As to the last team to hold the four-in-a-row county champions scoreless for 35 minutes of play, that answer, unfortunately, you won’t find here.
Exiting the Rathmore GAA grounds last night, the same three words were in play among the several delighted pockets of local supporters — ‘upset’, ‘shock’ and ‘incredible’. Not one could you say didn’t describe the previous hour’s fare.
The foundations for victory were astutely laid in the opening period where, playing into the teeth of a strong wind, the home side trailed only by two points at the break – far from an insurmountable target.
In the absence of Colm Cooper, the visitors turned to Daithí Casey to lead the forward charge and the centre-forward duly obliged – for the opening quarter at least. Kerry minor goalkeeper Shane Ryan, operating at right corner-forward for Rathmore, kicked the contest’s opening score two minutes in, but the first quarter was an unrelenting tide of black and amber – Chris Brady, Brian Looney and Casey (0-3, 0-2 frees) on target.
Ryan raised a second white flag to narrow the deficit; Crokes, however, continued to press, with Casey and Kieran O’Leary swelling their tally. Dominant were the visitors, but noticeably lacking the clinical edge which has defined this team over the past number of years.
Sensing they weren’t going to be put out of sight, Rathmore dug in. At the head of their resurgence was the outstanding Aidan O’Mahony. The centre-back drove forward at every opportunity, providing leadership and a cool head in defence, while also keeping the tightest of leashes on Casey.
A superbly fisted Ryan effort, added to two Michael O’Riordan frees had the interval scoreline reading 0-7 to 0-5. An upset was on the cards.
“We knew the first 20 minutes would be crucial,” reflected Rathmore manager Denis Moynihan. “Dr Crokes are much like the Kilkenny hurlers, if they get a run on you that is it. So we said we would take it every seven minutes and if we did that all the way to the finish then we had a chance. We knew we were in the mix at half-time.”
Four minutes into the second-half and proceedings were level – Michael O’Riordan (free) and Shane Ryan the providers. A foul on John Moynihan allowed Ryan kick the lead score and not once did Rathmore blink in galloping to the finish.
Brian and John Moynihan teed up Liam Lawlor entering the final quarter and the centre-forward employed the outside of the left boot to bring the home support to full voice. In the subsequent action, John Moynihan showed a blistering turn of pace to move away from David O’Leary, the offload fell to Michael O’Riordan and the umpire again reached for the flag. They simply could do no wrong.
Casey slotted a free five minutes from the end, Crokes’ first point since the 20th minute of the first half. Substitute Mícheál Burns nailed the target swiftly after and all of a sudden it was a one-score game, 0-12 to 0-9.
Time to panic? Not at all.
Ryan and substitute Michael Anthony Kelleher stepped forward to gratefully kick the insurance scores.
“We have probably marked ourselves out,” joked Moynihan. “You always have to believe. We spoke on Saturday night in the dressing room that we were possibly the only ones who believed we could beat Crokes. We were very focused. We felt we could beat them. We have no qualms in saying that. It is massive really.
“We were bitterly disappointed after the Legion game last week. Seeing all the favourites getting beaten this weekend, it wasn’t even about beating Dr Crokes, it was just avoiding the losers round and taking the pressure off.”
He added: “A lot of teams would have put men behind the ball when faced with our second-half position, but we are big believers in man-to-man. We had the players and they showed their class.”
Departing the pitch, Moynihan was met by an ecstatic home supporter.
“Where are we going to put the statue,” he smiled.
He’ll have quite the job keeping a lid on this one.
Scorers for Rathmore: S Ryan (0-8, 0-6 frees); M O’Riordan (0-4, 0-3 frees); E Lawlor, MA Kelleher (0-1 each).
Scorers for Dr Crokes: D Casey (0-5, 0-4 frees); B Looney, K O’Leary, C Brady, M Burns (0-1 each).
RATHMORE: P McCarthy; C Murphy, J O’Sullivan, C Jenkins; P Murphy, A O’Mahony, C O’Sullivan; D O’Sullivan, G O’Keefe; B Moynihan, E Lawlor, B O’Keefe; M O’Riordan, J Moynihan, S Ryan.
Subs: B O’Leary for P Murphy (bc, 50 mins), MA Kelleher for B Moynihan (53).
DR CROKES: C O’Loughlin; J Payne, K Ward, D O’Leary; S Doolan, F Fitzgerald, S Myers; J Buckley, M Milner; A O’Sullivan, D Casey, B Looney; K O’Leary, C Brady, G O’Shea.
Subs: M Burns for J Buckley (33 mins), T Brosnan for O’Shea (45), E Brosnan for Myers (54).
Referee: P Hayes (Kerins O’Rahillys).