Composed Crokes waste little to extend Kerry reign
Kerry SFC final: Dr Crokes 0-17 South Kerry 1-12
The script was a lot different but the reigning All-Ireland club champions Dr Crokes still cleared their throats to deliver their lines on cue and retain their Kerry SFC title in Austin Stack Park, Tralee.
Crokes, who were winning a 15th consecutive championship game, had scored 14 goals in their four previous championship games and conceded none but here they drew a blank at one end while conceding one to Ian Galvin at the other end, prodding a reaction in South Kerry that didn't subside until referee Brendan Griffin brought it to a conclusion.
In between the champions had to show a lot of the guile and composure that was prevalent on St Patrick's Day last to keep a spirited divisional side, featuring representatives from eight clubs, at arm's length.
And they did it all without their talisman Colm Cooper for the first 42 minutes, Cooper sidelined with a hamstring injury that the Crokes management felt wasn't worth risking in the earlier part of the game.
They also showed a remarkable level of economy in their attacking play with 17 points from 19 shots. By comparison, South Kerry could reflect on up to 15 opportunities that weren't seized upon, some in that period in the second half when they were pressing hard and drew level on 49 minutes through the impressive Bryan Sheehan.
Sheehan finished with seven points, three from play, and also nailed a '45 and a free from 45 metres as he essentially dominated midfield alongside Brendan O'Sullivan who had the measure of Johnny Buckley.
Buckley picked up a black card on 48 minutes after hauling down the rampant O'Sullivan and, after being shown a yellow card for tangling with his Kerry colleague in the 38th minute, the colour quickly turned to red.
Sheehan's equaliser looked like it would set South Kerry on the path to victory but Crokes captain Daithi Casey landed a free after he was fouled himself before Kieran O'Leary split the opposition defence with a pass to substitute Jordan Kiely who obliged to restore a two-point lead.
When substitute Paul Clarke fielded the subsequent kick-out, it presented O'Leary with his third point which looked like it would put the game beyond doubt but South Kerry kept driving with Ronan Hussey and Sheehan (free) bringing it back to the minimum again before Casey landed a monster free for more breathing space.
It was a final rich in quality and puts Crokes firmly on course to extend their current cycle into 2018. Cooper was a loss to the attack but in his absence others really stepped up with Micheál Burns, one of the stars of the 2014 All-Ireland-winning minor team, landing four points and O'Leary chipping in with three.
But with Eamonn Fitzmaurice in rebuilding mode he'll surely look the way of Crokes goalkeeper Shane Murphy and wing-back Gavin White who gave them such energy. Murphy saved brilliantly in the opening 30 seconds from Brendan O'Sullivan after a deft pass inside from Paul O'Donoghue, subsequently South Kerry's biggest threat.
Crokes, who were a little conservative at times, also needed Murphy to be alert to a Matthew O'Sullivan snapshot just after the break but, once again, it was the kick-out service he provided that stood out. White is another All-Ireland minor winner who claimed man of the match for his hard running and covering behind a beaten midfield.
Fionn Fitzgerald typified Crokes' composure throughout but they gifted South Kerry a goal when full-back Mike Moloney gathered up a Brendan O'Sullivan shot that fell short only to give it straight to substitute Ian Galvin who slipped a shot past Murphy on 18 minutes to cut back a 0-7 to 0-3 deficit.
Just two minutes beforehand Crokes might have been out of sight but for Pádraig O'Sullivan's save from Casey that went over for a sixth Crokes point.
Moloney picked up a late black card but by then Crokes had resisted South Kerry's best efforts to put back-to-back titles together and draw level on the roll of honour with Laune Rangers and Austin Stacks on 12 titles.
Crokes selector Harry O'Neill admitted they had lived dangerously. "We were a bit jittery at times coming out. We conceded a stupid goal, which brought them back into it. And when you give a team like South Kerry any sort of energy at all they will come at you and they pushed right up on us but our lads thankfully showed tremendous character to dig it out especially after Johnny (Buckley) got the yellow and the black. To finish it out with 14 was fantastic."
O'Neill acknowledged they have been finding it hard to replicate the form of last year. "Maybe we're finding a little bit harder this year to get up to the same standard but these lads have been on the road for 18 months with Pat (O'Shea) in the block of work that he has done and it's been a hard slog."
South Kerry manager William Harmon believes they will only get better from the experience. "There were seven or eight U-21s in this team, they'll all learn from this. Not many people would have thought South Kerry would be back in finals. We've been in two finals in three years, winning one. It's a great platform for these guys to push on next year."
Scorers - Dr Crokes: D Casey 0-6 (4fs), M Burns 0-4, K O'Leary 0-3, T Brosnan 0-2, J Kiely, G White 0-1 each. South Kerry: B Sheehan 0-7 (3fs, 1 45), I Galvin 1-0, P O'Donoghue 0-2, R Hussey, B O'Sullivan, C O'Shea all 0-1 each.
Dr Crokes - S Murphy; J Payne, M Moloney, L Quinn; D O'Leary, F Fitzgerald, G White; J Buckley, A O'Sullivan; M Burns, G O'Shea, B Looney; T Brosnan, D Casey, K O'Leary. Subs: C Cooper for O'Shea (42), J Kiely for Brosnan (42), S Doolan for D O'Leary (53), P Clarke for Burns (56), A O'Donovan for Moloney (BC, 62), E Brosnan for Looney (63).
South Kerry - Padraig O'Sullivan (Skellig Rangers); B Sugrue (Renard), M Griffin (St Michael's), F Clifford (Waterville); Graham O'Sullivan (Dromid Pearses), Paul O'Sullivan (Valentia), C O'Shea (St Mary's); B Sheehan (St Mary's), B O'Sullivan (Valentia); P O'Donoghue (St Mary's), N O'Shea (Dromid), J Curran (Valentia); R Wharton (Renard), M O'Sullivan (St Michael's), Daniel Daly (St Mary's). Subs: I Galvin (Sneem/Derrynane) for Daly, Denis Daly (St Mary's) for O'Shea, O Clifford (Waterville) for Curran (36), R Hussey (Sneem/Derrynane) for M O'Sullivan (46), C Farley (Dromid) for Galvin (61).
Ref - B Griffin (Clounmacon)