Dr Crokes 3-12 Tir Chonaill Gaels 0-06
Dr Crokes manager Noel O’Leary reckoned afterwards his side had lost just three of the 50 or so games played in 2012.
There was never any danger of that figure becoming four.
His opposite number, Paddy Clarke, had played up his side’s chances of causing what would have been a seismic shock last week, but there was less than a quarter of an hour played before the penny dropped.
The rest was mere padding. For Crokes, it may be more accurate to describe it as a chore given the workload their year of stockpiled successes has subjected them to.
“It was a long year, a great year for us and the club in general,” said midfielder Ambrose O’Donovan. “It was always going to be tough coming over here and we have done what we had to today on a tough, heavy pitch.
“This was our eighth game on the trot and the legs got very heavy in the second-half. We knew we had to batten down the hatches a bit and get through it and we pulled through in the end.”
Pre-judging the capabilities of teams from the UK or USA is never easy. The Gaels impressed in securing their 14th London championship in what is their 50th year in existence but that was back in October and they hadn’t togged out since.
Crokes were coming from the opposite end of the spectrum. Games have toppled on them thick and fast even as the year dragged to a close and last week, found them overcoming Rathmore in the O’Donoghue Cup final.
Luke Quinn and Shane Myers sat out that one but both wing-backs were back in the 15 for a game played out in front of a decent crowd and a Tricolour that rested at half-mast after the passing of Kingdom legend Páidí Ó Sé.
The Gaels presented with a panel hailing from 15 counties, and they looked poised to present a serious examination for the visitors after an opening in which Kevin McMenamin displayed his class. The former Donegal player twice engineered space for himself in the first five minutes and his finishing was just as clinical. Had he got his fingertips to a through ball from Ciaran Wall on 14 minutes he may have had a goal, too.
By then, Crokes were already finding their feet on the undulating and unforgiving Ruislip turf and McMenamin’s near miss was compounded less than a minute later when Kieran O’Leary claimed the first goal.
O’Leary spent the afternoon being shadowed by Peter Sherry, who once played in an All-Ireland semi-final with Fermanagh, but the Crokes captain rounded his man with ease before firing low past the goalkeeper and a defender on the line.
Crokes needed just 12 minutes to claim two more.
Both goals had their genesis in sublime flick-ups on the run from Brian Looney firstly and then Colm Cooper and both were finished by Chris Brady. The second, fashioned after a defence-splitting Cooper fist pass, was probably that bit better.
Crokes were bending the game to their will at that point, with O’Donovan and Johnny Buckley bossing the middle. By the time the half-time whistle sounded, they had 3-7 to their credit and all but one point had come in the preceding 21 minutes. The Gaels management could have pointed the finger at any line of the pitch as that most in need of aid but they chose their forward division with Ciarán Boyle and Luke Kavanagh thrown on in an attempt to make some ball stick and relieve the pressure on their backs.
It didn’t work. McMenamin was a marked man after his opening and no-one else was capable of picking up the slack. The final margin could have been whatever Crokes wished it but they eased off the throttle in the second period. The game may have been beyond the Londoners but teams of Crokes’ character don’t cross their paths all that often and the Gaels carried on and enjoyed their best period in the 15 minutes after the interval.
The only black mark was their finishing. Though they launched a succession of forward probes in that time, they were left to rue the fact that five of them ended with dispiriting wides. Even McMenamin was guilty. Twice.
Eventually, Crokes roused themselves as if aware that to round off such a memorable year with a plodding performance would be a dereliction of duty and the last three points came courtesy of the men from Kerry.
A marathon season is finally over but Ballymun await.
Scorers for Tir Chonaill Gaels: K McMenamin (0-3, 0-1 free); E O’Neill (0-2 frees); P Sherry (0-1).
Scorers for Dr Crokes: C Brady (2-1); K O’Leary (1-2); C Cooper (0-4, 0-2 frees); L Quinn (0-1); J Buckley (0-1); B Looney (0-1); A Kenneally (0-1); D Casey (0-1 free).
TIR CHONAILL GAELS: B McBrearty; T Gribben, D Harrington, B Collins; M McConville, E McConville, P Sherry; M Gottsche, C Doyle; E Mageean, F Horan, B Mitchell; C Wall, E O’Neill, K McMenamin.
Subs: L Kavanagh for Mageean (18); C Boyle for Wall (22); J McGrath for Mitchell (30); A Concannon for Horan (50).
DR CROKES: D Moloney; J Payne, M Moloney, F Fitzgerald; L Quinn, S Doolan, S Myers; A O’Donovan, J Buckley; K O’Leary, D Casey, B Looney; C Brady, C Cooper, J Doolan.
Subs: A Kenneally for Looney (49); D O’Leary for Myers (54); G O’Shea for Doolan (56). B Falvey for Casey (58).
Referee: D Fahy (Longford).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved