Crokes run riot to earn festive cheer
Dr Crokes booked a semi-final date with Ballymun Kickhams with a comprehensive victory over Tir Chonaill Gaels at Ruislip.
Playing their third championship game in 15 days, the Kerry kingpins showed no signs of fatigue as they rattled in three first-half goals to kill off the London champions. Captain Kieran O'Leary's 13th-minute strike put daylight between the sides before Chris Brady bagged a brace to take his tally to five in two games and help the visitors to an unassailable 3-7 to 0-3 interval lead.
Crokes took their foot off the gas in the second period, pulling up in the knowledge that passage to a semi-final date with Ballymun was all but confirmed.
Yet, their defence remained in Scrooge-like form, restricting their opponents to just three points from play over the 60 minutes. "We really set out our stall," said Crokes joint-manager Noel O'Leary, who confirmed that Eoin Brosnan will be fit for the semi-final against Ballymun. "We came over here to win and we've done that. We're into the semi-final of the All-Ireland and have a nice nine-week break, which the boys deserve. It's been a long year for them. They've only lost three games this year and that's a credit to them.
"It's been a busy period for us, but look, it's also a fantastic period because we're winning matches. These lads love playing football so bring it on. They deserve their Christmas."
The contrasting preparations of the teams predictably told on the scoreboard at the Emerald Grounds. Crokes flew over to London on the back of two championship final victories in successive weeks, while Tir Chonaill Gaels had been restricted to just one competitive outing since their county final success at the beginning of October.
There was one brief period of resistance from the hosts, who opted for a route-one strategy early on and took the lead on six minutes through two superb points from former Donegal forward Kevin McMenamin.
However, once Dr Crokes began to snaffle breaking ball around midfield, TCG's supply line was cut, and coupled with a host of unforced errors, which could be attributed to their lack of game time, they were taken to the cleaners.
The movement and accuracy of the Crokes forwards had the Gaels defence floundering and it resulted in three quick-fire points. Yet they failed to pay heed to those warning signs and were punished on 13 minutes.
O'Leary skinned marker Peter Sherry out wide and raced towards goal before bending a shot past goalkeeper Brian McBrearty to open the floodgates.
Frees from Daithi Casey and Colm Cooper extended Crokes' lead to nine and they moved into double figures when great awareness from O'Leary saw him opt against kicking a point and pass inside to Brady, who finished to the net in impressive fashion.
McBrearty had to be alert to deny Cooper but the waves of Crokes attacks were relentless, and he was beaten once again when an eye-catching pass across goal from the Gooch was drilled into the corner by Brady.
More McBrearty heroics prevented Shane Myers registering a fourth late in the half but Crokes still headed for the dressing rooms with a 13-point lead.
Tir Chonaill Gaels continued to battle gamely after the break but they made little headway in attack. Eoin O'Neill looked to have played Fergus Horan through on goal on 39 minutes, only for former county team-mate Michael Moloney to deflect the ball to safety.
After going 18 minutes without a score, Crokes upped the pace in the final quarter. Cooper dropped deep and began to dictate the play, and three unanswered points put the gloss on an efficient outing.
"Those lads have been going since February, and some even late January," said O'Leary. "There's seven of them on the Kerry panel, Chris Brady was on the U-21s and Gavin O'Shea on the minors. They're not robots; they've got to get a break.
"They've been fantastic ambassadors for the Crokes in what they've done this year. Hopefully they can pick it up again in the new year and reach the All-Ireland final. We'll rest now though. I'm tired myself!"
Scorers – Dr Crokes: C Brady 2-1 (0-1f), K O'Leary 1-2, C Cooper 0-4 (2f), J Buckley, B Looney, D Casey (1f), L Quinn, A Kenneally 0-1 each. Tir Chonaill Gaels: K McMenamin 0-3 (1f), E O'Neill 0-2 (2f), P Sherry 0-1.
Dr Crokes – D Moloney; J Payne, M Moloney, F Fitzgerald; L Quinn, S Doolan, S Myers; A O'Donovan, J Buckley; K O'Leary, D Casey, B Looney; C Brady, C Cooper, J Doolan. Subs: A Kenneally for Looney (48), D O'Leary for Myers (53), G O'Shea for J Doolan (55), B Falvey for Casey (56), K Ward for Quinn (60).
Tir Chonaill Gaels – B McBrearty; T Gribben, D Harrington, B Collins; M McConville, E McConville, P Sherry; M Gottsche, C Doyle; E Mageean, F Horan, B Mitchell; C Wall, E O'Neill, K McMenamin. Subs: C Boyle for Wall (18), L Kavanagh for Mageean (22), J McGrath for Mitchell (29), M McCoy for Kavanagh (46), A Concannon for Horan (48).
REF – D Fahy (Longford)