Preview: Redemption the agenda for both Dr. Crokes and Slaughtneil
Something’s got to give on St Patrick’s Day.Not one of these players has lifted the Andy Merrigan Cup, though a great many have watched others hoist it aloft at their expense.
It’s ten years since Dr Croke’s were beaten after a replay by Crossmaglen Rangers on a day when John McEntee saw two yellows but no red.The player was taken off as a precaution with ten minutes to go and afterwards explained that one of those cautions was meant to be no more than a tick in referee Eugene Murtagh’s notebook.
Either way, it was a miserable ending for the Kerry side, and Colm Cooper has no doubt agonised over that Paul Hearty penalty save in the years since. The Gooch set up David Maloney’s goal but that was their only score of the second half as the Armagh men won 0-13 to 1-5.
It's been a long road back and not everyone has made it. Six starters from 2007 began the semi-final win over Corofin while injured Eoin Brosnan missed out against the Connacht champions.
For Slaughtneil, 12 of those who started the victory over St Vincent’s also lined out from the beginning two years ago on March 17against the same Galway side. That’s a lot of men with a lot of hurt going into this Friday.
Redemption will be the word in both camps. Learning from defeat, making sure eventual glory is its legacy.Ostensibly, Slaughtneil would be considered to be the more athletic team, and certainly their performance against St Vincent’s would do little to convince otherwise.
Aristocrats from Kerry would often have seemed to be vulnerable against that type of team, and that shortcoming could be traced to big-day defeats to Crossmaglen and even Ballymun Kickhams.
Yet the win over a Corofin side that looked to be stacked with primed athletes — part greyhounds, part machines — suggests they can live with whatever is thrown at them now.
Chrissy McKaigue will throw himself at Croke’s from the get-go, as he did to Diarmuid Connolly throughout the semi-final, as he also did with the opening score of the club hurling semi against Cuala. He's that sort. Christopher and Paul Bradley, not to mention Shane McGuigan, are rarely shy in front of the posts either.
Croke’s have a wide range of threats in their attack. Daithi Casey won Munster club player of the year and that was largely down to his hat-trick in the provincial final win over The Nire.
In the semi-final, former Kerry captain Kieran O’Leary scored 0-5 from play, while Casey turned goal provider for Gavin O’Shea.
That’s not to forget the primary attacking weapon, the Gooch. The versatility of the star man is a fascinating aspect of the final.How do you deal with arguably the greatest football in the history of the sport? McKaigue seems an obvious man but any man-marking job means Cooper can dictate what part of the field they occupy.
Not that Gooch would want to marginalise both his and McKaigue’s effect on the game by taking him on a tour, but it would open that option if Croke’s decided their other 14 players were the better team. It seems unlikely.
The flipside for Croke’s, should Cooper go to centre-forward, is that McKaigue can drive from deep — offering his side forward thrust and the possibility of scores. We’ve seen Philly McMahon’s athleticism cause Cooper trouble, and the Derry star is cut from the same cloth. Cooper would need to make every possession count if the 33-year-old is to go toe-to-toe with the Slaughtneil talisman.
There’s often the talk of trying to hammer the hammer and for both sides, it will be about nullifying either Cooper or McKaigue. Special plans will be made, they have to be.
Maurice Deegan is the man in the middle and he’ll be under the microscope. Both teams will wonder how to play him, if they should call him by his first name, shake his hand before throw-in — always trying to get the edge.
Croke’s are fancied, but if Slaughtneil can turn over kingpins St Vincent’s, they’ll fear no one.
The Andy Merrigan Cup has got to go somewhere though, and we think it might just be to Kerry rather than Derry.
Dr. Crokes vs Slaughtneil, Friday March 17th, Croke Park, 5pm