If anything it was the type of victory befitting their two previous final performances against St Finbarr’s. It could have been so much easier for them but that truth won’t get in the way of them savouring this 16th Munster SFC title. Their four-point lead at half-time yesterday was an insult to how they made a mockery of the pre-match odds and Crokes’ standing as the kingpins of the club game.
When Crokes cut that difference in half by the 41st minute, it appeared the five opportunities to find the net in the opening period would come back to haunt them. Instead, they pushed on. Luke Connolly, who had claimed six points by the break, punished a Gavin White foul on Paul Kerrigan before adding one from play seconds later. A minute later, Kerrigan’s shot agonisingly flew just over the bar when he had Shane Murphy beaten.
Five points up, the threat of a crisis was well and truly averted. Daithí Casey converted a free but then Kieran O’Leary, who had been a frustrated figure for most of the afternoon, was dismissed for a second yellow card and the bottom of Crokes’ day, which had been dangling, fell out. Connolly fired over a 10th point in the 57th minute and the black and green was being festooned on the cup. Jordan Kiely did manage a point and another Crokes substitute Tony Brosnan was denied by Micheál Aodh Martin from point blank range but the Killarney men were beaten and they knew it.
Anything but a Nemo victory would have amounted to scandal considering the manner in which they dominated this affair in Páirc Uí Rinn. Crokes may have gone up by a point on three occasions in the opening 10 minutes but from there on Nemo weren’t touched.
Their unanswered run of six points between the 12th and 19th minute only told part of their dominance. Before it, there had been hints that they were going to cause havoc. But for John Payne, Barry O’Driscoll would have found the net in the fifth minute. Connolly’s 45, which began that rich purple patch for Nemo, was the consolation score after Kerrigan’s attempt to place the ball past Murphy after a typically incisive run, was thwarted by Payne.
By that stage, Payne might as well have been wearing a cap but his heroics were not finished. In the 19th minute, Alan O’Donovan looked to have found Paddy Gumley close to the Crokes’ goal but Payne made himself big enough to cut out the ball. Again, Connolly made sure Nemo collected something from the move with a converted 45.
If the visitors in the 2,851 crowd knew something was up then, they did in the following minute when Gumley pushed a deft kick-pass into Connolly who met it with a volley only for Murphy to make a ridiculously good acrobatic save.
Connolly’s fourth ‘45’ of the half struck the post and Crokes breathed a sigh of relief. Colm Cooper punished a soft free won by Casey to end a 14-minute spell without a score but Nemo continued to slice open their opponents’ defence. Connolly had reason to curse Murphy again in the 25th minute when he kept out his shot as he closed in from an angle.
Alarm bells should have been sounding around the Crokes’ dug-out. The situation was that dire it called for personnel changes but Pat O’Shea and his management team thought otherwise. As Harry O’Neill recalled: “We felt rather than make changes we had to get control of the ball. We kept giving it back to them. I don’t think there was any period from the 15th minute on that we got our hands on the ball and just chilled the game down a little bit and take the sting out of it. That’s what we needed to do more than throwing guys in when Nemo were on the up. We wanted the boys to get on the ball but we never did that in the first half and I think that’s why Nemo kept coming at us.”
The dynamism of White and some flashes of brilliance from Johnny Buckley meant it wasn’t a complete systems failure for Crokes but they were struggling in so many areas. Murphy, as excellent as he has been with his kick-outs, was finding the Nemo press not to his liking. Cooper was not prominent enough and it was notable just how much he favoured his right foot in trying to find colleagues although that usually strong suit of Crokes was distinctly off-colour.
Just like that January Munster final of 2011 in Mallow, Nemo showed their favoured rivals the greatest respect by showing them none of it and profiting. “Like, Nemo are a cocky auld shower,” smiled Larry Kavanagh. “We always think we are going to win anyway but it probably does count. It won’t win you a game but at least the young fellas weren’t nervous, everyone wanted to play some lads might go into their shell that they were playing Crokes the All-Ireland champions but our fellas they’d be rubbing shoulders with All-Ireland medals back in the club so they were comfortable out.”
Hungrier teams, namely Slaughtneil, lie in wait but based on this evidence the journey may not end here for Nemo.
L. Connolly (0-10, 4 frees, 2 45s); P. Gumley (0-3); A. O’Reilly, P. Kerrigan, C. Horgan (0-1 each).
C. Cooper (frees), D. Casey (1 free) (0-3 each); B. Looney (0-2); J. Buckley, G. White, J. Kiely (0-1 each).
M.A. Martin; K. O’Donovan, A. O’Reilly (c), A. Cronin; J. Donovan, S. Cronin, K. Fulignati; A. O’Donovan, J. Horgan; B. O’Driscoll, P. Kerrigan, C. O’Brien; L. Connolly, P. Gumley, C. Dalton.
C. Horgan for P. Gumley (58); A. Greaney for P. Kerrigan (inj 60+3).
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; C. Cooper, D. Casey (c), K. O’Leary.
P. Clarke for G. O’Shea (44); T. Brosnan for M. Burns (48); E. Brosnan for L. Quinn (54); J. Kiely for B. Looney (54).
K. O’Leary (53, second yellow).
S. Lonergan (Tipperary).