There’s the top floor. And then there’s the penthouse. In Kerry football terms, Dr Crokes continue their tenancy of that piece of real estate where only the best strut their stuff.
Kerins O’Rahilly’s came hard and true at them yesterday in Tralee, and with 14 men led with 10 minutes of normal time remaining. Hard to process then Crokes winning by nine, but they remain one of the few club teams in the country who can make anyone look really bad in a hurry. When everything had been tagged and bagged, Crokes were preparing for an eighth county final in Kerry in 10 years. And they’ve lost zip of the previous seven. Heaven knows what happened in 2014 and 2015.
In such a competitive senior championship environment as Kerry, that’s consistency off the charts. The trick? Pat O’Shea is down with the U6s on Lewis Road every Saturday morning since the year dot. Eventually they are bubbling, ready to explode, under the senior starters. Ultimately they replace them.
“Is there any other side in the country where Colm (Cooper) wouldn’t be starting?” mused Dr Crokes selector Edmund O’Sullivan after yesterday’s semi-final. “But when he got sick, David Shaw came in and kept his place.”
Truth to tell, Shaw was extremely unlucky to even be withdrawn at half-time for Cooper yesterday, after two first-half points and a collection of quality assists. Jordan Kiely has had to kick his heels too after injury. Yesterday he came on in the 44th minute and contributed two goals. These are the huge differences with Dr Crokes. When Pat O’Shea tells his players about a 21-man game, bet you nobody in that dressing room sees it as cheap talk.
In the context of yesterday’s thoroughly engaging semi, it’s doubly significant. Kerins O’Rahilly’s are the only club side to have beaten Crokes in championship in the past three years, and at full pelt, they’ll go toe-to-toe with the Killarney kingpins. But the further both sides fished into the benches yesterday, the more obvious the disparity became.
Crokes’ Kieran O’Leary was too hot for an over-matched opponent, and after the inconvenience of a Strand Road goal on 29 seconds, the veteran Kerry attacker got to work. Twenty minutes later it was 0-9 to 1-4 in favour of Crokes, and O’Leary had bagged four points. Everywhere an opposition manager looks, there were alarm bells and mismatches with this Crokes attacking arsenal.
“We lost (full back) David Murphy to a hamstring injury this week, and Cian Sayers had gone down in the previous game (against St Brendan’s), so we were down options,” explained O’Rahilly’s manager Mike Quirke. “Tony Brosnan has been on fire for the Crokes, and he was a main focus for us, and Ross O’Callaghan was doing very well on him. But then you are giving up something elsewhere, and it was Kieran O’Leary today. That’s the difference at the moment, a couple of injuries really hurt us, whereas Crokes can absorb those and others come in and make a big difference.”
The scoreline has a lop-sided look to it for the reason of Jack Savage’s 43rd-minute sending off for a (correct if unlucky) second yellow card, and the fatal short kick-out routine that went awry for Strand Road’s Gary Kissane just over 10 minutes later. Crokes had just edged 0-16 to 2-9 ahead before O’Leary intercepted the restart, allowing Jordan Kiely to round Kissane and finish.
It was the first time the air went out of the tussle, and not even Brian Looney’s subsequent dismissal (yellow then black card) was going to reinflate the finale. Indeed Kiely helped himself to a second goal in added time — lengthened for a stoppage while Kerry keeper Shane Murphy was treated for a hefty fall — and will battle alongside the likes of Colm Cooper for a final starting place against either East Kerry or Dingle.
If the appointment of Peter Keane and his management team has energised the natives for 2019, there were interesting vignettes in the displays of Johnny Buckley and Gavin O’Brien, the 6ft 4ins Strand Road wing forward. Buckley is motoring like a Rolls Royce again and his duel with David Moran yesterday was a pleasure for the neutral. He opted out of Kerry this year for wholly understandable family reasons, but his return would be most welcome in these parts. O’Brien (22) is the most improved player in the O’Rahilly’s ranks, according to his manager and moves like a ‘gazelle’.
The son of Ger ‘Mush’, O’Brien is an interesting proposition, grabbing 2-1 yesterday before a hamstring tweak comprised his effectiveness for the second half. His opening goal kicked the stabilisers off the semi-final but Crokes were quick to respond, and were level inside 13 minutes (1-2 to 0-5). Six minutes before the break O’Brien cleverly isolated himself inside with the Crokes fullback and was found with a high, arcing delivery from Barry Joy Keane. Another goal, giving Strand Road parity at the break (2-5 to 0-11).
Karl Mullins and the ever-influential David Moran kicked the Tralee side two points in front, but that was as good as it would get. They’d only add three more points in total, hampered by injury, dismissals and self-inflicted wounds.
“We made a mistake from a kick out, and Crokes being Crokes, they pounced on it. It took the wind out of our sails but we’ve been beaten by a better team… a better panel,” Quirke conceded after.
“You get away with those mistakes against other teams. Not Crokes. That’s why they are the best in Kerry for the last few years.”
Scorers for Dr Crokes: T Brosnan (0-6, 2 frees), J Kiely (2-0), K. O’Leary (0-5), J Buckley (0-2), D. Shaw (0-2), M Burns (0-2), B Looney, S Murphy (45) (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kerins O’Rahillys: G O’Brien (2-1), J Savage (0-3, frees), D Moran (0-2), B.J Keane (0-2), K Mullins, T. Walsh (0-1 each).
DR CROKES: S Murphy; J Payne, M Moloney, F Fitzgerald; A O’Sullivan, S Doolan, G White; J Buckley, D Casey; M Burns, G . O’Shea, B. Looney; D Shaw, K O’Leary, T Brosnan.
Subs: C Cooper for Shaw (half time), J Kiely for O’Shea (44), J O’Leary for Murphy (50, inj), E. Brosnan for Burns (60+1), B Courtney for Brosnan (60+4).
KERINS O’RAHILLYS: G Kissane; C Coffey, D O’Sullivan, D. McElligott; R O’Callaghan, S Brosnan, S Carroll; D Moran, C Barrett; G O’Brien, B.J. Keane, K. Mullins; J Savage, T.Walsh, J Ferguson.
Subs: John C O’Connor for Ferguson (55), G Savage for McElligott (60), P Griffin for O’Brien (60+7).
Referee: B Griffin (Clounmacon).