Kilmacud Crokes found themselves in familiar surroundings on Sunday afternoon. The Dublin champions have played six of their last eight provincial and All-Ireland matches in Croke Park and were back for this year’s semi-final against Munster champions Kerins O’Rahillys.
Eventually, they ensured a seventh outing on Jones’s Road in a fortnight but there was a far less reassuring familiarity about the semi-final denouement, as the Tralee club lined up a last-minute free, having cut the margin from six to three in injury time.
In the event, the Dublin champions’ full forward Dara Mullin managed to cut out what could have been a goal-bound thump by David Moran in the fifth minute of injury time.
To rewind 11 months, in last year’s final against Kilcoo, Kilmacud conceded a last-gasp goal in extra time to lose the match and the All-Ireland. Deja vu?
Crokes’ manager Robbie Brennan looked like he’d seen a ghost. Was last February on his mind?
“Well, if you’ve seen my screensaver, it’s the Kilcoo boys lifting the cup, so for me it probably is but once we got over the holiday it doesn’t really come up to be honest with you because there’s not much time to think about.
“I said to the lads inside, all they’ve done is give themselves an opportunity to be the first team to lose back-to-back All-Irelands in the club. So that’s all we’ve done at the minute! Hopefully it won’t be, but that’s the situation we are in at the minute.”
Is it actually your screensaver?
“It is, yeah. About a week after they won it, it’s been there since just in case I forget.”
The Dublin champions looked to have finished this off in the third quarter. O’Rahillys had been sticky opponents but Hugh Kenny, named man of the match, shot 1-1 in a minute to open up a six-point lead and it didn’t look endangered until injury time.
There had been goal chances not taken. Shane Horan had clear sight in the sixth minute but it went wide. Kenny was blocked for a 45 in the 23rd and after Shane Walsh had put in one of those mesmerising runs on the counterattack, Luke Ward took the final pass but his shot was stopped.
Last February, Kilmacud had to cope without their top forward Paul Mannion. This season he has also picked up an injury but the near-miraculous materialising of Shane Walsh — who moved to Dublin — has provided indemnity cover.
Small wonder there was a concern when the Galway rainmaker appeared to be in difficulty late in the semi-final.
“Shane should be okay,” said Brennan. “It’s just a bit of a niggle. Paul is close, I don’t know if you were looking at him in there but he’s running and he’s kicking and I think everybody is happy with where he’s at. It’s just whether he’s able to go back in. He hasn’t played since August so it’s a big ask. But he has another couple of weeks. The final was always possibly the plan for him timewise but if he can play or not is another thing. And obviously, as I keep saying, he’s got the intercounty season ahead of that and it’s only one game for us, so he’s got to balance all of that, so we’ll see how the next two weeks ago.”
Waiting for them in the final will be another tough Ulster side. Derry’s Glen dusted off Kilcoo in Ulster, relieving them of the provincial title, and yesterday they got past Galway’s Moycullen to position themselves to succeed the All-Ireland champions.
The decisive goal came from Tiernan Flanagan just after half-time. Late half-chances for the Connacht champions came to nothing and victorious manager Malachy O’Rourke was absorbing the achievement of reaching an All-Ireland final scarcely a year after winning a first Derry title.
“It is great — not necessarily personally — but you’d be lying if you didn’t say it is. It is a great day for everyone involved. For the club to be among the last two clubs left standing in Ireland, it is a massive thing. The boys have worked really hard.
“As I said after the last game, it has happened so fast to a degree. Last year was the first year they ever won a county title and to then come back this year back it up, win an Ulster, and now to be sitting in an All-Ireland final, it has happened so fast; it’s euphoria around the club.
“It is our job to get everyone settled back down. We know Kilmacud are a really top-class team. They have strength all over the park. We know we are going to have to have a massive performance in the final, so we’ll just have to get the heads down and prepare for that.”