It’s a familiar feelgood atmosphere that envelops Dr Crokes at the moment and yet one they are growing sceptical about.
Riding high in December only to be shot down in February, the forthcoming Christmas break is welcomed after an intense and fruitful few months.
But then there is also trepidation about what the hiatus has done to them these last three seasons and how that period of inactivity might haunt them again against Castlebar Mitchels in February’s All-Ireland semi-final.
Momentum sustains Crokes. Tomorrow’s East Kerry final is their ninth game in 11 weeks. They’ve won every one of them.
You have to go back to the re-fixed Munster final against Nemo Rangers in January 2011 for the last time they lost in the province; November 1, 2009 was the previous occasion they came out on the wrong side of a county championship match in Kerry.
Truly, they are masters of those realms but it’s the far side of Christmas where they have come unstuck. It’s when they are forced to down tools they are at their weakest.
That Nemo game was the start of what has been a crushing run of new year disappointments for Crokes. What followed were successive February defeats to Crossmaglen Rangers and Ballymun Kickhams.
“If you were to ask I’d honestly say the most recent one against Ballymun was the toughest to take because it’s the most fresh in the mind and we thought we had progressed,” says Brian Looney.
“Well, we had progressed from the previous year but it just wasn’t good enough at that stage again.
“For different reasons and ideas, they were all difficult defeats to take but the Ballymun one was only last February and it’s kind of what you’ve been living off for the last nine, 10 months.
“It’s no excuse, we’ve experienced it the last two or three years.
“As soon as Kerry are finished in the All-Ireland series, you’re out in the championship within two or three weeks and from September to December you’re playing pretty much every weekend with the odd free weekend here and there. Then all of a sudden you’re balancing that with a seven or eight-week break to the next game. We’d be hoping that having experienced that in the last two years it will stand to us and we can use it in getting ready for the All-Ireland semi-final.”
Acclaimed physical trainer Pat Flanagan has been their trump card this year, their answer to the deficiencies in their physical game they realised against Ballymun.
“It’s no secret he’s made a massive impression on us,” states Looney. “He’s been superb all year and it’s more about getting lads conditioned for the type of game football has become.
“There’s no doubt over the last number of years the game has evolved and you have to be that bit stronger. It’s not a case of getting physical and dirty on the pitch but just being able to mind yourself and hold yourself on the pitch and last the 60 minutes at the pace it’s being played at the moment. Pat has been fantastic for us. He’s been an excellent influence and the results have been there to see this year.”
The former Kerry trainer will play a major role in helping the players bridge the gap to that February 15 date with Castlebar.
As Looney says: “It’s been a long couple of years and this year has been no different. You just give the body a small rest for a couple of weeks, taper it down because trying to maintain a level you’re playing at in county and Munster championships for the next eight weeks would be very difficult. I think that’s where Pat will come in again this year. We’ve trained very little the last couple of weeks since the Munster final, which would give the body a rest so that when you go at it hard from January you will be fresh. You don’t want to peak too soon or be too tired going into the game.”
After another storming Munster campaign, Looney takes satisfaction from the season but his eyes are trained on the All-Ireland semi-final.
“For myself, the thoughts are very much on February already. It’s an All-Ireland semi-final to look forward to.
“We’ll enjoy ourselves over Christmas but lads will look after themselves. There’ll be a bit of training to be done but nothing too hectic. As soon as Christmas Day comes and a couple of days after it things wind down, we’ll be looking at hitting the ground running. Fellas will be in good shape for the start of the new year so we can tear into training.”
In Fitzgerald Stadium tomorrow, Crokes are 60 minutes away from an eighth consecutive East Kerry championship — their 11th since the turn of the millennium.
Legion were disposed of handsomely in the club championship final but O’Donoghue Cups are considered earnestly on Lewis Road.
“We’ve often been told about the 60s, 70s and 80s when the Crokes weren’t coming within an ass’s roar of an O’Donoghue Cup and were struggling to field teams,” says Looney.
“It’s not something we look down on but look up at. It’s something we take pride in every year, our local championship. There is a certain amount of bragging rights but it’s our bread and butter and we prioritise us.
“We know it’s taken care of after the county championship and Munster so it’s not interrupted and we can give it our full focus.”