And so it proved. But, unfortunately a mass brawl between these two rivals, and not the football they produced, was the dominant topic of conversation for those leaving the Austin Stack Park, Tralee yesterday.
A 16th minute foul on Colm Cooper was the spark which ignited the powder-keg with melees and fights erupting throughout the pitch. Ironically the early momentum was with Stacks when the incident occurred, as they led 0-5 to 0-4 and had the wind at their backs. But the attack on their talisman seemed to spur Crokes into life and from that moment on there was only going to be one winner.
Two more turning points helped decide the outcome. In the 25the minute veteran Stacks midfielder William Kirby was shown a second yellow and though the Tralee outfit led 0-6 to 0-5 at the interval, the numerical disadvantage against the wind was always going to be too great an obstacle to overcome against a side boasting the skillset of the champions.
Then came the game’s decisive spell. After Daithi Casey levelled in the opening minute of the second-half, Stacks’ Fiachna Mangan got inside the Crokes cover and look certain to goal, but David Moloney somehow got down to turn the ball away. Moments later Crokes counterattacked down the left with Kieran O’Leary, Doolan and Chris Brady all involved before Cooper clinically slotted the ball to the net.
Two more Doolan points followed and a superb Looney effort meant Crokes were now 1-9 to 0-6 ahead and with the extra man this game was over as a contest.
Stacks managed just two second-half points, both in the final 10 minutes from Shane Carroll, as Crokes maintain their quest for the elusive three-in-a-row.
Crokes boss Noel O’Leary admitted the ugly scenes had left a sour taste: “We are delighted to be in the semi-final. The first-half was very tough, when they had the 15 men on the field; it was very tough, very physical. I think it was too physical at times and it was not helped by having so many people on the line, on both sides. It needs to be controlled — having a riot out on the pitch is not good enough someone could get seriously hurt. I thought it was dangerous out there today for periods of that first half. That is not sport.”
O’Leary felt Crokes played better after the fighting had quelled: “We kicked on after that because we knew we were in a game, we opened up the play and got Colm Cooper on the ball, along with Jamie Doolan, and they got the scores. We know we have to improve and we are working hard under Donie Buckley and he is doing great work with the lads, Kerry’s loss is our gain.
O’Leary confirmed their talisman Eoin Brosnan will return to action next Saturday in the O’Donoghue Cup against Fossa.
Stacks boss Wayne Quillinan was disappointed at having lost to Crokes in the Championship for the third year in a row: “Once we were reduced to 14, the game plan we had worked so hard on during the week went out the window. But I have to say William Kirby was a warrior for us down the years. Things happen in games, and William is not to blame for this defeat. We were not sharp enough in front of goals; we did not take our chances when we had the wind. This is a learning process but three bad defeats to the Crokes in three years — it’s hard to be positive now.”
Scorers Dr Crokes: C Cooper 1-4 (0-2 frees), B Looney and J Doolan 0-3 each, D Casey 0-1 free, K O’Leary and G O’Shea 0-1 each
Scorers for Austin Stacks: D Mannix 0-3 (0-2 frees), S O’Carroll 0-2 (0-1 free), D O’Brien 0-2, K Donaghy 0-1
DR CROKES: D Moloney, J Payne, M Moloney, K Ward, S Myers, F Fitzgerald, L Quinn, A O’Donovan, J Buckley, K O’Leary, C Cooper, B Looney, C Brady, D Casey, J Doolan.
Subs: S Doolan for S Myers (55), A Kennelly for K O’Leary (58), G O’Shea for C Brady (59), D O’Leary for K Ward (59)
AUSTIN STACKS: D O’Brien, F McNamara, B Shanahan, D Costello, P McCarthy, D McElligott, R Shanahan, P O’Donoghue, K Donaghy, S O’Callaghan, S O’Carroll, D Long, D Mannix, W Kirby, Darragh O’Brien
Subs: F Mangan for D Long (26, inj), D Clifford for Darragh O’Brien (43), W Guthrie for D Mannix (46), M Collins for S O’Callaghan (55), G Horan for R Shanahan (55, inj)
Referee: M Curran (Dromid Pearses)