Dr Crokes captain Brian Looney insists the team has evolved since their St Patrick’s Day All-Ireland club final nightmare.
Crokes were bidding to secure a second All-Ireland club football title in three years in mid-March, but lost by 12 points to Galway’s Corofin.
It was a game where the Kerrymen were forced to operate with 14 players from the 26th minute onward, after corner-back John Payne was shown receiving a red card for kicking out at Dylan Wall.
Manager Pat O’Shea decided to hand back the bainisteoir’s bib in the aftermath of that final experience, while Crokes stalwarts Eoin Brosnan and Colm Cooper called time on their involvement with the club’s flagship side.
But change has not been confined to the faces around the Crokes dressingroom, according to Looney. Inside the whitewash, too, there is a different look about Crokes.
“To get better, you have to be able to dissect a defeat like that and constructively criticise yourself,” says Looney of that 2-16 to 0-10 loss.
“We gave Corofin the platform to play as well as they did. I’m not saying if we had played a lot better, slowed them down, and not let them play as much that it would have had a huge impact on the result. But certainly, it would have made us far more competitive.
“If you ignore a loss like that, you might fail with the same mistakes next time out. Individually and collectively, we looked at our performance and took what we could from it. We identified one or two areas we wanted to focus on this season and try to improve on.
“I think we have [evolved]. The game is always evolving, so you have to evolve with it. We haven’t overhauled our style of play, but have worked on more subtle things like positioning, bringing something different.
“You will go stale if you play the same way over and over again. The way we have played so far in the competition has served us well and, thankfully, we are now in a county final with another big day to look forward to.”
Looney is well used to the big days — Sunday will be his 10th county final appearance. The 32-year-old is chasing an eighth Kerry SFC medal.
He was still a teenager when lining out in his first county senior final this month 13 years ago (South Kerry won on that occasion). The club have contested a further eight county finals since.
Looney started them all, failing to finish all but two (2012 and ’17). He was top-scorer in 2009, with four points from play, as South Kerry heaped further misery on them; was captain in 2010 for the club’s seventh Bishop Moynihan Cup success; top-scorer with 1-3 in 2012, and was their chief contributor from play, alongside Kieran O’Leary and Colm Cooper, in the 2017 decider.
“I vividly remember my first in 2006 and have been fortunate to play in so many. It’s a fantastic occasion,” he said.
Having been captain for the first win of their four-in-a-row earlier this decade, leading Crokes to a second four in a row as the decade ends would be a fitting bookend.
“To reach eight county finals this decade is a very good achievement and something you feel very privileged to be a part of,” he said.
“It’s something you might look back on in 10 years’ time, when you finish playing, and appreciate it more. Where we are now, you are only as good as your last game. East Kerry have been the form team of the championship.
"We feel like we have won nothing yet when it comes to this year. I think I’ve heard ‘four in a row’ uttered only once this year.”