The Dr Crokes manager wore the look of a mightily relieved man stepping off the Fitzgerald Stadium turf, and while several of his troops had a hand in Crokes’ late rescue mission, Byrnes singled out the old dogs still trekking along the hard road.
With regulation time almost elapsed and the teams deadlocked at 1-10 apiece, Kieran Donaghy won a free on his own ’45-metre line. The kick did not reach its intended target, with Eoin Brosnan intercepting.
Back and forth across the Austin Stacks threshold went the 2013 champions, lateral hand-pass after lateral hand-pass. Stacks, playing for extra-time, had pitched camp.
David O’Leary moved possession to Gavin O’Shea, who in turn picked out Jamie Doolan. The Crokes’ sub offloaded to the onrushing Brosnan who stepped inside Ciaran O’Connell. Turning back onto his favoured right foot and fending off the close attention of Donaghy, the evergreen full-back split the posts to guarantee his side’s place in the last eight.
Although on the front foot from the 15th second, Colm Cooper pouncing for an early goal, to the 53rd minute, when Stacks drew level for the first time, the winners had to come from behind in the concluding stages to snatch victory.
Trailing 1-6 to 0-5 at the break, Stacks redeployed Donaghy to midfield in a bid to curb the dominance of Johnny Buckley and Ambrose O’Donovan. It worked the proverbial treat. And while Crokes were able to keep their opponents at arm’s length on the scoreboard in the opening stages of the second period, the tide was changing inside the whitewash.
On 43 minutes, Donaghy popped up on the edge of the square to finish to the net a sweeping move involving Denis McElligott and Wayne Guthrie, 1-8 to 1-6 now the difference.
Colm Cooper steadied the ship with his third free entering the final quarter. They’d not raise another flag until the 56th minute, Stacks kicking four on the bounce in the interim to move ahead.
Darragh Long (two frees), Donaghy and Mikey Collins were the finishing artists, but it was the approach play and movement of McElligott, Fiachra Mangan, Wayne Guthrie and Shane O’Callaghan that hurt Crokes most.
Alan O’Sullivan put the Killarney side back on level footing on 56 minutes to return the pendulum in their favour. The closing stages were played out in the Stacks half of the field, Brosnan stepping forward to deliver the decisive score.
“We dug it out and that is what we had to do. Some of our lads are shoving on, but you can’t beat experience,” said Byrnes. “They had momentum, they had kicked four-points without reply. Last 10 minutes when the game needed to be won, we dug it out. Eoin Brosnan came into it big time. Colm got on the ball a lot. Alan O’Sullivan got a great point and then Eoin landed the winner.
“We were knocked out at this stage last year. We have been waiting for this round for the last 19 weeks. When you are playing Stacks it is a kind of bigger game again. We are just very glad to be back in the quarter-finals.”
The winners enjoyed a dream start when a surging Daithí Casey run finished with Cooper sending the ball beyond Austin Stacks ‘keeper Darragh O’Brien. Shane Carroll and Darragh O’Brien points either side of a Cooper free eased the damage of the latter’s green flag, but Stephen Stack’s side were let down by a plethora of bad misses — their wide count had reached five by the end of the first quarter.
No such problems were encountered at the other end, Jordan Kiely (0-2) and Casey on target to open up a 1-4 to 0-2 gap. Crokes ’keeper Alan Kelly intercepted a Greg Horan goal chance on 24 minutes. Austin Stacks simply couldn’t catch a break. Casey and Cooper stretched their lead out to six, 1-6 to 0-3, approaching half time and while such important figures were subdued for large parts of the second-half, they stood tall when it mattered most.
C Cooper (1-3, 0-3 frees); J Kiely (0-3); D Casey (0-2); E Brosnan, A O’Sullivan, B Looney (0-1 each).
K Donaghy (1-1); D O’Brien (0-3, 0-2 frees); D Long (0-2, 0-2 frees); G Horan, S Carroll, F Mangan, M Collins (0-1 each).
A Kelly; J Payne, E Brosnan, M Moloney; G White, D O’Leary, F Fitzgerald; A O’Donovan, J Buckley; A O’Sullivan, D Casey, B Looney; J Kiely, C Cooper, C Brady.
J Doolan for Brady (41), G O’Shea for Looney (44), C Fitzgerald for Moloney (44), M Milner for O’Donovan (50), T Brosnan for Kiely (55).
D O’Brien; B Walsh, F MacNamara, J Morgan; P McCarthy, C Jordan, C O’Connell; S Guthrie, G Horan; D McElligott, S Carroll, F Mangan; S O’Callaghan, K Donaghy, D O’Brien.
W Guthrie for S Guthrie (HT), S Ryan for Jordan (HT), J O’Shea for Morgan (36), D Long for O’Brien (41), M Collins for Horan (50).
S Mulvihill (St Senan’s).