On an afternoon when both Páirc Uí Chaoimh’s scoreboards malfunctioned in the second-half, it was perhaps fitting the result hid the true nature of their dominance over Castlehaven.
While they put three goals past UCC at the same stage last year, here they etched their superiority into the game from the outset and never let up. Going 0-4 to 0-0 ahead after eight minutes, they were hardly threatened thereafter and that margin turned out to be the closest Castlehaven got to them for the remainder of the game.
A far cry now from the team that folded against Nemo Rangers in a delayed 2010 Munster final in Mallow 23 months ago, they have well and truly graduated from the school of hard knocks. In this latest exam, they succeeded in the face of adversity. Despite several off-the-ball fouls and late tackles, Crokes pinged and pushed the ball around with all too much ease on an excellent surface.
While Tír Chonaill Gaels will occupy their minds in the short term, not to mention Rathmore in next weekend’s East Kerry final, it’s All-Ireland honours and the possibility of a rematch with Crossmaglen that burn their fires.
Yesterday, there was no indication of the fragility they were exposed to in last February’s All-Ireland semi-final in Portlaoise. The fluidity demonstrated these past few months was once again evident in front of the 2,000-plus crowd.
But one of the biggest improvements from last year has been the defence. Against UCC, they coughed up two goals but the last time David Moloney picked the ball out of his net was in the county semi-final against Laune Rangers. Across county and provincial championships, they have conceded just two goals while their average score in Munster was an extremely healthy 0-10.
Colm Cooper’s shoulders look less burdened too. Like he has done for much of the last few months, he has provided and distracted as Brian Looney and Kieran O’Leary produced the lion’s share of Crokes’ scores.
Looney carried on his impressive form of late with an exhibition of finishing, slotting over seven points — all but one coming from play.
John Payne in the full-back line was in impervious mood, a first-half free the only blot on his copybook. Losing Eoin Brosnan to a calf injury in the first-half may have shaken Crokes in the past but on this occasion they hardly looked troubled by his absence so Luke Quinn switched to centre-half back to act sentry against Mark Collins.
Crokes were six points up, 0-8 to 0-2, when Brosnan exited the fray in the 22th minute and extended it to seven by the break, 0-11 to 0-4. Their entire forward-line scored from play by the 28th minute when Jamie Doolan gleefully accepted a sumptuous foot-pass from Cooper and slotted over.
Indeed, Crokes’ use of the foot which, along with their support-play, set them apart from Castlehaven in the opening half. Cooper’s fisted point in the seventh minute came after a fine Daithí Casey diagonal kick into the inside forward line.
Looney’s 20th minute point, his second of the game, was a wonderful score as well which followed a flurry of quick, accurate exchanges.
For each of Castlehaven’s first-half scores, Crokes responded each time and were masterful in keeping Damien Cahalane as anonymous as possible.
Cahalane’s influence did grow as the game developed but the quick restart they desperately needed was beyond them. Instead, a Seán Dineen point was sandwiched between a Cooper free and another from Looney.
Collins responded to restore Castlehaven’s seven-point deficit only for Ambrose O’Donovan to combine with Cooper to send a shot past Paudie Hurley which hit the post.
If Castlehaven were counting their blessings then, they were cursing their luck three minutes later when Dineen was dismissed by referee Michael Meade for a high tackle on Cooper. He could have no complaints and with it Castlehaven’s challenge expired. Collins scored next but the following five points all came from Crokes.
11 points ahead, Crokes called on the bench and Castlehaven were allowed to give the scoreline some respectability — outscoring Crokes five to one in the final eight minutes.
This was a steep learning curve for a young Castlehaven outfit who will surely keep this one in the memory bank for future reference.
Crokes have been those soldiers but they look primed to put all their desolation days behind them.
Scorers for Dr Crokes: B Looney 0-7 (1 45), C Cooper (2fs), K O’Leary 0-3 each, J Buckley, J Doolan 0-2 each, D Casey, C Brady 0-1 each.
Subs for Dr Crokes: S Doolan for Brosnan (inj 22); G O’Shea for Brady (49); D O’Leary for Myers (52); A Kenneally for J Doolan (57); K Ward for Fitzgerald (inj 60).
Scorers for Castlehaven: M Collins 0-6 (4fs), D Cahalane 0-2 (1 45), B Hurley (f), S Dineen, S Cahalane, D Burns 0-1 each.
Subs for Castlehaven: A Cahalane for M Cahalane (30); T O’Donovan for Limrick (h-t); D Burns for S Hurley (50); S Collins for Whelton (55).
Sent off: S Dineen (40, straight red).
Referee: Michael Meade (Limerick)