Waterford champions Ballinacourty were only two points behind at the break but Cooper produced two quality goals — and a point — to set Dr Crokes on the road to victory.
It was a flash of quality on what had been a pretty humdrum day. Despite perfect conditions, both sides were slow to get into the game though Crokes — playing into the waterside goal in the first half had Andrew Kenneally pointing inside a minute.
The opening ten minutes were pretty lacklustre, though Ballinacourty had a golden goal chance on five minutes: a Gary Hurney flick found its way to Mark Ferncombe, but Crokes ‘keeper Alan Kelly advanced and spread himself well to smother the shot and the Kerry side smuggled the ball out of danger.
Hurney was marked by Eoin Brosnan, who generally limited the Waterford side’s danger man, though the big full-forward levelled from play soon after. On 11 minutes Hurney had a half-chance but he snatched at it and Kelly dealt with it comfortably. Crokes went downfield and Daithi Casey made good ground down the left wing before pointing. From the kick-out Shane Briggs tied it up, driving through the middle before popping the ball over the bar – two points apiece at the end of the first quarter.
Surprisingly, Kerry star Cooper played corner-forward rather than out the field as a playmaker, and had little impact on proceedings in the first-half apart from drawing a yellow card for dissent on 20 minutes.
That caution was Gary Hurney’s cue for another point, but then Crokes hit form with Daithi Casey, Brian Looney and Jame Noonan rattling over scores, with only sub Colm Keane replying for Ballinacourty. Daithi Casey pointed a late free to give Croke’s two to spare at the break (0-6 to 0-4).
Cooper’s brace of goals on the resumption deflated Ballinacourty visibly, and the intercounty star proceeded to add four points in-a-row, the last coming from a free he drew himself from his marker, Gavin Breen who was dismissed for a second yellow card.
Before Ballinacourty re-organised defensively, Croke’s had another goal, wing-forward Kenneally touching home a loose ball. It meant that with over 15 minutes left the scoreline was 3-9 to 0-4, and the rest of the game was a non-event in terms of competitiveness.
Crokes were able to empty their bench, while the home supporters had late points to cheer from John and Gary Hurney.
Still, when Crokes manager Harry O’Neill was asked if the game had gone as expected, he disagreed.
“As expected? I don’t know. Coming down here we were still going back to last year and Aherlow above in Cashel (in the Munster club championship). We had a tough battle then and there was a similar feel to today – a team that was always going to be well prepared.
“I thought in the first half it was very tight for long periods and I said to our lads, ‘if we can get in here for half-time level or maybe a point up or down I’ll be happy enough’.
“Ballinacourty threw everything they had at us and in fairness I thought we stood up to it well. In the space of three minutes after half-time Colm Cooper bagged two goals and a point, and it was game over.
“I’m delighted with our lads, it was a tough place to come down to especially after winning a county final last week. We had to take them off the celebrations early. Though back-to-back titles don’t come around our place too often, so we had to let them off for a couple of days. But when they came back in their attitude has been outstanding.”
Scorers for Dr Crokes: C. Cooper 2-4 (0-1 f); A. Enneally 1-1, D. Casey 0-4 (0-1 f); J. Doolan 0-2; B. Looney, J. Buckley 0-1 each.
Scorers for Ballinacourty: G. Hurney 0-3; M. Ferncombe, C. Keane, J. Hurney, S. Briggs 0-1 each.
DR CROKE’S: A. Kelly, J. Payne, L. Quinn (c), D. O’Leary, F. Fitzgerald, E. Brosnan, S. Myers, A. O’Donovan, J. Buckley, A. Kenneally, D. Casey, B. Looney, C. Cooper, K. O’Leary, J. Doolan.
Subs: C. Brady for Looney, 48; K. McMahon for Payne, 50; S. O’Neil for Kenneally, 54; J. Jones for McMahon, 56; G. Tucker for Myers, 58 .
BALLINACOURTY: S. Enright, M. Lavan, J. Phelan G. Breen, J. Hurney, P. Lynch, R. Foley, S. Briggs, S. O’Hare (c), J. Gorman, P. Hurney, M. Fives, J. O’Mahoney, G. Hurhey, M. Ferncombe.
Subs: C. Keane for Gorman, 16, C. Moloney for O’Mahoney, 37; M. Gorman for M. Fives, 41.
Referee: C. Lane (Cork).