Proud boss Paddy Carr left the issue open to debate as his Dublin champions secured the bravest of Leinster club quarter-final successes over hosts Portlaoise.
Trailing by seven points after a horrendous start, Carr’s injury ravaged Crokes team showed both style and substance to force a 10 point turnaround by the final whistle.
Declan Kelleher scored the match winning goal in the 58th minute, finishing off a stunning move that began with full-back and Man-of-the-Match Ross O’Carroll.
Mark Vaughan was influential when sprung from the bench, nailing the equaliser from a free way out on the right wing minutes earlier.
But this was a victory built from the back as Crokes’ defence shook off a slow start to snuff out Portlaoise’s challenge with ruthless precision.
Portlaoise led 2-2 to 0-1 after just 11 minutes but, amazingly, scored just two more points in the entire game.
It was a Crokes defence that was minus the expertise of Dublin skipper Paul Griffin and Rory O’Carroll, due to a mixture of injury and college commitments in France.
Consider too that county duo Darren Magee and Mark Davoren were out through injury while Dublin wing-forward Niall Corkery aggravated a knee injury and limped out after 21 minutes.
Against that background, it was little wonder that Carr, the 2009 All-Ireland winning club manager, was considering it perhaps their greatest ever win.
“There are wiser people than me involved in the club and a lot of them came down to the dressing-room afterwards and said that, in terms of the pressures we faced, that was one of the sweetest victories in the history of Kilmacud,” gushed Carr.
Spare a thought for Portlaoise who struck what they believed was an equalising goal during an injury time goalmouth scramble only for a free to be awarded against them.
The loss brought to an end a difficult season that saw them lose forward Peter McNulty to a sudden death and report losses of €6.5m due to a stalled development venture.
“It is hard down here,” admitted Portlaoise boss John Mulligan. “The jersey (for McNulty) is hanging up down there in the dressing-room as normal.
“We don’t mention his name but his jersey is hanging there. It is hard but we don’t mention it, there’s no need for that.
Mulligan admitted his side were locked out by a superb defensive display even if they did pilfer two early goals in front of a 2,000 or so strong home crowd.
Paul Cahillane converted the first from the penalty spot in the fifth minute after O’Carroll had bundled over full-forward Brian Glynn. Cahillane proved an unwitting provider for the second when his scuffed 45m kick was fisted to the net by Tommy Fitzgerald.
With an All-Ireland title under their belts Crokes weren’t about to panic, not even at 0-1 to 2-2 down and set about methodically overturning the deficit in the next 50 minutes or so.
A fisted goal from sub Craig Dias seven minutes before half-time buttressed their efforts and left them just 1-3 to 2-3 down at half-time.
They took the greater momentum into the second-half and superbly restricted Portlaoise to just one point in the entire 35 minutes.
Six wides meant they didn’t draw level until the 50th minute when sub Vaughan converted a long range free from an acute angle.
Still level with two minutes to go, the winning score proved to be Kelleher’s 58th minute goal which was brilliantly worked from defence to attack.
Liam Óg O hEineachain fed Dias who eventually played in Kelleher and while his initial shot rebounded off the bar he was perfectly placed to squeeze it home at the second attempt.
Scorers for Crokes: D Kelleher 1-1; C Dias 1-0; B Kavanagh 0-3 (3f); P Burke, B O’Rourke (1f) & M Vaughan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Portlaoise: P Cahillane 1-1 (1-0pen); T Fitzgerald 1-0; C Rogers, B Glynn & B Fitzgerald 0-1 each.
KILMACUD CROKES: D Nestor; K Nolan, Ross O’Carroll, C Lamb; C O’Sullivan, B McGrath, R Ryan; N Corkery, P Duggan; L Óg O hEineachain, D Kelleher, A Morrissey; B O’Rourke, B Kavanagh, P Burke.
Subs.: C Dias for Corkery 21, M Vaughan for O’Rorke 42, R Cosgrove for Morrissey 52.
PORTLAOISE: M Nolan; E Bland, C Healy, B Mulligan; K Lillis, H Coghlan, C Boyle; A Kelly, B McCormack; B Glynn, T Fitzgerald, C Rogers; P Cahillane, B Fitzgerald, K Fitzpatrick.
Subs.: S Nerney for Kelly 8, J Fennell for T Fitzgerald 56, E Browne for Cahillane 61.
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).