Dr Crokes, Kilcummin, Beaufort and Kilgarvan on Munster club duty
HAVING easily negotiated a quarter-final win over Moyle Rovers last weekend the expectation is that Dr Crokes will face a considerably tougher examination next Sunday from the Cork champions St Finbarrs, but will that really be the case?
That last week’s Cork county championship title was the Togher club’s first since 1985 would suggest that The Barrs haven’t been much of a force in Cork football for the past three decades, but losing eight county finals - including 2017 - would suggest the city-based club has never been too far off the top rung of club football in the Rebel county.
Certainly last year’s final loss to Nemo Rangers, after a replay, was at first a tough experience and then a re-affirming one, and given that Nemo were the team to relieve Dr Crokes of their provincial and All-Ireland titles 12 months ago, St Finbarrs will take plenty of encouragement from that.
It probably did St Finbarrs no harm that they met a Duhallow team in last week’s Cork final that had played three really tough semi-finals against Castlehaven, but they still only got over the line by a goal, 3-14 to 2-14.
Of course, most, if not all, of what has gone before will be fairly irrelevant come Sunday in Lewis Road, and in taking this semi-final on its merits one has to fancy the home side to win.
The fortnight break between winning that first county title in 33 years and Sunday’s provincial outing can only help St Finbarrs, even though the toughest part of Crokes game against Moyle Rovers last Sunday was the two-hour coach trip to Ardfinnan.
Mike Moloney will be assessed this week after coming off early last Sunday with an injury, but if he doesn’t recover in time Alan O’Sullivan can come into the defence with a little reshuffling with the personnel at the back.
Since their shaky start against St Kierans and their 10-minute meltdown against Kerins O’Rahillys (in Round 2) the Crokes defence has tightened up considerably, and there is a far more cohesive and purposeful look about them defensively than was the case two months ago.
It’s further forward where Crokes continue to look menacing, from the Buckley-Casey axis at midfield, right through to the two breakout forwards of the autumn, David Shaw and Tony
Around them, veterans Brian Looney and Kieran O’Leary are still producing some of the best football of their careers, while Micheal Burns and Gavin O’Shea bring their own qualities to bear on an attack that Colm Cooper is finding it increasingly difficult to break back into.
Simply put, St Finbarrs have nothing of the individual quality that the Kerry champions have. Their most recognisable player is midfielder Ian Maguire - he of the pulled up stripped socks when playing midfield with the Cork seniors - and after that it’s 32-year old Michael Shields, the former Cork defender who wore no.11 in the recent county final win over Duhallow.
Through the Cork championship the Barrs put up scores of 1-17 (v Carrigaline), 3-11 (v Mallow), 2-8 (v Douglas) and 0-13 (v Carbery Rangers) on their way to the final where they recorded their biggest total, that 3-14 against the divisional team from Duhallow.
Stephen Sherlock is probably their most potent forward, and he will certainly punish Dr Crokes from free kicks, so discipline on the part of the home defence will be crucial.
Colin Lyons and Eoghan McGreevey also bring plenty to the St Finbarrs attack, but the duel between Maguire and probably Buckley at midfield will be a crucial one.
The problem for St Finbarrs might be that the long-awaited county title will have sated them enough for now, especially given that most of these players would have endured last year’s final defeat to Nemo.
Certainly their manager, Ray Keane, a Cahersiveen native and former St Marys player, was inclined to suggest that his players would be allowed to celebrate the club’s ninth county SFC title and first since 1985, when most of this team wasn’t even born.
Dr Crokes will be in a different mindset. A third county title on the spin will have been met with satisfaction by the players more than wild celebration, and having lost their All-Ireland Club title to Nemo last year, this group will be anxious to add a second All-Ireland title to their growing collection of medals.
And they certainly won’t want to be derailed in that ambition by a Cork team for the second year running, and especially not a Cork team breaking new ground on the provincial scene.
Dr Crokes selector Edmund O’Sullivan said last Sunday that he didn’t know a whole lot about St Finbarrs but that work would start on Sunday night, and the team would be looking forward to a Munster semi-final on their home pitch.
“We’ll look to play to our strengths as usual and play our own game, but we will try to identify any threats in St Finbarrs and hope to nullify those,” he said.
Were this game played below in Cork there might be grounds for concern for Dr Crokes, but taking the Cork champions to Lewis Road should be good enough for the Kerry champions to set up a Munster Final against Miltown-Malbay or The Nire on November 25.
Verdict: Dr Crokes
St Finbarrs’ manager and Cahersiveen native Ray Keane