A strong finish to the first half and another burst midway through the second has moved Dr. Crokes within one hour of an eighth Kerry SFC crown this decade.
Crokes, chasing a second four-in-a-row of titles since 2010, will play East Kerry in Sunday’s decider in Tralee - their fourth game in as many weekends such has been the condensed nature of this year’s championship.
Their progression to another decider is an 11th since 2005, and it was never really in doubt here, not from late in the first half anyway. That Crokes were never led from the seventh minute gives a fair indication of their dominance throughout.
The 1-6 to 0-5 interval advantage was rooted in the three unanswered points Crokes kicked approaching the break - a Tony Brosnan pair sandwiching a Michael Potts effort - and when the excellent Brosnan added another brace early in the second half, it left six between them and put South Kerry in real danger of being cut adrift.
The divisional side now required a goal and right on cue, they were gifted a green flag on 35 minutes. Shane Murphy failed to deal adequately with a Conor O'Shea high ball, possession squirted loose to Niall O’Shea and he made no mistake from close range. That left the scoreboard reading 1-8 to 1-5, but no closer would South Kerry get.
Micheál Burns answered with a point - a goal-bound drive tipped over by Padraig O’Sullivan - and although a fine Daniel Daly kick again reduced the margin to three, Crokes pushed the gap back out to six thanks to another three-in-a-row burst from Brian Looney, Burns, and Casey.
This was, arguably, the defining passage of the game as it killed fully the momentum South Kerry had garnered from their green flag. Indeed, in the quarter of an hour following Niall O’Shea’s goal, John Shanahan’s South Kerry charges managed just one score.
Daniel Daly’s third white flag on 50 minutes, set up by the excellent Mark Griffin, was their first in 12 minutes, with O’Shea bringing his personal tally to 1-3 shortly after. That put the 2015 champions back within four but they needed a second goal to give real impetus to their chase. The Crokes defence, which had been prised open too easily on occasion in the opening half, was not for breaching late on. South Kerry had a number of attacks approaching the hour mark which came to nothing.
Daithi Casey and Tony Brosnan finished out the scoring, Crokes fully deserving of their six-point winning margin. It was fitting the final say should fall to Brosnan. Where the Crokes defence will need to prioritise the shackling of David Clifford next Sunday in Tralee, East Kerry will need to do likewise with the in-form Brosnan.
Crokes will know they can’t be as wasteful this weekend coming as they were during today's first half, the three-in-a-row champions spurning two goal chances in the five minutes after Michael Potts’ 12th-minute green flag. Gavin White had been the architect behind Potts’ goal, which nudged them into a 1-2 to 0-2 lead, and a minute or so later, the Kerry captain was again tearing through the heart of the South Kerry defence. He offloaded to Daithi Casey, who was held up in the square. Crokes protested there had been a foul. Referee Seamus Mulvihill disagreed.
South Kerry were also profligate in the opening half. Bryan Sheehan, who ended up being substituted midway through the second half because of injury, endured a difficult day from the placed ball. He kicked four first-half wides, three of which were frees. There was also a fourth free towards the end of the half which did not have the legs. John Payne blocked a Daniel Daly goal drive thereafter, another miss which they will rue.
Deep down, though, they will know their best opportunity at making the final was in the drawn game when four up early in the second period of extra-time.
Scorers for Dr Crokes: T Brosnan (0-6, 0-2 frees); D Casey (0-4, 0-1 free); M Potts (1-1); M Burns (0-2); B Looney (0-1).
Scorers for South Kerry: N O’Shea (1-3); Daniel Daly (0-3); B O’Sullivan, C Keating (0-2).
DR CROKES: S Murphy; J Payne, M Moloney, F Fitzgerald; M Potts, D O’Leary, G White; J Buckley, M O’Shea; M Burns, G O’Shea, B Looney; T Brosnan, D Casey, K O’Leary.
Subs: D Naughton for D O’Leary (24); A O’Sullivan for K O’Leary (HT); J Lyons for Payne (63, inj); M Milner for Casey (64); J Griffin for Burns (67).
SOUTH KERRY: P O’Sullivan (Skellig Rangers); K Young (Renard), F Clifford (Waterville), B Sugrue (Renard); M Griffin (St Michael’s Foilmore), P O’Sullivan (Dromid Pearses), R Wharton (Renard); B Sheehan (St Mary’s), G O’Sullivan (Dromid Pearses); B O’Sullivan (Valentia), Denis Daly (St Mary’s), C O’Shea (St Mary’s); C Keating (Skellig Rangers), Daniel Daly (St Mary’s), N O’Shea (Dromid Pearses).
Subs: D O’Sullivan (St Mary’s) for Sheehan (47 mins, inj); C Farley (Dromid Pearses) for C Keating (49); S O’Dwyer (Waterville) for Wharton (57); D O’Donoghue (Dromid Pearses) for N O’Shea (60).
Referee: S Mulvihill.