Dr Crokes 3-16 Loughmore-Castleiney 1-5
Dr Crokes stretched their average winning margin over their last three games to 13 on Saturday — but joint-manager Noel O’Leary believes there’s something still missing from their performances.
This provincial semi-final victory, their eighth consecutive win in Munster, in front of 1,142 crowd on their home patch, sealed their fourth consecutive final appearance.
In an ill-tempered contest where Michael Collins issued three red cards and 14 yellows, including four pairs, Dr Crokes eased away from the dual Tipperary champions in the last 17 minutes.
Loughmore-Castleiney’s decision to change tact and adopt an aggressive — often overly-aggressive — approach at the start of the second half initially appeared to be working. Even though they lost Cian Hennessy to a second yellow card just five minutes after he picked up his first, they had cut the margin to four points by the 38th minute.
However, that turned out to be their last score of the game as Colm Cooper, sensing his side’s difficulty, moved out the field and started to pull the strings.
It was his beautifully-delivered pass into Jamie Doolan which led to Brian Looney’s goal in the 43rd minute that effectively ended the game as a contest.
Cooper was also involved in Kieran O’Leary’s goal three minutes later, finding his Kerry team-mate whose neat one-two with Gavin O’Shea put him in for the score.
Loughmore-Castleiney were out on their feet going into the final 10 minutes and the game turned into a procession for Crokes.
While happy with elements of his team’s performance, O’Leary knows his side have to prove themselves outside the county having won their last two games on their own ground; their last three including the county final all taking place on Lewis Road.
“We’re not the finished article yet. There’s something still amiss in us. Are we too complacent that we’re playing at home? Is it about time now that we got out of the county and see if we’re really made of steel in the Munster final?”
Crokes have never made any secret of their aspirations for a second Andy Merrigan Cup, with Cooper featuring in ads speaking about its elusiveness. But if they are to do that, it’s tough love they’ll need, explained O’Leary. “We’re very critical of our players. I suppose we’re wrong in what we’re doing. We expect 100% all of the time and we can’t get 100% all of the time, but we want it.
“These players bring 100% to training but come the games they’re just lacking that small little bit. Hopefully, they’ll get it right the next day.”
O’Leary described the game as an awkward one made more difficult by the stoppages in play. “We expected a tough game but we didn’t expect it tougher than we got here. But we got over it and 3-16 is good kicking and we’ll move onto the final.
“When the players were left to play football, it was a great game. But it was stop-start, there were yellow and red cards being flashed, which was sad. The GAA is not like that. It should be just reffed normally and players left to get on with the game.”
The Crokes management team of O’Leary and Vince Casey were visibly angry with the ease at which Loughmore-Castleiney slalomed their way through the defence in the opening half.
Although the home team were eight points to the good by the 21st minute, Cooper’s 12th-minute penalty helping them on their way, they conceded one themselves in the 23rd minute.
Goalkeeper David Moloney brought down David Kennedy and John McGrath, Loughmore-Castleiney’s only scorer until Ciaran McGrath posted their last point, found the net from the spot.
Crokes were 1-8 to 1-3 at the break but Luke Quinn had to make a desperate clearance off the line just before half-time.
A catalogue of off-the-ball incidents pockmarked the restart and despite losing Hennessy, Loughmore-Castleiney were making gains.
But the wind died in their sails after Looney’s goal as the reigning Munster champions’ superiority kicked in.
At the death, John Ryan and Chris Brady were shown straight red cards after an entanglement.
Loughmore-Castleiney’s Noel McGrath paid tribute to Crokes’ panache, which was the primary difference between the sides.
“We knew coming down here we were coming up against a serious team and they showed that in the finish. But we knew if we could get around them, we have serious footballers on our team as well, and for 40 to 45 minutes we done really well.
“But their class shone through in the finish and they got a few scores. We gave it our all and I don’t think there’s much more we could have asked for.”
Scorers for Dr Crokes: B Looney 1-6; C Cooper 1-3 (1-0pen, 0-1f); K O’Leary 1-2; J Doolan 0-3; D Casey (f), A O’Sullivan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Loughmore-Castleiney: J McGrath 1-4 (1-0pen, 0-3f); C McGrath 0-1.
DR CROKES: D Moloney; L Quinn, J Payne, K Ward; S Myers, F Fitzgerald, E Brosnan; A O’Donovan, J Buckley; B Looney, D Casey, A O’Sullivan; K O’Leary, C Cooper, J Doolan.
Subs: D O’Leary for K Ward (28); G O’Shea for A O’Donovan (38); S Doolan for S Myers (46); M Moloney for J Payne (49); C Brady for K O’Leary (51).
LOUGHMORE-CASTLEINEY: D Brennan; L Egan, J Meagher, T Long; T King, C McGrath, J Ryan; N McGrath, J McGrath; A McGrath, D Kennedy, C Hennessy; E Sweeney, L McGrath, D Bourke.
Subs: M Webster for D Bourke (41); J Nyland for A McGrath (49); J Hennessy for T Long (52); W Eviston for N McGrath (inj, 60); T McGrath for D Kennedy (60+1).
Red cards: C Hennessy (36, second yellow); J Ryan (59).
Referee: M Collins (Cork).
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