The contrast in styles could hardly be more stark – which makes Sunday’s AIB Munster Club SFC final between Dr Crokes and Castlehaven one of the most eagerly anticipated in years.
Crokes’ off-the-cuff brand is as easy on the eye as it is effective and it’s hardly surprising to see them installed as hot favourites to land their third provincial title in seven years.
But, in their way is a side whose game is built on a swarm defence, manic work-rate and whose aim is to catch their opponents on the break. And Ned English, coach to defeated Cork county finalists, Duhallow, said they will stay true to those beliefs this weekend.
“Any side that puts 12 men behind the ball has a chance,” reasons English. “You see, what Castlehaven do is play a very defensive game and hit you on the break. They try to get Mark Collins and Brian Hurley away up front. The rest of their game then is based around a solid defence, with a large number of bodies behind the ball. They congest it, like they did it against Carbery Rangers, they did it against us too. They haven’t changed their style and won’t change it now.”
Those notions might seem obvious but this is counsel coming from a man who used them in one of the biggest shocks in the competition when he led Limerick’s Dromcollogher/Broadford to an unlikely title in 2008.
“We were written off much more than Castlehaven are now,” he acknowledged.
“I wouldn’t write off any team at this stage of the season. Castlehaven are getting the breaks and it seems to be their year. They got the breaks against us. They got the breaks against Stradbally in the Munster semi-final. They’ve got those vital goals and goals are big scores this time of the year. If Castlehaven are to win though, they’ll have to score a goal.”
But Crokes, he stressed, have set the benchmark and are extremely adaptable.
“Crokes are a very organised side. They have been for some time now, their style of play hasn’t changed dramatically, they’re very possession orientated, once they get the ball it’s very hard to get it back off them and they work the ball very cleverly and they’re a typical club side, very economical with their use of the ball and in addition to that then they have very good forwards.
“They can play a different type of game; they can play it quick or they can play it slow. They probably have the edge on Castlehaven because they’ve more scoring forwards.
“But like all these games, at this time of the year, the nature of how the game is played changes. You get a lot of different types of weather conditions, you get a different type of pitch, different things get thrown into it and Crokes have always responded. It’s winter football and the dynamic of it changes so in that sense it becomes a bit of a lottery.”
The last time Crokes were beaten in Munster was January 2011, the 1-15 to 1-13 provincial final loss to Nemo Rangers. And the Trabeg manager at the time, Eddie Kirwan, said the West Cork side have a chance.
“Crokes are odds-on favourites but I don’t think it’ll be free-flowing. Castlehaven are not going to turn up and say ‘right, we’re going to take ye on, six forwards against six backs’ because most teams, if they adopt that approach against Crokes will find it difficult. I think it’ll be similar to the county final against Duhallow — the Haven will try to crowd it out and take their chances. They won’t concede much no matter who they’re playing against.”
And Kirwan stuck his neck out by tipping the underdogs to win. “Every time they’ve been poor in the last few months they’ve had an excellent performance and to beat the Limerick champions by the score they did was impressive. But then they didn’t play too well against Stradbally in the semi-final but still won. That they won the way they did is irrelevant. I think they’ll win Sunday.”
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