NOBODY told Dr Crokes there would be days like these but, sport, like life itself, can very frequently throw up the unexpected.
Coasting for long periods in the first half, dominant in all sectors, particularly at midfield, and keeping their opponents not just scoreless but chance-less for over 17 minutes, everything was going according to plan for Edmund O’Sullivan’s side at Austin Stack Park this afternoon.
Playing with a swagger and with the powerful Johnny Buckley the stand-out player by a country mile, they bossed the opening half with some authority and were five to the good, 0-8 to 0-3, at half-time.
The only niggling doubt was that the championship specialists in black and amber – seeking to book their 12th final appearance since 2000 – were guilty of some woeful finishing in that first half, kicking seven wides from very scorable positions, and one couldn’t help but wonder if there might be a price to be paid for that squandermania as they game wore on.
There was. And a big price it was too.
Rahillys started the second half like a team possessed and with David Moran getting a firm hold around the middle of the park, they were soon bringing the game to Crokes.
Barry John Keane, Tommy Walsh, the hugely impressive Jack Savage and Conor Hayes were all on target but Micheál Burns – who had a quiet game by his own high standards – and Tony Brosnan added some fuel to keep the Crokes fire lit.
After Donagh Buckley and David Naughton both saw red for indiscretions, goalkeeper Shane Murphy – who later retired injured – attempted to settle Crokes down with a well-struck free to leave it 0-11 to 0-8 in their favour but, almost faster than it takes to tell, a resurgent Strand Road were on level terms for the first time in the game 29 minutes into the second half, thanks to three points from man-of-the-match Savage and a gem from Conor Hayes.
A dramatic goal-line block from the evergreen Brian Looney was all that prevented David Moran from hitting the net and winning the match for Rahillys but as the game entered its pulsating last minutes of overtime, it really looked to be a day when William Harmon would outsmart Edmund O’Sullivan and co.
Tony Brosnan and livewire substitute Jordan Kiely swapped points with Conor Hayes and Barry John Keane late on but even though Tony Brosnan cut the gap to the minimum at the death, Rahillys held on for a 0-15 to 0-14 victory that was a great reward for their fighting qualities and their refusal to give up the ghost, despite being well off the pace at half-time.
It sets the scene for a glamour all-Tralee county final and, judging on today’s display, Rahillys will have every reason to fancy their chances against favourites Austin Stacks.
Strand Road are chasing their first Bishop Moynihan Cup win since 2002 and it is the first final meeting between the two Tralee sides since 1936.
Crokes, meanwhile, have a local derby of their own to look forward to as they now face fierce rivals Killarney Legion in what promises to be a gripping encounter to determine which club retains their senior status for next season.
Scorers for Dr Crokes: T Brosnan 0-6 (0-4 frees), D Shaw 0-2, B Looney 0-2, K O’Leary 0-1, M Burns 0-1, S Murphy 0-1 (free), J Kiely 0-1.
Scorers for Kerins O’Rahillys: J Savage 0-8 (0-6 frees, 0-1 ‘45); BJ Keane 0-3, C Hayes 0-3, T Walsh 0-1.
Dr Crokes: S Murphy, J Payne, M Moloney, F Fitzgerald, G White, D Naughton, M Cooper, M O’Shea, J Buckley, B Looney, G O’Shea, M Burns, D Shaw, T Brosnan, K O’Leary.
Subs: E Looney for K O’Leary; A Kelly for Murphy (inj); J Kiely for Burns; D Casey for B Looney; T Doyle for G O’Shea.
Kerins O’Rahillys: S Foley, R O’Callaghan, C Coffey, D Buckley, D McElligott, S Brosnan, C Sayers, D Moran, C Barrett, G Savage, C Hayes, G O’Brien, J Savage, T Walsh, BJ Keane.
Subs: T Hoare for Sayers (inj); P Begley for G Savage.
Referee: Brendan Griffin