The county champions entered this third round clash carrying the tag of overwhelming favourites, but it was hoped the underdogs from East Kerry would fight the good fight and ensure a competitive encounter for as long as their legs would allow.
The sight then of Gooch dancing his way through the East Kerry rearguard direct from the throw-in, nonchalantly splitting the posts with the left boot, suggested the worst.
Thereafter, it was virtually one-way traffic, though this was more of a slow and painful death, as opposed to one jab straight to the heart.
The winners led by double scores at the interval, 2-8 to 1-4, and by the time referee Pat Sheehy sounded the final whistle shortly after 5pm, Crokes had eked out another comfortable win, even if the margin of victory had been cut ever so slightly.
Their bid for a fourth consecutive county championship remains firmly intact.
Credit to East Kerry, however, looking dead and buried entering the final quarter — 3-12 to 1-8 in arrears — James Sheehan’s side registered seven points on the hop to narrow the deficit to a solitary score as the clock spilled into time added on.
That was as close as the district side would come, however, with the impressive Brian Looney floating over his second point from the stand side to settle the issue.
Manager Noel O’Leary won’t have been pleased by the manner his troops took their foot off the pedal in the closing stages, but in the end it was job done, nothing more, nothing less.
In a lively opening quarter Alan O’Sullivan, Kieran O’Leary, Gavin O’Shea and Cooper found the range as Crokes moved into a 0-6 to 0-1 lead.
Liam Murphy provided East Kerry’s sole response from the placed ball and the same player registered the game’s opening goal, clinically dispatching from the penalty spot following a foul by Crokes keeper David Maloney on Colm O’Shea.
Murphy’s effort shaved the deficit to two, but Crokes’ reply was both imminent and impressive.
From the kick-out possession was worked into the East Kerry half, where Cooper and O’Shea teed up Ambrose O’Donovan and though the midfielder’s shot was well smothered, Brian Looney crashed home the rebound.
Cooper and Murphy traded frees in the ensuing passages of play, before Kieran O’Leary fired home the winners’ second goal.
Trailing by seven at the break, East Kerry desperately required a positive opening to the second period, but points courtesy of Murphy (two frees) and substitute DJ O’Connor were cancelled out by Cooper and a terrific individual effort from corner-back Kieran Ward.
A surging run by Ambrose O’Donovan on 37 minutes sent alarm bells ringing throughout the East Kerry defence and when O’Donovan was hauled to the ground by substitute Matthey Culloty, the referee awarded the penalty. Who else but Cooper stepped forward, driving a further nail into the opposition’s coffin.
As noted, the intensity of Crokes’ play decreased dramatically in the final quarter and they would go over 15 minutes without adding to their tally, while Murphy (two frees), DJ O’Connor (two frees), Jack Sherwood, Mike O’Donoghue and Ryan O’Carroll raised white flags at the other end.
Alas, it would prove little more than damage control. Crokes march on. What else did we expect?
Scorers for Dr Crokes: C Cooper 1-6 (0-4f, 1-0 pen), B Looney 1-2, K O’Leary 1-1, S Foley, D Casey A O’Sullivan, G O’Shea 0-1 each.
Scorers for East Kerry: L Murphy 1-8 (1-0 pen, 0-8f), DJ O’Connor 0-3 (2f), J Sherwood, M O’Donoghue, R O’Carroll, F Coffey 0-1 each.
DR CROKES: D Moloney; J Payne, M Moloney, K Ward; F Fitzgerald, E Brosnan, S Myers; A O’Donovan, J Buckley; A O’Sullivan, D Casey, B Looney; K O’Leary, C Cooper, G O’Shea.
Subs: B McMahon for J Buckley (ht), D O’Leary for M Moloney (36).
EAST KERRY: D Cronin (Foss); J O’Mahony (Firies), J Sherwood (Firies), J Sheehan (Gneeveguilla); D Wren (Listry), P O’Connor (Gneeveguilla), A Wharton (Fossa); F Coffey (Fossa), G O’Sullivan (Listry); M Daly (Firies), M O’Donoghue (Spa), R O’Carroll (Spa); C O’Shea (Firies), L Murphy (Gneeveguilla), J O’Donoghue (Glenflesk).
Subs: D Roche (Glenflesk) for Daly (27), M Culloty (Glenflesk) for O’Mahony (27), DJ O’Connor (Gneeveguilla) for Wren (h-t), S Foley (Firies) for O’Donoghue (44).
Referee: P Sheehy (Clounmacon).