DR CROKES……0-13 CRATLOE…………..0-12
By Michael O Connor.
One of the great performances and totally unexpected by nearly all involved as Cratloe forced Dr Crokes to engineer an escape act that was half accidental more than created by good football. Dr Crokes will lick their wounds and thank their lucky stars, Cratloe will be proud of their efforts but the cup is in Kerry and memories are all that Cratloe have after a powerful display in the Gaelic grounds.
A quick glance at the brief histories of both clubs in the programme was an example of stark contrast. Dr Crokes, the aristocrats of football not just in Kerry but a national brand name for gaelic football taking on a strange mix of multiple all Ireland hurling winners whose devil may care attitude would surely come a cropper on Munster final day.
Yet, a review of results in recent years suggested that Kilmurry Ibrickane had ran Crokes to the limit on two occasions and as Cratloe had dismissed Kilmurry with ultimate ease in the Clare championship would this form run true in munster club. That was one of the hopes for Cratloe that Crokes might take them for granted.
With 30 minutes to go with nearly 200 people in the stand suggesting that this final in the Gaelic ground, Limerick was not capturing the imagination of the GAA public on the first day of December The usual strong support from Kilmihil was gathering due to the many links between Cratloe and Kilmihil ex pats all over the county. 2,384 was the official attendance come the throw in time. There one change on the Crokes side that saw Gavin O Shea, son of Kerry manager 2007 Pat O Shea replace Jamie Doolan.
With Dr Crokes playing into the Ennis road goals Cratloe struck for the opening point after an Enda Boyce free kick sneaked in for a tonic score as Cratloe dominated the opening five minutes as Sean Chaplin sent over a beauty from the wing forward position nearly 90 yards from his corner back berth. Crokes kicked two wides from play as Podge Collins began roaming the field sensing danger with Crokes attempting to get a foothold.
Indecision by Liam Markham with three colleagues free gave away the ball and Crokes attacked with two points from Kieran O Lear and Brian Looney as Pierce DeLoughrey had to be alert to deny Colm Cooper a goal chance before the opening brace of Croke’s scores. With Crokes crowding midfield to negate the Cratloe running game the ball began to break favourably for the Kerry champions and Cooper moving around set up Daithi Casey for the lead score after 12 minutes.
Cooper sent Crokes two clear following a free he won as Cratloe were beginning to struggle to get past the Kerry sides half back line and escaped a second goal threat at the end of the first quarter. The sense of threat posed by Crokes was highlighted in six wides as well as three scores in nine minutes action. Finally they got it right with Cooper, who else winning possession and shooting with precision off his left. With two Cratloe me inside the Kerry 65 this was proof enough of the control that was being displayed by Crokes. Whenever the Clare champions broke through the final pass was poor, often keeping the ball in play allowing fast counterattacks by Crokes. One of these sloppy passes led to Crokes centre back Fionn Fitzgerald scoring quickly followed by Alan O Sullivan and Colm Cooper again to open up a deserved five point lead after 22 minutes.
At some stages Cratloe had three spare players in their rearguard as Crokes attacked in waves. Colm Cooper and Alan O Sullivan added minors to leave Crokes (0-9) to (0-2) ahead entering the final three minutes of the first half. Crokes then started to play possession football knowing that the game was theirs to lose and attempted to pierce open the Cratloe defence for the game defining goal. This appeared to take the sting out of their attack. On the stroke of 30 minutes Cratloe kicked their third point all of 26 minutes since their second with Liam Markham on target. The last attack of the half great work by Podge Collins with his effort coming off the crossbar to leave Crokes (0-10) to (0-3) clear at the break.
Cratloe needed and did achieve a huge morale booster at the start of the new half with two scores in a row coming from a Cathal McInerney free and a great effort from Conor McGrath. Cratloe also had three wides with Podge Collins guilty of two of those. Podge made up for this combining with Conor Ryan to win a hard earned free that Enda Boyce cannoned off the post. With Fergal Lynch getting on hard ball he set up McGrath for his second point to reduce the Crokes lead to four points after 40 minutes.
The remaining twenty minutes will go down not alone in Cratloe folklore but Clare GAA history as one of the greatest fightbacks by a Clare side very nearly created the upset of a generation. Brian Looney struck for Crokes in the 43rd minute to restore a five point lead. The unlikeliest focus for the fightback came with a Fergal Lynch point followed in quick succession by a great score by Cathal McInerney. Now it was a three point game as Crokes and especially Colm Cooper was now a frustrated peripheral figure on proceedings. The crowd were on their feet when another stunner from McInerney in the 48th and a wonder score in the 52nd left the minimum between the sides.
Sean Collins had been busy but not a headline act up to then popped up with the equaliser as Colm Cooper was sent off for a second bookable offence. This, ironically benefitted Crokes as they realised their heritage was on the line against a novice senior team from Clare. Amazingly Clare supporters and Kerry supporters were in awe in equal measure as McInerney struck for the lead point with four minutes remaining. Crokes, knowing defeat was staring them in the face attacked and won a 45 that Daithi Casey narrowly pointed to level matters once again.
Extra time looked possible and only for Cratloe twice giving the ball away when attacking it could have been a reality. One last attack from Crokes ended with midfielder Johnny Buckley writing himelf into the history books and consigning Cratloe to a footnote in Munster club final lore.
Best for the champions who were given the freedom of the park for the second quarter were David Moloney, Daithi Casey, Colm Cooper, Kieran O Leary, Brian Looney, Johnny Buckley, Eoin Brosnan, Fionn Fitzgerald and Alan O Sullivan.
Cratloe did all they could and will look back in horror at the concession of nine scores in a row in the first half. Their best included Cathal McInerney, Podge Collins, Conor McGrath, Fergal Lynch, Oige Murphy, Sean Collins, Michael Hawes and Barry Duggan.
DR CROKES: David Moloney, John Payne, Luke Quinn, Kieran Ward, Eoin Brosnan, Fionn Fitzgerald (0-1), Shane Myers, Ambrose Donovan, Johnny Buckley (0-1), Alan O Sullivan (0-2), Daithi Casey (0-2), Brian Looney (0-2), Kieran O Leary (0-1), Colm Cooper (0-4), Gavin O Shea. Subs: Shane Doolan for Quinn, Michael Burns for O Shea, David O Leary for Ward,
CRATLOE: Pierce DeLoughrey, Sean Chaplin (0-1), Barry Duggan, David Ryan, Martin Oige Murphy, Michael Hawes, Enda Boyce (0-1), Fergal Lynch (0-1), Cillian Duggan, Liam Markham (0-1), Conor Ryan, Sean Collins (0-1), Cathal McInerney (0-5), Podge Collins, Conor McGrath (0-2).
REFEREE: Conor Lane (Cork).
After the game Munster Ccouncil chairman presented the Michael O Connor Munster club cup to Dr Crokes captain Ambrose Donovan.