It’s hard to know where to start with this Dr Crokes team. They’ve accumulated so many winning streaks and records across all competitions, where doies one begin?
Perhaps the stat that best emphasises their strength and depth is that they’ve won all 22 games they’ve played in 2017, from Club to County Championships, from Munster matches to All-Irelands, and all 11 County League games too.
Crokes selector Harry O’Neill joked to the press, “Lads, I keep missing the fun in the dressing room talking to ye.”
But they had to find a new way to win in front of 1,813 onlookers at Clonmel yesterday. They did it without Colm Cooper, and with a numerical disadvantage after Alan O’Sullivan’s 36th-minute dismissal for an off-the-ball striking offence. They were one point behind against the 2015 Munster champions, who had just been denied a certain goal by John Payne’s goal-line block, but they suffocated Clonmel inside their own half and outscored them by eight points to one.
Amid the flurry of action that followed, O’Neill admitted Payne’s crucial intervention had skipped his mind.
“That’s something I’d forgotten about myself but that could’ve been crucial,” he said. “They were in, (Michael) Quinlivan had the shot and you could’ve been talking a completely different game.
“John Payne got it off the line and they’re the breaks you get. When Payno makes a clearance like that, maybe your luck is in.”
The influential Jamie Peters was black carded in the counter-attack following that move and Daithi Casey’s subsequent free hit the net, only to be ruled out for a square ball.
Clonmel’s kick-outs were often panicked and Michael O’Reilly erred on the double, taking a quick kick-out before Clonmel could replace Peters and gifting it to Crokes, although Tony Brosnan was denied a goal chance by the narrow angle.
Then, O’Sullivan’s red card strangely settled the game.
Clonmel no sooner had Danny Madigan picked out as their spare man than Crokes had men pushed up on him. Kieran O’Leary was left criminally in space in front of goal for an instant equaliser and Jordan Kiely roamed into space to clock up a narrow lead, which Micheál Burns soon doubled.
The hosts’ shooting, once precise from all distances, became more frenetic, and substitute Richie Gunne’s point was their only second-half score. Indeed, Crokes’ didn’t concede a free inside their 45’ until the 55th minute – which Jason Lonergan crucially pushed wide.
Meanwhile, Clonmel’s kick-out woes resumed as Casey’s booming point was followed by Crokes’ receiving another gift-wrapped turnover in front of goal, but Paul Clarke sent the ball whistling just over the bar. When O’Reilly finally went long, Clonmel’s midfield, which was dominant in the opening half against the opposition kick-out, lost out and Burns ensured Crokes would enjoy the daylight of a four-point lead.
It would be six by the end, thanks to Burns, again, and Johnny Buckley.
It was quite the contrast to the first-half when Crokes double-teamed Quinlivan at the expense of their general play.
Their standoffishness was underlined when two defenders followed Quinlivan’s decoy run across man-in-possession Kevin Fahey, who sauntered forward for a point. In all, four Clonmel defenders, including sweeper Ross Peters, came forward to kick scores, with Peters’ super floated effort making it 0-7 to 0-5 on the half-time whistle.
“The first-half was one of the worst performances we’ve put in over the last 18 months,” remarked O’Neill.
Clonmel even outnumbered Crokes’ for goal chances, two half-chances to none, although they didn’t test Shane Murphy. That would become three chances moments into the second-half and the murmuring of the crowd suggested a shock on the cards.
But Crokes clinically crushed such dissent to earn a semi-final berth against Clare champions Kilmurry-Ibrickane.
Scorers for Clonmel Commercials:
J Peters, K Fahey, K Harney, J Kennedy, R Peters, M Quinlivan, E Fitzgerald, R Gunne (0-1 each).
Scorers for Dr Crokes:
D Casey (2 frees), M Burns (0-3 each); J Buckley, T Brosnan (0-2 each), F Fitzgerald, K O’Leary, P Clarke, J Kiely (0-1 each).
M O’Reilly; J Peters, D Lynch, L Ryan; K Fahey, D Madigan, K Harney; R Peters; S Kennedy, J Kennedy; J Lonergan, P Looram, I Fahey; M Quinlivan, E Fitzgerald.
L Moore for J Peters (BC, 34), R Gunne for Fitzgerald (41), R Lambe for I Fahey (55), A Lonergan for R Peters (55).
S Murphy; J Payne, M Moloney; S Doolan; F Fitzgerald, G White, L Quinn; A O’Sullivan, J Buckley; M Burns, G O’Shea, B Looney; T Brosnan, K O’Leary, D Casey.
J Kiely for Looney (37), P Clarke for Brosnan (43), E Brosnan for Burns (62), A O’Donovan for O’Leary (BC, 62).
A O’Sullivan (36).
K Murphy (Cork).
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