Dr Crokes were “schooled” by the best club football team in the business, selector Niall O’Callaghan has admitted.
Having entered this All-Ireland final boasting an average winning margin of 11 points from across their six most recent championship outings, stretching as far back as the county semi-final in mid-October of last year, Crokes found themselves on the wrong end of a 12-point drubbing this afternoon, the club’s heaviest championship defeat in years.
Just three scores from play over the hour and not a single point from play in the second-half are not stats one has ever associated with this Crokes side, but such was the extent of their struggles at GAA HQ. Even parking the size of the defeat, Crokes coming off second best was just the second occasion in their 2018/19 season where they have encountered defeat. In 31 games over the past 15 months, across five competitions, Pat O’Shea’s charges clocked 28 wins and one draw. Today’s closing chapter was not in keeping with what had gone before it.
“We got schooled by the best team,” said selector Niall O’Callaghan.
“You can say nothing went right and you can give all the platitudes and excuses you want to give. We were beaten by a far better team. Congratulations to Corofin. They showed us how to play a game of football.
“They took away everything we brought and thought was good and they're a serious outfit. We hold our heads up when we're beaten by the better team.”
Crokes arrived into Croke Park in confident mood, as you’d expect from a side who boasted such imperious form in reaching the decider, their second final appearance in three years, but it was obvious from early on that they were neither comfortable nor possessed a solution to disrupt and dismantle Corofin’s direct running game.
“We came in today with no excuses, none whatsoever. Every fella was fit. They played us better, they took away our strengths, they played really good football. We can be honest enough and say, we were beaten by a better team.”
On the other side, winning manager Kevin O’Brien first touched on the basics, which his side did so well, rather than the fluency of their forward play. No point having a teamsheet as loaded with talent as Corofin do if they’re not prepared to roll up the collective sleeve and work hard.
“The lads played really, really well today. We played with great commitment today, we challenged very, very hard for the ball. We threw our bodies on the line, and that’s excellent from a team that won an All-Ireland 12 months ago. They’re a great bunch and I’m absolutely delighted for them,” remarked O'Brien.
Typifying this was 38-year old full-back Kieran Fitzgerald who made a vital block to deny a Michael Potts goal on 42 minutes. With Corofin 2-10 to 0-8 ahead by this juncture, it could well be argued that the game had already gone from Crokes. Irrespective, the Galway and Connacht champions were not prepared to give their opponents any scent of a comeback.
Far easier on the eye was the manner in which they tore forward in the opening half, the dominance of Kieran Molloy, Daithí Burke and Ronan Steede around the middle ensuring a plentiful supply of possession to a forward unit who created numerous goal opportunities.
“Daithí [Burke] got a point early on and it was a good goal chance. Dylan Wall was in as well, he hit the crossbar. We just seemed to be getting in behind them anytime we went forward. The two goals, the first one, in particular, was well-worked. We’re always looking to create the chance, we moved the ball through the hands as quick as possible. That gave us good opportunities.”