AIB All-Ireland Club SFC semi-final
Corofin (Galway) 0-8 Dr Crokes (Kerry) 2-11
It is 25 years since the Killarney club landed their first, and only, All-Ireland club football title.
With talk of their semi-final struggles finally put to bed, Dr Crokes selector Harry O’Neill is dearly hoping that talk of the history-making 1992 team will also have faded by close of business on March 17.
It is 25 years since the Killarney club landed their first, and to date only, All-Ireland club football title, but this current crop appears well placed to add a second after shifting a fairly sizeable monkey from their back.
From the starting team which lined out at the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday, only 20-year old centre-back Gavin White and goalkeeper Shane Murphy — the latter transferred from Kilcummin at the beginning of last year — did not feature during the All-Ireland semi-final defeats of 2012, 2013, and 20’14.
The remainder knew nothing but hurt and regret when attempting to negotiate this particular hurdle.
On this occasion, Crokes were not for moving. Or more precisely, St Patrick’s Day wouldn’t pass without their involvement.
Brian Looney and Kieran O’Leary had them two points up within 53 seconds. It was a lead they would never relinquish.
A green flag was raised in either half and the timing of both was paramount in advancing them to a first All-Ireland decider since 2007; the first goal arrived five minutes shy of the break and had the scoreboard, now reading 1-5 to 0-4, accurately reflecting Crokes’ dominance for the first time in proceedings.
The second goal was manufactured 11 minutes from the end and during a period of sustained Corofin pressure.
That second goal broke Corofin and, in the process, brought an end to their opponents’ semi-final hoodoo.
“If you don’t win one, then those defeats will always be hanging over you. There was a lot made of the fact that we couldn’t get over this particular line and that we weren’t able for what was being thrown at us. It is brilliant to get over this one,” admitted O’Neill.
“When you get into the last four, you are playing against top notch teams. Crossmaglen caught us with their intensity in the second half in 2012, Ballymun too. Today, we were ready for that.
If you didn’t learn from three All-Ireland semi-final defeats, then there’s something wrong. We learned. It is nice to have the monkey off our back. We were written off by practically everyone coming into this and we are delighted to be in an All-Ireland final.”
What they didn’t have in 2012, ’13 or ‘14 was a panel of such depth as the one that now sits in the stand. Even with Eoin Brosnan injured, there was still no room on the starting XV for Micheál Burns, Jordan Kiely, or Tony Brosnan.
They were introduced in that order during the second period and it was Kiely whose arrival was felt strongest. On 49 minutes, Colm Cooper was to be found on his own 20-metre line dispossessing Greg Higgins. A free out was awarded and Cooper steered the ball to Daithi Casey, unmarked at midfield.
Corofin had pushed up as they chased a four-point deficit and with nothing but green grass in front of him, Casey took flight. He carried possession to the edge of the opposition goalmouth before lobbing the ball over the head of Ciarán McGrath to Kiely.
The 20-year old rounded ‘keeper Bernard Power and applied the coolest of finishes. At 2-9 to 0-8, that was that.
The Connacht champions, having found themselves 1-9 to 0-5 in arrears two minutes after restart, had delivered their most enterprising period of football in the quarter of an hour before Kiely’s goal.
Jason Leonard and Dylan Wall (0-2) landed three on the bounce and the gap would have been cut to the minimum had Gary Sice not pulled his goal effort narrowly wide.
“We were pressing in the final quarter and that probably contributed to their second goal,” said Corofin boss Kevin O’Brien. “If a team gets four or five points ahead, it is very hard to claw it back.”
For Crokes, one last box requires ticking.
“We’ve won nothing yet,” continued O’Neill.
“There is a group of players below in Killarney milking that All-Ireland club final victory from 25 years ago. These are all friends of mine, guys I grew up with. If we could get over the line on Paddy’s Day, it would be absolutely fantastic and the drinks I would have with them would then be far sweeter.”
Scorers for Dr Crokes: K O’Leary (0-5); J Kiely, G O’Shea (1-0); D Casey (0-2, 0-2 frees); C Cooper (0-1 free), T Brosnan, S Murphy (0-1 free), B Looney (0-1 each).
Scorers for Corofin: G Sice (0-2 frees), J Leonard (0-1 free), D Wall (0-2 each); I Burke, M Farragher (0-1 each).
DR CROKES: S Murphy; J Payne, M Moloney, L Quinn; D O’Leary, G White, F Fitzgerald; A O’Donovan, A O’Sullivan; J Buckley, G O’Shea, B Looney; K O’Leary, D Casey, C Cooper.
Subs: M Burns for Looney (41 mins); J Kiely for O’Shea (48); T Brosnan for Casey (53); S Doolan for K O’Leary (58); M Milner for Cooper (62).
COROFIN: B Power; K Fitzgerald, L Silke, C Silke; K Molloy, C McGrath, C Cunningham; D Burke, R Steede; G Sice, D Wall, J Leonard; I Burke, M Farragher, M Lundy.
Subs: G Higgs for C Silke (35 mins); A Burke for Molloy (38); B O’Donovan for Cunningham (48); C Brady for Wall (50).
Referee: C Branagan (Down).
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