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Colm Cooper of Dr. Crokes is helped up by Podge Collins of Cratloe, who in turn is held by John Payne of Dr Crokes during their Munster club football final at The Gaelic Grounds. Photograph by John Kelly

Players give last drop in epic second half

Dr Crokes 0-13
Cratloe 0-12

NOBODY noticed the December 1 sky darkening over the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday afternoon. Not a sinner in the 2,384 attendance was concerned about anything other than the unfolding drama they had paid €15 to witness. They probably had to seek a second opinion to back up what they were seeing, as Cratloe fought until the last kick of what has been an epic 2013 for their club and their multi-decorated men in blue.

Eight points down after 24 minutes (0-10 to 0-2), Cratloe led the now three in-a-row Munster champions (0-12 to 0-11) with just four minutes left of what has been a mind-blowing season for Clare and Cratloe GAA.

With Dr Crokes on the ropes, history beckoned invitingly for the first-time Clare senior football champions. Yet despite having only registered a single point in the preceding 33 minutes of football, the Kerry champions didn’t buckle. Even with Colm Cooper sitting in the Mackey Stand, having been sent off on a second yellow card, Dr Crokes were sufficiently composed to chisel out the win. Dáithí Casey levelled it (0-12 each) two minutes from time after David Ryan had conceded the free, while Johnny Buckley kicked the winning point a minute into injury time.

It wouldn’t have been Cratloe to accept defeat even at that stage. They drove at Dr Crokes but couldn’t work the ball into an area where Cathal McInerney or Conor McGrath might have threatened from. As manly and as admirable as Cratloe’s magnificent second-half display was, their disappointment at losing will be magnified by the fact that they simply didn’t turn up in the opening half. They adopted a rather deferential approach to the Kerry men.

Ironically, Cratloe kicked the game’s opening points with Enda Boyce (free) and corner-back Seán Chaplin splitting the posts. Yet having seemingly settled early, Cratloe then obligingly stood off their opponents for the 24 minutes that followed. Dr Crokes accepted the time and space afforded to them, kicking 10 successive points. Colm Cooper fired over four of those scores, three from play, as Dr Crokes established an absolute grip in the middle third of the field. Cratloe couldn’t retain their own kick-outs and it looked as if they were going to be hammered. Cooper started at full-forward but looked much more dangerous when at centre-forward, where his play-making kept the Killarney men ticking over nicely.

Trailing 0-10 to 0-2, Cratloe kicked the last score of the first half, when Liam Markham pointed. Seconds later, Podge Collins was unlucky not to goal when his shot was tipped onto the post by Dr Crokes’ goalkeeper David Moloney. Had that effort nestled in the net, perhaps Cratloe would have delivered a fourth Munster club title for Clare.

Seven points down at half-time, Cratloe had a choice to make. They could compliantly hand over the 2013 Munster club title or throw off the shackles, forget about over-rating Dr Crokes and drive at them. The Clare club opted for the latter option and produced a scintillating second-half display.

Podge Collins, undeniably the best dual player in the county, won an early second-half free, pointed by Cathal McInerney. In fact, in the opening 28 minutes of the second half, Cratloe out-pointed Dr Crokes 0-9 to 0-1. Conor McGrath kicked two inspirational scores in that spell, while Cathal McInerney returned inspired after being temporarily off the field, receiving treatment for a blood injury.

McInerney arrowed over three fabulous points in succession, one better than the next, while Fergal Lynch also kicked a crucial score.

Cratloe changed their kick-out strategy, which led to them retaining their own ball, while they picked up numerous breaks from Dr Crokes’ kick-outs.

When Seán Collins pointed, eight minutes from time, the teams were tied at 0-11 each. That Dr Crokes were stunned is underlined by the substitutions of two of their defenders, although Micheál Burns made a significant contribution from the bench for the Munster champions.

Six minutes from time, Cooper was shown a second yellow card, following an incident with Conor McGrath, while Podge Collins was yellow carded for some afters with the Dr Crokes full-forward.

Two minutes later, Cratloe edged ahead when McInerney pointed a close-range free, awarded after David O’Leary picked the ball off the ground. With momentum and a now audibly excited crowd behind them, Cratloe looked as if they were on the cusp of incredible glory.

However, Dr Crokes are not three in-a-row Munster champions for nothing. They showed what they were made of in those closing minutes, eking out a one-point win, which means they will play Castlebar Mitchels in the All-Ireland club semi-final on February 15.

Every Cratloe man gave his last drop in that epic second-half display. It’s almost unfair to single out individuals for particular mention but the performances of Cathal McInerney, Podge Collins and Conor McGrath were exceptional. Cratloe were a transformed team in that second half. They have shown they are among the best club teams in their province and worthy representatives of the county at that level.
Cooper showed some sublime touches in the first half for the provincial champions, while David Moloney, Alan O’Sullivan and Brian Looney also contributed hugely to the Kerry club’s win.

Dr Crokes: David Moloney; Kieran Ward, Fionn Fitzgerald, John Payne; Luke Quinn, Eoin Brosnan, Michael Moloney; Ambrose O’Donovan (captain), Johnny Buckley; Alan O’Sullivan, Dáithí Casey, Brian Looney; Kieran O’Leary, Colm Cooper, Gavin O’Shea.
Subs: Micheál Burns for Gavin O’Shea (45), David O’Leary for Kieran Ward (45) and Shane Doolan for Luke Quinn (54).
Scorers: Colm Cooper (0-4, 1f), Brian Looney, Alan O’Sullivan (0-2 each), Daithí Casey (0-2, 1f), Kieran O’Leary, Fionn Fitzgerald and Johnny Buckley (0-1 each).
Wides: 11; frees: 13; 45s: 1.
Yellow cards: Ambrose O’Donovan, Eoin Brosnan and Colm Cooper.
Red card: Colm Cooper.
Cratloe: Pierce Deloughrey; Seán Chaplin, Barry Duggan, David Ryan; Óige Murphy (captain), Michael Hawes, Enda Boyce; Fergal Lynch, Cillian Duggan; Liam Markham, Conor Ryan, Seán Collins; Cathal McInerney, Podge Collins, Conor McGrath.
Scorers: Cathal McInerney (0-5, 2f), Conor McGrath (0-2), Enda Boyce (f), Seán Chaplin, Liam Markham, Fergal Lynch and Seán Collins (0-1 each).
Wides: 4; frees: 20; 45s: 0.
Yellow cards: Seán Chaplin, Cillian Duggan, Podge Collins and Conor Ryan.
Referee: Conor Lane, Cork.

Peter O’Connell

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