Extra man the key to Crokes' victory surge
Dr Crokes 1-9 Slaughtneil 1-7
A day of immense joy for Dr Crokes as they became the ninth club to win the All-Ireland football title more than once but a disappointing occasion for Gaelic football as the separation between what it could be, and what it is, emerged in its most depressing form.
Of course that will be utterly irrelevant to the Killarney men as they celebrate a second All-Ireland success 25 years after an eight-year-old Colm Cooper was mascot for the side that beat Thomas Davis in the 1992 final.
'Gooch' had a more active role yesterday, scoring 1-2 (0-2 frees) but it was the sight of one of football's more gifted craftsmen orchestrating a 'keep-ball' strategy for around three minutes at the end that made you wonder where the game is headed.
With an extra man for all of the second half after Slaughtneil midfielder Padraig Cassidy had been sent off just before the interval for striking out at Kieran O'Leary, Dr Crokes had a two-point lead for the final 10 minutes and were more intent on holding it than extending it.
They will argue that the end justified the means but it became the ultimate eyesore as they worked backwards and sideways, looping around each other so as to hold possession against opposition whose energy levels had been seriously depleted.
Playing with 14 men for so long in the wide open spaces of Croke Park is utterly exhausting as Slaughtneil found in a second half which yielded only one point from play.
Not that Slaughtneil could complain about being short-handed as Cassidy, who had been awarded a free, lashed out at O'Leary in front of the referee. His departure was a massive blow to the Derry champions as he had played very well up to then, with the main decoration delivered in the 13th minute when he fired in a goal.
Dr Crokes' responded in the 20th minute when Daithi Casey drove through the defence before flicking the ball to Cooper, whose finish was calm and precise.
It was the first goal that Slaughtneil had conceded in either the Ulster or All-Ireland championship.
They led by 1-6 to 1-5 at half-time and with Slaughtneil so severely handicapped, it looked as if the Kerry champions might press on for a comprehensive victory.
It didn't happen as Slaughtneil summoned on their great spirit to battle against the odds. They drew level in the 37th minute but with Dr Crokes funnelling back into defence, they found it very difficult to work the ball into a shooting position from there on.
And when counter-attacking opportunities arose, Crokes used the extra man to drive forward. They scored three points between the 39th and 51st minutes but instead of building on that lead, they set about defending it.
They didn't score again, leaving the last score to Slaughtneil from a Paul Bradley free in the 54th minute. From there on, it was all down to Dr Crokes' ability to retain possession which they did extremely well, leaving Slaughtneil deeply frustrated.
Crokes played the game as they saw it and if their 'keep-ball' routine near the end was awful to watch, it served a purpose.
Their most constructive spell had come after Slaughtneil went four points clear in the 19th minute. Cooper's goal was followed by a point from Casey before Brian Looney took his first-half tally to 0-3.
"We had to dig deep at that stage. We were four points down but the lads picked it up from there on. It was a tough battle but we got there in the end" said selector Harry O'Neill.
It was very disappointing for Slaughtneil, who will be forever wondering how they would have fared if they were dealing from a full hand in the second half.
Unlike two years ago when they were well beaten by Corofin on the same stage, they will feel that this was one they left behind them. And they may well be right.
As for Dr Crokes, the Killarney kingpins may not have given a performance which showcased their many talents but, most importantly, they got the job done.
Scorers - Dr Crokes: C Cooper 1-2 (2f), B Looney, D Casey (2f) 0-3 each, M Burns 0-1. Slaughtneil: Paul Bradley 0-3 (3f), P Cassidy 1-0, C Bradley 0-2, Shane McGuigan, F McEldowney 0-1 each.
Dr Crokes - S Murphy; J Payne, M Moloney, L Quinn; D O'Leary, G White, F Fitzgerald; A O'Donovan, A O'Sullivan; J Buckley, G O'Shea, B Looney; C Cooper, D Casey, K O'Leary. Subs: J Kiely for O'Shea (40), M Burns for O'Sullivan (40), S Doolan for D O'Leary (48), T Brosnan for Looney (58), E Brosnan for Casey (63), C Brady for K O'Leary (63).
Slaughtneil - A McQuillan; F McEldowney, B Rodgers, K McCaigue; K Feeney, C McKaigue, P McNeill; Patsy Bradley, P Cassidy; Se McGuigan, Paul Bradley, M McGrath; Shane McGuigan, C Bradley, C O'Doherty. Subs: B Cassidy for O'Doherty (48), R Bradley for McGrath (52), B McGuigan for Feeney (52), G Bradley for Se McGuigan (54).
Ref - M Deegan (Laois)