It wasn’t without drama, however, as the divisional side whittled down a 13 point interval deficit to leave Crokes living on their nerves in the final stages.
Superb free-taking by Bryan Sheehan brought the holders thundering back to within three points before Crokes regained their grip and edged into a final against Tralee’s Austin Stacks.
It’s the first time the two clubs have met in a final since 1994 (when the Tralee side won in a replay). And for that they could thank Brian Looney and Colm Cooper for two early goals which helped inspire their victory.
Looney had the ball in the net before the divisional side had time to settle. That was in the opening minute and in another three minutes Cooper converted a penalty he won himself.
The South Kerry challenge was weak at this stage even though they were playing into a reasonably strong wind and were limited to three pointed frees. Cooper, as expected, spearheaded the Crokes attack and his marker, Stephen O’Sullivan – another in the litany of club and inter-county players who have opposed him – was simply unable to curb his influence. In the circumstances, the management had reason to regret the absence of Killian Young because of injury.
Additionally, Eoin Brosnan was prominent at centre-forward for Crokes and with the benefit of a controlling defence and the predominance of Ambrose O’Donovan and Johnny Buckley at midfield, the Crokes attack as a unit enjoyed a continuing flow of possession. And, to their credit, they made the most of it.
Conversely, South Kerry struggled to get decent ball into their inside forwards and while Declan O’Sullivan was involved in the play at different stages, Bryan Sheehan was isolated in around the goalmouth.
With the half extending to 36 minutes after a few skirmishes around the middle of the field, Crokes were 2-10 to 0-3 in front and looking good.
Immediately on the resumption, defender Aidan O’Sullivan scored what proved to be the first of only three points from play for South Kerry. And after Ambrose O’Donovan’s magnificent 39th minute angled point, Crokes would wait until the 57th point for their next score – by which time the margin had been reduced to a goal.
With their pride at stake, a South Kerry side which has enjoyed significant success in recent years, lifted their standard significantly, tightened up in defence and were much more competitive at midfield.
In addition, Declan O’Sullivan (foiled of a goal soon after the resumption) had a bigger role, while Sheehan and Ronan Hussey were also more effective.
It was Sheehan who sparked their recovery with a well-taken penalty in the 44th minute. And, finishing with a goal and seven points all from placed balls, two of his frees from close to 70 yards range were absolute gems. The end result was that Crokes had their backs to the wall after conceding a goal and six points without reply up to the 55th minute.
They broke the siege with a Cooper point from a free won by Daithi Casey and three more scores in quick succession eliminated any doubts.
Scorers for Dr Crokes: C. Cooper (1-6, penalty, four frees); B. Looney (1-4, one free); A. O’Donovan (0-2); C. Brady, D. Casey (free) and S. Myers (0-1 each).
South Kerry: B. Sheehan (1-7, penalty, five frees, two ‘45s); R. Hussey (0-4, three frees); A. O’Sullivan and B. Hickey (0-1 each).
DR. CROKES: K. Cremin; J. Payne, M. Moloney, D. O’Leary; S. Doolan, L. Quinn, S. Myers; A. O’Donovan, J. Buckley; A. Kennelly, E. Brosnan, B. Looney; C. Cooper, D. Casey, C. Brady.
Subs: N. O’Connell for Myers (51); B. McMahon for Kennelly (60); A. Kelly for O’Donovan (62); J. Jones for Casey (65).
SOUTH KERRY: L. Sheehan (St. Mary’s); S. Curran (do, capt.), A. O’Sullivan (Piarsaigh na Dromoda), S. O’Sullivan (Skellig Rangers); Denis O’Sullivan (Piarsaigh na Dromoda),B. Hickey (Skellig Rangers), C. O’Driscoll (do); J. Sugrue (Renard), J. Golden (St. Mary’s); N. O’Driscoll (St. Mary’s), Declan O’Sullivan (Piarsaigh na Dromoda), A. O’Sullivan (Skellig Rangers); R. Hussey (Sneem), B. Sheehan (St. Mary’s), N. O’Shea (Piarsaigh na Dromoda).
Subs: W. O’Sullivan (Skellig Rangers) for O’Driscoll (29); I. Galvin (Derrynane) for Denis O’Sullivan (ht); P. O’Donoghue (St. Mary’s) for Golden (36).
Referee: Seamus Mulvihill (St. Senan’s).