Three seasons. Three All-Ireland semi-finals.
Three defeats. What else is there to say?
Dr Crokes have approached this expedition from every angle now but the best Ulster, Leinster and Connacht have to offer have all seen them off. Crossmaglen. Ballymun Kickhams. Castlebar Mitchels. A roll call of failed climbs.
Sometimes the mountain beats you.
It doesn’t help when you lose your best climber. Colm Cooper is their Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay all in one but he limped off after just 19 minutes and the feeling even then was that maybe the Kerry side had already peaked. So it was.
Just not meant to be? “Just not meant to be, it looks like it at this stage,” said Crokes’ co-manager Vince Casey. “We put huge preparation into it and then you see something happen to Colm. Would he have made a difference? I suppose it would have helped us but we always seemed to be chasing the game after their first goal.
“The lads showed great character but we seemed to get it back to within a point the whole time and not get level. They got the second goal and they killed us in the last ten minutes. Their running game from defence was unstoppable really. They were ploughing through the middle. To lose three semi-finals in-a-row is a killer.”
Casey’s summation was impressively honest and devoid of easy explanations. No-one would have differed had he blamed Cooper’s misfortune as the sole reason for their own and he was equally up front about the loss ten minutes from time of Ambrose O’Donovan.
The midfielder had been superb all afternoon, particularly in the 15 minutes prior to his departure with an old groin injury, but Casey again turned the focus towards their opponents when asked about what was another turning point that went against them.
“It was crucial to a point, I suppose. We missed a couple of wides as well. Johnny Buckley had a couple of chances that just went wide and if we had got back level it would have swung to us but they kept getting that next score and that shows great character.
“You have to hand it to them. They are a phenomenal hard-working bunch of players and there is huge honesty within them. When you have those two attributes you have a great chance of finishing it off. ”
Crokes have displayed all of those attributes at various times this past three seasons and they will be required again if this latest blow is to be absorbed, but the question now is what box they could have left to tick in their attempts to make it to Paddy’s Day.
A lack of physicality had been pinpointed by friend and foe alike as a reason for their downfall before now but they were “blown out of it” in that regard on Saturday according to Casey despite the extra attention paid to strength and conditioning this last 12 months.
Amongst the other theories was the one claiming their passage through Kerry has been too smooth for a side hoping to hone its edges for national conquests, but Casey wasn’t of a mind to grasp reflexively at any explanation in the aftermath.
For all their time on the road, this is still a relatively young side – goalkeeper David Moloney and Eoin Brosnan aside – even if the prospect of emulating their All-Ireland winning predecessors from 1992 seems a long way off right now.
“It’s a young enough team alright. It is just about having the appetite and the stomach to come back for more, but they are a phenomenal team to win four-in-a-row [in Kerry] and three Munster championships.
“A lot may question now how strong the Munster championship is but when the competition ends in December you just don’t know how it is going to come back in February and unfortunately we haven’t done that well now three years in-a-row. We will have to try something different if we get here again.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved