East Kerry Championship: Final
Killarney Legion 1-18 Dr Crokes 3-6
The Killarney Legion are champions of East Kerry for the first time in 43 years after a rousing six-point victory over their fiercest rivals, Dr Crokes, in the Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney.
A stunning start to the second half was key as the Legion doubled their half-time advantage from five to 10 and although a couple of late Crokes goals made things nervier than bainisteoir Stephen Stack would have liked, the men in green and white were more than good value for their historic win.
The club from Derreen have suffered a number of agonising defeats in recent times including no fewer than four East Kerry Championship finals in the past seven years. When the final whistle finally blew, the relief was palpable as supporters flocked onto the field to congratulate their heroes.
One refrain was constant above the din: “Lads, it was a long time coming”.
The Legion were in sensational form on the day and quality early scores from marauding midfielder Jack O’Neill and accurate centre forward Jamie O’Sullivan cancelled out points by Shane Murphy (free) and Micheál Burns.
O’Sullivan was forced off with a back injury in the first half but Legion, playing with the aid of the breeze, soldiered on. Further singles by O’Neill, James O’Donoghue, the outstanding Darragh Lyne, Conor Keane (two frees) and O’Sullivan’s replacement, Tom Moriarty, gave them an 8-4 lead heading towards the interval.
Crokes for their part could only muster a pair of frees in the final 20 minutes of the period, Daithí Casey and Tony Brosnan doing the necessary to keep the defending champions in contention.
O’Donoghue tapped over an easy free with the last act of the first half and the underdogs led by five, 0-9 to 0-4, at the break.
As the ball was thrown in at the start of the second half, a Crokes onslaught seemed imminent but it was actually the Legion who grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck.
Within seconds of the restart, Jack O’Neill notched his third from play to make it a six-point game and substitute Moriarty added another moments later to make it 11-4.
Legion’s forwards were rolling now and with the industrious Billy McGuire and Peter McCarthy winning dirty ball, they were able to stick the knife in even further.
Conor Keane swung over a nice score after great work by Man of the Match Kieran Slattery and when O’Donoghue, who was now operating further out the field, added two more from play, the Legion were 10 points up and seemingly coasting.
The Crokes forwards were getting no change whatsoever out of the miserly Legion full back line of Damien O’Sullivan, Podge O’Connor and Cian Gammell; the latter was particularly excellent in his private battle with Crokes’ main man, Tony Brosnan.
Mark O’Shea tucked away a soccer goal in the 40th minute to give the Crokes a lifeline but their momentum was short-lived as pacey corner forward Tom Moriarty came to the fore for the Legion.
First he cut inside his man and fired over a lovely point and a minute later he forced his way through the opposition defence before dispatching a decisive goal to the back of the Crokes net.
That quickfire 1-1 re-established Legion’s dominance and they now led by 11 points, 1-15 to 1-4.
Crokes almost snatched their second goal in the 47th minute when Brian Looney fired a ferocious shot across the face of Brian Kelly’s goal but Rob Leen, who was sprinting back towards his own goal line, somehow managed to catch it cleanly, stop dead, and clear.
It was a bizarre passage of play and perhaps a sign, if one was needed, that this was destined to be Legion’s day.
A stoppage for an injury to Jonathan Lyne and a pair of red cards for Crokes’ Cillian O’Regan and Legion’s Shaun Keane momentarily took the sting out of proceedings and when play resumed, Michael Potts and Conor Keane (free) exchanged scores.
Crokes had by this stage resorted to throwing Johnny Buckley in full forward and their new long-ball tactic paid dividends in the 54th minute when the powerful midfielder fisted Daithí Casey’s high ball beyond the reach of Brian Kelly and into the Legion goal.
This cut the deficit to eight but Legion’s game management thereafter was exemplary.
Remarkably, neither team registered a score for the next 11 minutes of play, Daithí Casey’s tap-over free five minutes into injury time eventually reactivating the scoreboard.
Denis Sheahan tipped over a handy score seven minutes into time added on as a third goal for Crokes, again from the boot of Mark O’Shea, counted for little in the end.
Super sub Tom Moriarty put the icing on the cake with the last point of the day.
Before lifting the O’Donoghue Cup with vice-captain Damien O’Sullivan, Legion’s captain Pádraig Lucey expressed his gratitude to manager Stephen Stack and his backroom team of Pat Flanagan, Tomás Lyne and Enda Walshe.
On a cold and miserable December day in Killarney, they, along with this resilient group of players, etched their names into Legion legend.
Legion scorers: Tom Moriarty (1-4), James O’Donoghue (0-4, 1f), Conor Keane (0-4, 3f), Jack O’Neill (0-3), Jamie O’Sullivan (0-1), Darragh Lyne (0-1), Denis Sheahan (0-1).
Dr Crokes scorers: Mark O’Shea (2-0), Johnny Buckley (1-0), Daithí Casey (0-2f), Shane Murphy (0-1f), Tony Brosnan (0-1f), Micheál Burns (0-1), Gavin White (0-1).
Legion: Brian Kelly; Damien O’Sullivan, Pádraig O’Connor, Cian Gammell; Rob Leen, Jonathan Lyne, Kieran Slattery; Shaun Keane, Jack O’Neill; Jamie O’Sullivan, James O’Donoghue, Billy McGuire; Conor Keane, Darragh Lyne and Peter McCarthy.
Subs: Tom Moriarty, Finbarr Murphy, Pádraig Lucey, Denis Sheahan and Darragh O’Doherty.
Dr Crokes: Shane Murphy; John Payne, Mike Moloney, David Naughton; Cillian O’Regan, Gavin White, Brian Looney; Johnny Buckley, Daithí Casey; Micheál Burns, Michael Potts, Alan O’Sullivan; Tony Brosnan, Mark O’Shea and Kieran O’Leary.
Subs: Chris Doncel, Brian Fitzgerald and Michael Casey.
Pic: Legion supporters Joanne O’Riordan and Michael O’Brien celebrate with the players on the pitch.