Crokes survive Clare scare

NO TARMAC melting on the roads and no throngs jamming all routes into Killarney yesterday, but an enthralling game nonetheless in this AIB Munster Club SFC semi-final at Dr Crokes ground.

The club championships often throw up pocket classics that stay warm in the memory, and this meeting of Kerry and Clare was one of them.

Forget the climate and the crowds, there were other preconceptions and presumptions coming to an abrupt end in Killarney: a terrific game ending twelve points to nine rather than a scorefest, for instance. Or the visitors settling quicker and jumping into a three points to nil lead in the first five minutes. Fourteen men keeping possession more easily than when they were fully staffed. Or Colm Cooper staying scoreless until 12 minutes to go.

If, before the game, you’d told Crokes manager Harry O’Neill about Cooper not threatening the scoreboard for almost 50 minutes – or that he’d lose centre-forward Daithi Casey with a quarter of the game to play and the Clare side two points ahead – he’d have probably swallowed hard and tried to see the positives somewhere in the distance.

Which shows what you can achieve with statistics. The other side of the equation was that Crokes kept Kilmurry scoreless for the last 22 minutes, and Cooper hit the last four scores of the match to see them home by three.

For all that, he still wasn’t the most crucial performer for Crokes. O’Neill moved Eoin Brosnan to a roaming role further upfield in the second-half, and the big man revelled in that freedom – setting up scores, linking the play and using his intelligence to cut out Kilmurry attacks.

The run of the game? Kilmurry-Ibrickane hit those three early points, and Crokes showed some frustration, collecting three yellow cards inside the first ten minutes (Jamie Doolan, Fionn Fitzgerald and Andrew Kenneally). They reeled in the Clare men with points from Daithí Casey and Kieran O’Leary (two) before Casey (free) nudged the Lewis Road side ahead.

Evan Talty and Ian McInerney put Kilmurry one ahead before sub Johnny Daly (on for Mike McCarthy, who was taken to hospital with a suspected cruciate ligament injury) made the gap two.

Crokes wouldn’t have been happy with the treatment of Cooper in the lead-up to that point. The inter-county star was pinned to the ground in the Kilmurry half by an opponent before the Clare men swept downfield to score, and Cooper suffered further ignominy when yellow-carded by referee Derek O’Mahoney.

Johnny Buckley made it 0-6 to 0-5 at the break, but Enda Coughlan and Noel Downes helped Kilmurry to a three-point lead early in the second half. Casey and Daly swapped frees before Crokes sub Chris Brady hit back with a fisted point.

Then the game took a decisive swing with a second yellow, and dismissal, for Daithí Casey. The sending-off energised Crokes in their characteristic calm possession-game-way (unsurprising, perhaps, given the last phase of their warm-up was a lengthy conditioned game based on ball retention).

The Killarney men didn’t panic – or, as noted, start beating the chests – but used the space well, creating room where they wanted to: in the Kilmurry half.

Their opponents didn’t seem able to organise the extra man and after Kieran O’Leary cut the deficit to two, Cooper took over, running the game in the last ten minutes and helping himself to four points: the equaliser and the winning margin. Kilmurry’s Enda Coughlan got a straight red with six minutes left.

“For very long stages we were in trouble,” said Cooper. “They were very much on top for maybe 95% of the game, but a small bit of experience from our fellas just got us over the line.”

Crokes face UCC in the provincial final, but their sleek ground was itself a place for higher learning yesterday.

Scorers for Dr Crokes: C. Cooper 0-4 (0-1 f); D. Casey, K. O’Leary 0-3 (0-1 f) each; C. Brady, J. Buckley 0-1 each.

Scorers for Kilmurry-Ibrickane: N. Downes, E. Coughlan, J. Daly (0-1 f) 0-2 each; I. McInerney (f), M. Hogan and E. Talty 0-1 each.

DR CROKES: 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: B. McMahon for D. O’Leary (half-time); C. Brady for J. Doolan (40); S. O’Neill for Kenneally (52).

KILMURRY-IBRICKANE: P. O’Dwyer; S. Hickey, D. Hickey, M. McMahon; D. Callinan, E. Talty, E. Coughlan; P. O’Connor, P. O’Dwyer (c); I. McInerney, M. Hogan, M. McCarthy; S. Moloney, N. Downes, M. O’Dwyer.

Subs: J. Daly for M. McCarthy (25).

Referee: D. O’Mahoney (Tipperary).

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