Dr Crokes (Kerry) 0-13 Cratloe (Clare) 0-12
Long after this gripping Munster club SFC final yesterday, lost in his own thoughts, Cratloe’s Podge Collins stood in the middle of the Gaelic Grounds pitch a forlorn figure impervious to the repeated attempts at consolation by friends and supporters.
In a truly phenomenal individual effort he covered every blade of grass on that pitch over and over but now it was over he was still, statue-still. He knew, as surely as did everyone else in the 2,384 attendance, this was a game the Clare champions should have won.
Podge you see is a competitor, as fierce and driven as any who has ever taken to that famous pitch on the Ennis Road in Limerick. He has already won All-Ireland senior and U21 hurling titles with Clare this year and was almost an automatic choice on the All Star team. No matter. With his father Colm as team manager, his closest of close friends — including brother Sean at wing-forward — alongside him, this was a title he desperately wanted to win. This was a title he knew Cratloe had in their grasp but allowed slip through their fingers.
For that, there is no consolation nor will there ever be, unless Cratloe return to this stage and do what they just failed to do yesterday. And don’t rule that out.
But what a Munster final this was. The first-time crowned Clare champions, deserve credit not just for Podge but for the other Clare hurling stars who graced that pitch yesterday like Cathal McInerney, Conor McGrath, Fergal Lynch, Conor Ryan. Credit also to an outstanding defensive sextet of David Ryan, Barry Duggan, Sean Chaplin in the full-back line, team captain Ogie Murphy, Michael Hawes and Enda Boyce in the outer line.
Massive underdogs going into the game (33/1) and trailing by 0-10 to 0-3 at the break after enjoying a perfect two-point start (defenders Boyce from a free and the raiding Chaplin the scorers), they looked a beaten docket. They were perfect conditions for the free-running three-in-a-row-seeking champions, the legendary Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper in superb form, and it all looked set fair for a massacre.
In a complete turnaround, however, Cratloe made all the running in that second half, outscoring the four-time Kerry champions 0-9 to 0-1 to lead by a point as the game headed into the final couple of minutes.
Then came the denouement, and greatest credit of all on this day has to go to Dr Crokes.
In that opening half they looked every inch of what we know them to be, a well-oiled football machine, tight and disciplined in a defence led by Fionn Fitzgerald and Eoin Brosnan, dominant in midfield where captain Ambrose O’Donovan and Johnny Buckley held sway and bristling with threat up front with Alan O’Sullivan, Daithi Casey, Brian Looney, Kieran O’Leary and the sublime Cooper.
After the break, they were overrun by a superior force and swamped by wave after wave of attack — often from their own goal-line — by Cratloe.
It wasn’t that Crokes became complacent. Far from it, said midfielder Buckley.
“We had studied Cratloe, they have a serious standard, both physically and with their ball skills, had beaten a lot of very good teams along the way,” he said.
“We were under no illusions about them, knew they were a good side. We tried to focus on coming back out and pushing on again in the first 10 minutes. But they came out all guns blazing, put in a huge performance for the first five minutes and it kind of set the tone for the rest of the half, for them and for us. We struggled to match their pace and intensity.”
The low point came in the 54th minute, Gooch getting a thoroughly deserved second yellow card for a reckless challenge on the now near unstoppable Conor McGrath, leaving Crokes down to 14 at a most crucial point in the game. It looked even worse for the Killarney side a minute later when the outstanding Cathal McInerney kicked his fifth point of the half to put the Clare men ahead 0-12 to 0-11.
And that’s when this Crokes side showed the mark of the champions they are, the champions they remain, those final game-winning minutes.
“We’ve had a lot of tough days in this competition, you’d like to think we’ve learned from that,” Buckley said.
“It’s there, in the back of your head. Probably the more experienced players just decided we weren’t going to have another bad day at the office and thankfully we pulled through.”
That they did was due in no small part to Johnny himself, not just for the winning point he kicked in the last minute of added-time but for his overall contribution.
No consolation for Cratloe, but they will be back.
Scorers for Dr Crokes: C Cooper (0-4, 1f), A O’Sullivan, B Looney, D Casey (1f) (0-2 each), K O’Leary, J Buckley, F Fitzgerald (0-1 each).
Scorers for Cratloe: C McInerney (0-5, 2fs), C McGrath (0-2), S Chaplin, F Lynch, S Collins, L Markham, E Boyce (f) (0-1 each).
DR CROKES: D Moloney; K Ward, F Fitzgerald, J Payne; L Quinn, E Brosnan, M Moloney; A O’Donovan (c), J Buckley; A O’Sullivan, D Casey, B Looney; K O’Leary, C Cooper, G O’Shea.
Subs for Dr Crokes: M Burns for O’Shea (46); D O’Leary for Ward (49); S Doolan for Quinn (55).
CRATLOE: P Deloughrey; D Ryan, B Duggan, S Chaplin; M Murphy (c) M Hawes, E Boyce; F Lynch, C Ryan; S Collins, C Duggan, L Markham; C McInerney, P Collins, C McGrath.
Subs for Cratloe: P Chaplin for McInerney (40-45, blood).
Referee: C Lane (Cork).
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