Dr Crokes (Kerry) 1-9 Slaughtneil (Derry) 1-7: “For 25 years, we’ve tried to come back up those steps,” gushed Dr Crokes captain Johnny Buckley from the Hogan Stand podium. “We’ve had a lot of disappointments but I’m here to say that the Andy Merrigan Cup is coming back to Killarney.”
And with those words you could understand why Dr Crokes did what they did. Why they opted for suffocation over style in seeing off a doughty Slaughtneil who were reduced to 14 men for the entirety of the second half. Why they won’t give a smidgeon of a consideration to the flak they might receive for resorting to possession-spoiled football to get their way.
Throw at them that they played beneath never mind within themselves and they will direct you back to 2007 when Crossmaglen stole glory from them, their crushing 2012 and ‘14 semi-final losses in what had developed into an O’Moore Park graveyard or 2013 when Ballymun Kickhams outmuscled them in Thurles. “They lacked that bit of badness or physicality,” Irish Examiner columnist Oisín McConville recalled in 2014 of those ’07 games.
Well, here they weren’t wanting in either department. Over 10 years of hurt was released but not before it was harnessed in the meanness Crokes illustrated in hanging onto the lead they restored in the 40th minute and never lost.
The end of this game was a ringer for the finale to Kerry’s 2007 All-Ireland semi-final win over Dublin, the common denominator being Pat O’Shea. Afterwards, GAA statistician James Robinson revealed that Slaughtneil had just two possessions and controlled the ball for approximately 50 seconds from their final score in the 53rd minute until the final whistle over 10 minutes later. Whatever anyone may think of how they secured their second All-Ireland crown, that’s a remarkable feat by Dr Crokes.
That there was just one point from play in the second half said all that needed to be said about this game as a spectacle. The other scores were frees, two for Paul Bradley and one each for Daithi Casey and Colm Cooper.
Having led 1-6 to 1-5 at the break, Crokes faced into the wind bolstered by the numerical advantage. Bradley’s first second half free in the 38th minute squared matters only for Casey to punish a foul on Brian Looney two minutes later. Introducing speed merchants in Micheál Burns and Jordan Kiely, O’Shea was clearly hoping to stretch Slaughtneil further and the latter sent over a point in the 46th minute.
Kiely won a free in the 51st minute, which Cooper converted, and the gap jumped to three, a massive lead in the context of this game.
Slaughtneil, when they did secure the ball, couldn’t get close to troubling Shane Murphy and they seemed reluctant to make use of the wind in hoisting shots when ironically they were keen to do so in the opening 30 minutes although Chrissy McKaigue’s radar was off on this occasion.
Slaughtneil had opened the brighter and were two points to the good after five minutes through Shane McGuigan and Christopher Bradley. Dr Crokes appeared nervous but settled with some fine fetching by Buckley and a mark of his was the catalyst for Looney’s opening point in the sixth minute.
Cooper followed that up with a free seconds later and when Gavin White shot wide it seemed all their jitteriness was gone (although White could have found a better-placed Cooper than taking on the strike).
A Casey free put Crokes 0-3 to 0-2 before Slaughtneil availed of a long ball tactic, that had been working well for them, in spectacular fashion. Cormac O’Doherty broke down a ball into the path of Padraig Cassidy. He sprinted for goal and had the composure to sidestep and put the ball past a stranded Murphy.
O’Doherty seemed to take a Crokes player out of the play as he landed but the goal was deemed good and when Christopher Bradley and Paul Bradley, from a free, added to it the game had well and truly turned Slaughtneil’s way.
However, Crokes were undeterred and in the 20th minute again looked to hit at Slaughtneil through the middle. Casey outpaced and outmuscled Paul McNeill and was able to notice an unmarked Cooper having sucked in his marker Brendan Rodgers. Cooper’s finish was subtle yet succinct and a Casey point from play evened up the score two minutes later.
Francis McEldowney put Slaughtneil ahead again in the 26th minute but Crokes finished the half with two fine Looney points.
Then came the moment that turned the game on its axis: the dismissal of Cassidy for striking out and low at Kieran O’Leary. It was a reactionary blow but in front of the linesman and close to Maurice Deegan his day was done.
If it’s any consolation, Crokes know exactly how he must feel. They too have been through the ringer. It’s what makes this achievement all the sweeter for them. A career All-Ireland, if you will.
Scorers for Dr Crokes:
C. Cooper (1-2, 0-2 frees); D. Casey (2 frees), B. Looney (0-3 each); M. Burns (0-1).
Scorers for Slaughtneil:
Paul Bradley (0-3, frees); P. Cassidy (1-0); C. Bradley (0-2); Shane McGuigan, F. McEldowney (0-1 each).
S. Murphy; L. Quinn, M. Moloney, J. Payne; D. O’Leary, G. White, F. Fitzgerald; A. O’Donovan, J. Buckley (c); A. O’Sullivan, G. O’Shea, B. Looney; K. O’Leary, D. Casey, C. Cooper.
Subs for Dr Crokes:
J. Kiely for G. O’Shea, M. Burns for A. O’Sullivan (both 39); S. Doolan for D. O’Leary (48); T. Brosnan for B. Looney (58); E. Brosnan for D. Casey, C. Brady for K. O’Leary (60+3).
A. McMullan; B. Rodgers, P. McNeill, K. McKaigue, K. Feeney, C. McKaigue, F. McEldowney (c); Patsy Bradley, P. Cassidy; Shane McGuigan, Paul Bradley, M. McGrath; C. Bradley, Sé McGuigan, C. O’Doherty.
Subs for Slaughtneil:
B. Cassidy for C. O’Doherty (48); R. Bradley for M. McGrath, B. McGuigan for K. Feeney (both 52); G. Bradley for Sé McGuigan (54); S. Cassidy for Patsy Bradley (blood, 55-58).
P. Cassidy (straight, 30+3).
M. Deegan (Laois).
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