A sixth Bishop Moynihan Cup since 2010, their 12th in total, the Dr Crokes name now sits alongside Austin Stacks and Laune Rangers as the most honoured in the county.
Deservedly so, too. They were the better team in Tralee, they retained the ball better, and, more than anything else, their decision-making in taking aim at the goalposts was superior. And yet they were hanging on at the end, numerically crippled after Johnny Buckley added a black card for a trip following an earlier yellow card.
Both cards were picked up for fouls against Brendan O’Sullivan, although the Valentia man also picked up a caution in the earlier exchange. Buckley’s deliberate pull-down of O’Sullivan in the 48th minute, though, was borne of frustration given the way in which O’Sullivan dominated their duel. Bryan Sheehan was also prominent in midfield, firing over three points from play.
Crokes’ full-back line has had better afternoons. The team had been cruising, producing a four-point lead, when Michael Moloney inadvertently set up the ball for South Kerry sub Ian Galvin to score an 18th-minute goal before Moloney later incurred a black card for a foul on Sheehan.
In spite of those shortcomings, they prospered. Their experience as serial winners was key to how they saw the game out but then South Kerry had three chances to draw level prior to Sheehan finally doing it in the 50th minute. When Daithí Casey sent over a free a minute later, the divisional side had further sorties but nothing came to pass. It was a sublime drilled ground-pass from Kieran O’Leary that paved the way for Jordan Kiely to double Crokes’ lead in the 56th minute.
O’Leary added another a minute later and while South Kerry replacement Ronan Hussey and Sheehan tightened the squeeze on Crokes, it was O’Leary, fed by Colm Cooper, a hamstring issue having delayed his introduction until the 43rd minute, who gave his men some oxygen.
Even with their midfield misfiring, the brilliance of Shane Murphy’s restarts to his half-backs meant Crokes were never out of ideas. Some of the balls Murphy placed towards David O’Leary and man of the match Gavin White were extraordinarily good and will surely have given Éamonn Fitzmaurice food for thought with 2018 in mind.
Murphy had to be on his toes in the first minute when Paul O’Donoghue disguised a pass as a shot, putting the ball into the path of an onrushing Brendan O’Sullivan whose shot was acrobatically foiled by the Crokes goalkeeper. He was also good to deny Matthew O’Sullivan inside the first minute of the second half.
Even after South Kerry’s calamity goal, Crokes succeeded in carving out a couple of goal chances of their own one after the other. In the 15th minute, Tony Brosnan, the late replacement for Cooper, saw his shot deflected over for a point and two minutes later South Kerry goalkeeper Pádraig O’Sullivan made a stunning close-range block from Casey.
Crokes were seven points from seven shots up until the 20th minute when Murphy’s long-range effort from a free struck the post. Two other wides followed in the half but none thereafter and they were 0-11 to 1-6 ahead at half-time.
A Burns point, his fourth of the game, in the 34th minute sent Crokes three up but they would not enjoy another period like the ones they enjoyed in the first half. Scores from O’Donoghue and Sheehan upped the ante and Sheehan was again on the mark from a free after Casey’s first placed ball in the 42nd minute.
Cooper and Kiely were brought in to make the ball stuck a little more in the South Kerry half of the field. They did contribute to that desired effect but not before some South Kerry profligacy, which was ultimately their undoing as Crokes made their shots count in the dying minutes.
Victory aside, asked if their extended run of championship football might be taking its toll, Crokes selector Harry O’Neill said: “The way the championship is geared in Kerry, we knew we had two games to win in May/June. That was the hard part because you are coming down off a big high. That was a real key part of the season to get to October — you’re hoping that you will be ready and fresh again.
“The longer you go in the championship in Kerry, with strong divisional teams, they become more difficult to beat.
“Maybe we’re finding a little bit harder this year to get up to the same standard but these lads have been on the road for 18 months with Pat (O’Shea) in the block of work that he has done and it’s been a hard slog.”
D. Casey (0-6, 2 frees); M. Burns (0-4); K. O’Leary (0-3); T. Brosnan (0-2); G. White, J. Kiely (0-1 each).
B. Sheehan (0-7, 3 frees, 1 45); I. Galvin (1-0); P. O’Donoghue (0-2); B. O’Sullivan, C. O’Shea, R. Hussey (0-1 each).
S. Murphy; J. Payne, M. Moloney, L. Quinn; D. O’Leary, F. Fitzgerald, G. White; J. Buckley, A. O’Sullivan; M. Burns, G. O’Shea, B. Looney; T. Brosnan, D. Casey (c), K. O’Leary.
J. Kiely for T. Brosnan, C. Cooper for G. O’Shea (both 43); S. Doolan for D. O’Leary (53); P. Clarke for M. Burns (56); A. O’Donovan for M. Moloney (black, 60+2); E. Brosnan for B. Looney (60+4).
J. Buckley (48, yellow and black).
Pádraig O’Sullivan (Skellig Rangers); B. Sugrue (Renard), M. Griffin (St Michaels/Foilmore), F. Clifford (Waterville); G. O’Sullivan (Dromid Pearses); Paul O’Sullivan (Valentia Young Islanders), C. O’Shea (St Marys); B. Sheehan (do), B. O’Sullivan (Valentia Young Islanders); P. O’Donoghue (St Marys), N. O’Shea (Dromid Pearses), J. Curran (Valentia Young Islanders); R. Wharton (Renard), M. O’Sullivan (St Michaels/Foilmore), Daniel Daly (St Marys).
I. Galvin (Sneem/Derrynane) for D. Daly (inj 13); Denis Daly (St Marys) for N. O’Shea (34); O. Clifford
(Waterville) for J. Curran (37); R. Hussey (Sneem/Derrynane) for M. O’Sullivan (46); C. Farley (Dromid Pearses) for I. Galvin (60+1).
B. Griffin (Clounmacon).