AND so the scene is set for the business end of this year’s Kerry Senior Football Championship and, if the form displayed in the quarter-final games at the weekend is to be used as a barometer, it could well be an all-black and amber decider, if Dr Crokes and Austin Stacks manage to avoid each other in tomorrow’s semi-final draw.
Crokes were as clinical as they were impressive in their 1-22 to 0-6 annihilation of a depleted Templenoe this Sunday afternoon and, if they can reproduce that hugely energetic, relentless and swashbuckling form just twice more, they could be back at the top of the championship pedestal which is quite familiar territory for the Bishop Moynihan Cup specialists.
Edmund O’Sullivan’s side seems to have hit top gear at just the right time and they produced an exhibition at Fitzgerald Stadium that was, at times, like a master class on how the game should be played.
Even though they were deprived of the free-scoring services of Killian Spillane, and with his brother Adrian playing with a broken toe, much more would still have been expected from Templenoe who knocked Crokes out of the club championship in September but by the time they registered their first score after 12 minutes, Crokes were already well on their way.
The Killarney club side seems to have found the perfect blend of wily experience and exuberant youth with veteran Brian Looney in truly outstanding form, Fionn Fitzgerald, Johnny Buckley and Kieran O’Leary still dining at the top table and the hugely industrious David Shaw, Gavin White, Micheál Burns and Tony Brosnan showing why they are deemed more than good enough for county.
Add in young players of the calibre of Mark Cooper, Evan Looney and Tom Doyle and glance to the bench so spot Daithi Casey, Jordan Kiely, Alan O’Sullivan and the richly promising Cian McMahon and you’ll get a clear picture of what Crokes are at, particularly with the influential Michael Potts still to return.
The game was practically over at the long interval by which time Crokes had built up a 1-10 to 0-5 lead, the goal coming from a converted Tony Brosnan penalty just on the stroke of half-time and, by that stage, Templenoe had already lost Teddy Doyle, Stephen O’Sullivan and Michael Hallissey to injury and they were relying entirely on Brian Crowley and Colin Crowley to keep them in touch.
With Tony Brosnan accounting for 1-4 on the day, Crokes had stretched their advantage to 1-13 to 0-6 by the second water break and, with 34-year-old Brian Looney rolling back the years and pointing the way with a stunning five-point selection box, they had a 19-point cushion at the close, 1-22 to 0-6.
Sunday’s second semi-final offered a little more value for money to supporters – but not much – as club champions Austin Stacks were always too street smart for a gritty South Kerry who suffered an early blow when Graham O’Sullivan suffered a hamstring injury and had to leave the field.
With corner forward Darragh O’Brien pointing the way from placed balls and Greg Horan and Joe O’Connor bossing midfield, dominant Stacks led 0-6 to no score at the first water break and 0-9 to 0-2 at half-time.
With Eanna O’Connor, Shane O’Connor, Mark Griffin and Oran Clifford bringing the challenge to the Tralee side in the second half, they soon cut the gap to four points but, using their extensive bench well and with Kieran Donaghy proving a real settling and calming presence all over the field, Wayne Quillinan’s charges put their experience to good use and they snuffed out any real chance of a South Kerry comeback to register a 0-14 to 0-6 win.
A very disappointing Killarney Legion made their championship exit on Saturday when they fell, on a 1-9 to 1-17 scoreline, to a Jack Barry and Diarmuid O’Connor inspired St Brendan’s District Board who appear to be somewhat of a championship bogey side for the green and whites.
It will be St Brendan’s third championship semi-final appearance in as many campaigns and, truth be told, they always had the measure of Stephen Stack’s side who have failed to impress when required to do so this season.
St Brendan’s were 1-9 to 0-2 ahead at half-time – Dan Goggin notching the goal after nine minutes – and not even a Padraig Lucey goal after 36 minutes, followed by three Legion points from James O’Donoghue, Jamie O’Sullivan and Conor Keane, could keep them in the game and they were seven points adrift at the final whistle.
Worryingly for Legion, if Dr Crokes reach the county final – as they are likely to do such is their form – it could result in Stephen Stack’s side losing their senior status and the most they can hope for at this stage is that things could turn sour for the black and amber and they could end up in a relegation play-off with their fierce local rivals, unlikely though that is. And even at that, could they hope to beat Crokes on current form?
With a Tommy Walsh inspired Kerins O’Rahillys easily overcoming Dingle, 2-16 to 0-13, in the first quarter-final in Austin Stack Park on Saturday evening, it means that Dr Crokes are the only club from outside Tralee in the last four and they will be hoping for a favourable draw when they got into the pot with Stacks, Rahillys and St Brendans.
On this weekend’s form, Crokes certainly look the team to beat and it would take a very wise – or very foolish – woman or man to bet against them.