The Dr Crokes press evening was coming to a close when Brian Looney fielded a ball lobbed in about the Kerry club’s style.
The Crokes approach is known for ball retention and brainy interplay, but Looney was asked if they’d changed their style recently: His response was interesting.
“I definitely think there has been an improvement, in fact a steady year-on-year improvement going through our last three county titles, but I think experience and hunger from fellows to keep going and reach that pinnacle on St Patrick’s Day is what has made a difference. “I think it’s a combination of factors rather than any change in style.”
Crokes’ cerebral approach is no accident, as former Kerry manager and long-time Crokes mainstay Pat O’Shea explains.
“We do work on giving underage players the wherewithal to make decisions on the field, to allow that process to develop all the way through.
“Yes, we do play a particular way. Do we sit down at the start of every year and tell that to the coaches? No. It’s ingrained in the players, the kids see our older teams like the senior team play in that way, they see the way we play and almost unconsciously they pick it up. But not only do they see it, they put it into practice, and on top of that, they can see that it’s been successful for us. We’re comfortable with the style we play but it’s also been successful for us, which is hugely important in getting players to buy into it.
“To take another club that plays a particular way, you’d be doing well to walk into Nemo Rangers and say, ‘we’re going to change the way we play completely’, because the first thing they’d say to you would be, ‘the way we’ve played has been very successful for us, why would we want to change that?’ And that would be a very good question.”
With that in mind, it was hardly surprising to hear current joint-manager Noel O’Leary’s shrewd evaluation of today’s opponents in the All-Ireland club semi-final, Dublin and Leinster champions Ballymun Kickhams.
“We’ve only seen Ballymun once, the day of the Leinster final, when they beat a very fancied Portlaoise team who got to the provincial final for the last three years,” said O’Leary.
“Ballymun must be good and from what we saw of them, they look very impressive. “We’re expecting a running battle — they’re runners with the ball, and they’re frightening fit. .”
That kind of analysis isn’t Croke’s only trump card. Players like Colm Cooper, Eoin Brosnan and Kieran O’Leary have plenty of intercounty experience, while they made this stage last season as well before going down to Crossmaglen. Crokes have already had a scare since getting out of Kerry, if one were needed: they squeezed out of a tight game against Kilmurry-Ibrickane of Clare in the Munster club, while in O’Leary’s words they were “afraid of our lives” heading to Ruislip to take on Tir Chonaill Gaels, as they didn’t know what to expect from the London side.
Experience helped them in Ruislip; O’Leary hopes it’ll help today as well.
“I suppose we were there last year and some of the lads were there a few years before that (All-Ireland club final, 2007). The county players have obviously played in Croke Park but we’re going to Thurles and we’re hoping the rest of the players will follow them. We’ve trained very hard in the last couple of weeks, though the one thing was that we’ve found it hard to get challenge games. We got a couple of them though, and we’ve seen a good bit of the lads, we got what we wanted out of those challenge games.
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