Myers and Fionn Fitzgerald pushing forward in that second half and closing the space around midfield, UCC just struggled to get into the rhythm of this game, with Crokes never really looking in serious trouble in the second period.
Blessed with massive scoring potential, with Casey, Cooper, O'Leary and Looney combining for a total of 3-12, Crokes had too much up front for UCC.
Their much-vaunted full-forward line struggled badly, starved of any meaningful possession, as O'Grady, Stephen O'Brien and Paul Geaney just didn't get a look-in. This wasn't lost on UCC forward O'Grady.
"They are the best team we have played this year," he said. "They have match-winners all over the field. Everyone goes on about their forwards but they have very good backs as well, and their midfield was awesome.
"You associate Crokes with skill but the amount of dirty ball that they won was incredible. They contested everything. We tried to match them but we just had no answers in the end."
With UCC now turning their attention to next year's defence of their Sigerson Cup, Crokes march on to an All-Ireland semi-final date with Crossmaglen Rangers, who beat them in a replay of the '07 All-Ireland final.
With one ghost exorcised yesterday, Crokes will now look to banish one of their most painful ever days next February, as their voyage of redemption picks up pace.
Scorers - Dr Crokes: D Casey 2-3 (3f), K O'Leary 1-1, C Cooper, B Looney 0-4 each, E Brosnan, A O'Donovan 0-1 each. UCC: P Geaney 1-2 (2f), S O'Brien 1-0, B Coughan 0-2, J O'Sullivan, W Kennedy, M Griffin, N Daly, S Kiely, G O'Grady (f) 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: B McMahon for J Buckley (53); C Brady for J Doolan (58); S O'Neill for A Kenneally (60).
UCC: S Mellett (Cork); M Hickey (Cork), P Crowley (Kerry), M Galvin (Kerry); T Clancy (Cork), N Daly (Roscommon), S Kiely (Cork); W Kennedy (Cork), J O'Sullivan (Kerry); B Coughlan (Cork), M Griffin (Kerry), JB Spillane (Kerry); S O'Brien (Kerry), G O'Grady (Kerry), P Geaney (Kerry). Subs: D Culhane (Kerry) for M Hickey (h-t); S Beston (Cork) for J O'Sullivan (41); A Greaney (Kerry) for M Griffin (43).
Ref -- R Hickey (Clare)