Following in the footsteps of Luke Quinn in 2011, Kieran O’Leary in 2012 and 2013 joint-captains Michael Moloney and Ambrose O’Donovan, Buckley’s acceptance speech was the fourth delivered by a Dr Crokes player in six seasons, a level of dominance on the provincial scene matched only by the Nemo Rangers class of the early noughties.
That the handle of the cup fell off as Buckley thrust the silverware into the air was the sole blip on an otherwise perfect afternoon for the Killarney side.
Pat O’Shea’s troops arrived into the Carrigoon complex as warm favourites, but extremely conscious of the upset that materialised at this very venue 12 months ago when Clonmel had become the first Tipperary club to annex the Munster title. The Nire, similarly, were bidding to become the first Waterford club to reach Munster’s summit.
The year prior, Benji Whelan’s side had caught glimpse of the mountain top when taking Austin Stacks for 1-3 inside the opening eight minutes. Yesterday, the scoreboard read 1-2 to 0-0 after nine minutes. Only on this occasion, it was The Nire who had been rocked back on their heels.
Opening scores from Kieran O’Leary and Ambrose O’Donovan sandwiched a wayward effort from Liam Lawlor and although The Nire were tabling plenty by way of heart – wing-back Shane Ryan was at full stretch to smother a Brian Looney kick – they were coming up short in almost every other department. Not that they were afforded much time or space, mind. Conor Gleeson’s early wide had as much to do with the three black shirts breathing down his throat as it did a malfunctioning right boot.
Much will be made this week of the contributions of Crokes’ starting six forwards and how all bar one of their front eight scored from open play, not to mind the two subs that got in on the act. All the while their defence continues to fly under the radar. They conceded 0-8 to Kilmurry/Ibrickane, 0-9 to Loughmore-Castleiney and 0-6 yesterday. Corofin will present an altogether different challenge, but one they’re unlikely to shy away from.
Back to those match-winners up the other end and the positioning of wing-forwards Johnny Buckley and Brian Looney on the Nire ’65 meant plenty of space inside for Kieran O’Leary and Colm Cooper. The latter didn’t touch the ball in the opening nine minutes. When he did, it began a passage of play that ended with Daithí Casey blasting the ball past ‘keeper Tommy Wall.
The same player threw over a close-range free in the subsequent action to move them six clear. The Nire should have had their opening score thereafter, but Brian Wall’s effort from directly in front of goal tailed left and wide. It was already proving to be one of those afternoons.
A surging Gavin White run ended with a first for Brian Looney. The resulting kick-out was lost around the middle and finished with Cooper adding to their rising tally.
On 19 minutes, Johnny Buckley turned over Shane Walsh on the Crokes 20-metre line. Fast forward a couple of seconds and Kieran O’Leary is fouled as he gathers possession on the same line at the far end of the field. Kevin Murphy initially awards a free but upon consultation with his umpires, outstretches the arms and the favourites have a penalty.
Casey duly obliges and while Dermot Ryan finally put the Waterford champions on the board after 21 minutes, Crokes respond with a third goal - Casey completing his hat-trick with a thunderous effort into the top right corner of Wall’s net. 3-6 to 0-1. Game over.
The difference widened to 17 points by the call for half-time, 3-9 to 0-1.
What’s to be said about the second-half but that it finished 0-6 to 0-5 in favour of the winners? Nire corner-back Dermot Ryan added three points to his haul to ensure that he walked out of Mallow with his head held high.
Liam Lawlor was responsible for their two remaining white flags, the sole Nire forward to write his name onto a fairly unbalanced scoresheet. All this was missed by a large chunk of the 3,055 attendance. They’d long since headed for home.
Crokes, on the other hand, are headed for February and a shot at redemption.
D Casey (3-2, 1-0 pen, 0-1 free); K O’Leary (0-4); C Cooper (0-1 free), B Looney (0-2 each); A O’Donovan, J Buckley, E Brosnan, J Kiely, C Brady (0-1 each).
D Ryan (0-4); L Lawlor (0-2).
S Murphy; F Fitzgerald, M Moloney, J Payne; G White, A O’Sullivan, D O’Leary; A O’Donovan, E Brosnan; J Buckley, G O’Shea, B Looney; K O’Leary, C Cooper, D Casey.
M Burns for O’Donovan (43 mins); J Kiely for Casey (47); T Brosnan for O’Shea (50); L Quinn for J Payne (50); C Brady for Looney (54); PJ Lawlor for O’Sullivan (56).
T Wall; D Ryan, T Gorman, J Walsh; S Ryan, J Barron, J McGrath; S Walsh, Dylan Guiry; B Wall, S Lawlor, M Walsh; C Gleeson, L Lawlor, Darren Guiry.
J Mulcahy for Walsh (HT), C Guiry for Dylan Guiry (HT); C Mulcahy for Barron (38, bc); S Ryan for McGrath (42); K Guiry for B Wall (53); K Brazil for Lawlor (58).
K Murphy (Cork).