Johnny Buckley on guard for Nemo ambush

Johnny Buckley remembers the afternoon well, standing helplessly with a water bottle in his hand, as Crokes were torpedoed around the Mallow pitch.

A desperately cold December meant the 2010 Munster club final between Nemo Rangers and Dr Crokes couldn’t be played in 2010.

After two postponements, two venue changes, an hour delay because of a frozen pitch and another half hour wait because of extra-time in the curtain-raiser, the game finally threw in shortly after 4pm on January 30, 2011.

Buckley, then 21, had kept himself ticking over during the Christmas period only to be ruled out one week before the decider when colliding with a teammate during an inter-panel game at Lewis Road.

Torn ligaments in his knee reduced him to a water carrier, as Nemo obliterated their opponents in what was a near-perfect first-half from Eddie Kirwan’s charges, the interval scoreline showing the Cork champions ahead by 1-13 to 0-3.

Crokes rallied, somehow managing to pare the margin back to two points. The clock, however, came against them and Nemo prevailed by 1-15 to 1-13.

They lost the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final to St Brigid’s of Roscommon and the two powerhouses of Munster club football — Nemo (15) and Crokes (seven) hold 22 provincial titles between them — have travelled wildly different roads in the interim.

Nemo haven’t won a Munster title since. Crokes, on the other hand, are this
Sunday bidding to capture a fifth Munster crown in seven years.

Indeed, not since that afternoon in Mallow have Crokes been beaten in the province. Fourteen consecutive wins is fair motoring.

From the team which overcame Kilmurry Ibrickane a fortnight ago, nine started that last meeting with Nemo. It was, says Buckley, an education.

“I was very frustrated standing on the sideline with my water bottles. All around, it was not a good day at the office for us. It was a bitter pill to swallow,” remarks the Crokes and Kerry footballer.

“We had felt like we were going well after winning the county championship. They were way better than us, though.

"That team wouldn’t be too dissimilar to what we have now. Fellas have a few years more on the clock, mind, and there is definitely that bit of experience there.

“Looking back, it is a game that stands out for this group, in that we learned plenty from it. We were working off county championship pace and weren’t ready for a Munster championship-style match. We were just blown out of the water.”

He’ll certainly be more familiar with Nemo this time, having regularly sparred with their biggest names on the inter-county stage, as well as playing alongside Barry O’Driscoll in the full-forward line of the UCC team to land the 2011 Sigerson title.

“Billy Morgan was manager, so we trained down in Nemo a bit. A serious set-up, a serious club with a great history. They have a great outfit this year, so it’ll be a tough one.”

This time last year, Buckley was hampered by a knee injury which forced him to delay re joining the Kerry panel following Crokes’ All-Ireland win.

He started each one of the Killarney club’s games in Munster, but knew he wasn’t right, nor was he able to fully extend himself. Managing the knee from week-to-week was an arduous and, at times, maddening task.

Twelve months on, he couldn’t be fresher. His performance against Kilmurry Ibrickane bore testament to this.

“It was frustrating when you were taking a week off training after a game,” he said. “You were trying to get the knee right and knowing it probably wasn’t going to be for another week later.

"This year has been great. The block [of training] after we finished in March, to strengthen things up, really helped.”

With their 2016 campaign not concluding until St Patrick’s Day of this year, it has been pretty much non-stop for these Crokes players for the last two years.

The 28-year old wouldn’t mind seeing the club championship completed within the calendar year, to give players a proper break.

“Playing Paddy’s Day is special, but it takes a long time to get there. It would be a great thing if you could get it into the one calendar year.”


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