Crokes show their mettle

KERRY’s reigning football champions will fly the club flag in isolation at next weekend’s semi-final stage.

Dr Crokes posted the same score yesterday as they did in last year’s county final but in contrast to the calm manner in which they won that game, they required a late assured point by Kieran O’Leary to fashion a repeat success over Austin Stacks in this frenetic quarter-final tie.

Their aspirations of keeping the Bishop Moynihan Cup on Lewis Road are still intact after Crokes displayed great resilience to claim the spoils on a novel day when Colm Cooper was held scoreless and spent large chunks of the second-half in a withdrawn defensive role. The ball-retention skills of the Kerry captain were needed as Dr Crokes attempted to cope with the Austin Stacks second-half onslaught.

Backed by the vociferous Rock Street faithful, Austin Stacks whittled away at a seven-point deficit until they equalised three minutes from time through Kieran Donaghy. Dr Crokes were left reeling by both the Austin Stacks revival and the injustice of a 54th minute goal by Donaghy that came from a suspect handpass from Shane O’Callaghan. However, they rose above the burning sense of injustice and O’Leary kicked them into a semi-final meeting with West Kerry. The satisfaction manager Harry O’Neill felt at winning in a tight finish was offset by the irritation at having to endure such a nervy finale in the first place.

“The worrying thing is that we went seven points up and they came back at us. From my point of view, we made five crucial turnovers in the second-half. We tried to play killer balls instead of keeping it simple. They came at us but we made mistakes and if we don’t iron them out before next weekend, we’ll be punished. We can’t keep going on with that stuff.

“The goal probably shouldn’t have stood. Eoin Brosnan and the boys were adamant it was a throw ball over his head. They were furious that it was left stood.”

The match was defined by the sparkling spells that Dr Crokes produced either side of the break. A game that was delicately balanced at 0-5 apiece in the 20th minute had swerved onto a different course when Dr Crokes lead 1-11 to 0-7 in the 35th minute. The goal was brilliantly put away by O’Leary when Johnny Buckley robbed Wayne Guthrie of possession and swiftly counter-attacked.

O’Leary grew in prominence as the game progressed and his end tally of 1-4 was a huge source of personal satisfaction considering he had missed last year’s county final through injury. In defence Eoin Brosnan shuttled effectively between the full and centre-back positions, Johnny Buckley was in towering form at midfield while Daithí Casey pulled the strings from centre-forward. The latter duo now face a frenzied 24 hours of action next weekend – a Kerry semi-final with Dr Crokes on Saturday and a Cork final with UCC on Sunday. Cooper may not have counted on the scoreboard but he pitched into the team effort despite an ankle injury.

“Colm’s ankle probably hampered,” admitted O’Neill. “But that was his first outing since the All-Ireland final and there’s great credit due to him for putting on the boots today and also coming out the field towards the end. We said that beforehand if we were in a tight, sticky match that we’d bring him out to settle things down. That’s what he did for us.”

For Stacks, the introduction of veterans William Kirby and TJ Hogan in the second-half catapulted them back into contention. Shane O’Callaghan and Graham O’Connell had their bright moments in attack, and Donaghy grabbed vital scores near the finish. In a feisty second-half, they physically challenged Dr Crokes for supremacy and looked set to be rewarded with extra-time when Donaghy tied it up on the scoreboard near the finish. But it was his Kerry full-forward line colleague O’Leary who had the final say at the other end.

Scorers for Dr Crokes: K O’Leary 1-4, D Casey 0-5 (0-4f), B Looney 0-3 (0-2 ‘45), J Buckley, C Brady 0-1 each.

Austin Stacks: K Donaghy 1-2, G O’Connell 0-5 (0-3f), D Long (0-2f), S O’Callaghan 0-2 each, M Collins, TJ Hogan 0-1 each.

DR CROKES: A Kelly; J Payne, L Quinn, D O’Leary; S Myers, E Brosnan, F Fitzgerald; A O’Donovan, J Buckley; A Kenneally, D Casey, B Looney; C Cooper, K O’Leary, J Doolan.

Sub: C Brady for Kenneally (inj) (27).

AUSTIN STACKS: D O’Brien; D Costello, D Bohan, F McNamara; P McCannon, D Leonard, J Dennis; K Donaghy, W Guthrie; F Mangan, P O’Donoghue, M Collins; G O’Connell, S O’Callaghan, D Long.

Subs: TJ Hogan for Mangan (half-time), W Kirby for Guthrie (37), D Clifford for Long (48), P Barrett for McCannon (48), P McCarthy for Costello (54).

Referee: Pat Sheehy (Clounmacon)

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