THE Dr Crokes chairman Denis Coleman was very busy preparing for the big match when I spoke to him. “Yes, it is an extremely busy time for me factoring in the logistics of the preparation. Isn’t it great to be busy in October at the business end of reaching a county final? Extra funding must be sought and we are so fortunate to have joint club sponsors Maurice Regan and Patrick O’Sullivan as well as the support of local businesses. As I speak to you, the ladies committee in the club are preparing a dinner for all the players. They provide a hot fresh dinner to all players and management on training nights and this is greatly appreciated by all. It proved vital in our preparations for the All Ireland club final and this good idea continues for the county final.”
Daithí Casey, captain of the Crokes, has five Kerry SFC medals and one in Cork with UCC. I put it to him that Crokes are strong favourites for the county final. “I must remind you that we have not beaten South Kerry in a county final. I have painful memories of 2006 when very late in the game Bryan Sheehan landed a massive long distance free over the bar to snatch the title from under our noses. That was cruel luck for us and then in 2009 Declan O’Sullivan scored the winning point near the end. They will be really up for the match and will have no fears of meeting us as champions.”
He pinpointed the great work done within the club’s juvenile coaching programme as the real secret of Croke successes at senior level. “Those Saturday morning sessions are the bedrock for success. There is great team spirit and we have so many talented players who bring different attributes to a winning team. It is easy to win when you are in winning mode.”
He has played in all positions in attack and at midfield. And his favourite position? “Centre forward, full forward and midfield. I prefer to play in a central position as opposed to the wings or in the corner. That much said I am willing to play in any position that keeps Crokes winning.”
His toughest opponent so far? “Fionn Fitzgerald. We grew up together and had the same coaches. He is a top-class defender and he knows only too well my style of play. I am also very impressed with Jonathan Lyne, one of the emerging young defenders. Peter Crowley is tough from the Kerry panel and Ross O’Callaghan also comes to mind.”
“I feel very privileged leading Crokes in to the county final and the way I have approached captaincy is to concentrate on giving 100% in my own game. I won’t be the man in the middle of the players making inspirational speeches in the dressing room. There are several experienced players who will do that. Captaincy is a great honour for my family and for myself. I will be able to encourage some individual players particularly the young ones so that the team goes on to the pitch in a winning mood.”
“I was a sub in last year’s win and came on to score a point. I have learned so much from the experienced full forward line of Colm Cooper and Kieran O’Leary. They are not very big men, but they are skilful and confident in front of goal. Pat O’Shea was a brilliant corner forward in his playing days and he has thought me so much. This trio have mastered the skills of forward play. The physical size of a natural corner forward doesn’t matter so long as you have mastered the skill and the confidence to score. They make scoring look so easy and I have picked up the confidence to shoot or pass off depending on which is the better option for the team. I was well coached as a juvenile by Pat O’Shea, Seamie Doc and Edmund O’Sullivan.
“My father (Aidan) was also a big influence in my development as a forward. He was unfortunate to lose two county finals. I have come on in several matches and very often you find that defenders are getting tired and they do not like to see a young fresh player coming on with intentions to score.
“I find the finishing off of a movement the easiest part. You size up the options and depend on your natural instinct on how best to score. In the county semi-final I did get two late goals. For one of them Paul Clarke used his entire 6 foot 6 frame to win a ball in front of goal. He has great hands and all I had to do was to do a loop around giving him the hint to hold possession for a few vital seconds for me to get in to the best scoring position. Then he slipped a great ball to me and the rest was easy picking my spot. The shot is the part I find easiest. Opportunities present themselves and your instinct tells you how to move and where to move before you pull the trigger. I am delighted to be fully fit again after rehabbing all summer and look forward to a call from the bench on Sunday. Hopefully I will position myself well to stick the ball in the net.”
And his toughest opponent? “No doubt about that one for me is Payno. He is so tenacious and very hard to shake off. He would annoy the hell out of you with the defensive skills he has mastered over many years. He has been a great servant to Dr Crokes and I never remember him having a bad game.”
I expect South Kerry to set up defensively and deprive the Croke sharpshooters of possession. I am very impressed by wingback Robert Wharton from Renard and he has great back-up in Mark Griffin and Fionán Clifford. Midfield is a real high fielder’s paradise. Big Brendan O’Sullivan from Valentia and Bryan Sheehan come up against Johnny Buckley and probably Alan O’Sullivan. Matthew O’Sullivan the towering full forward did not have his usual big game in the semi-final so he can cause a lot of disruption in front of Crokes goal where John Payne, Fionn Fitzgerald and Mike Moloney will have to be on top of their games. It will be a tough one for Crokes but they have the better scoring forwards and that should be enough to see them win, with the caveat not to foul for Sheehan or he will punish the defenders.
Above: Dr Crokes management Pat O’Shea, Eddie O’Sullivan, Harry O’Neill and Niall O’Callaghan at the Dr Crokes press night ahead of the Kerry senior football county championship final. Picture: Eamonn Keogh