Friday March 17
AIB All Ireland Club Senior Football Championship Final
Dr Crokes (Kerry) v Slaughtneil (Derry), Croke Park, 5pm, Live on TG4
By Cian O’Connell
A month ago on the Saturday afternoon of the AIB All Ireland Club Semi-Finals Dr Crokes and Slaughtneil flashed a reminder of their considerable passion and potential.
Corofin and St Vincent’s arrived in the last four with reputations and silverware laden trophy cabinets, but Crokes and Slaughtneil delivered purposeful performances.
Crokes quickly seized control against Corofin accumulating a lead they never looked like relinquishing. Earlier that day Chrissy McKaigue had produced a defining display ensuring Slaughtneil return to a second All Ireland Final in three years.
Slaughtneil’s remarkable rise is one of the great GAA stories, then when Mickey Moran’s sideline acumen is added into the mix, anybody who treats them lightly has suffered.
Pat O’Shea’s efforts with Crokes are worthy of the utmost respect too and they will know all about the threat Slaughtneil carry.
Slaughtneil’s All Ireland Camogie success was a notable achievement with McKaigue acknowledging its importance for them. “I don’t know if pressure is off, but certainly for morale of the club it is really good,” McKaigue says.
“There’s so much work gone on in our club for years. People have latched on to it now because of the three teams doing so well but these things don’t happen by chance.
“The right people have to be in the right places and the culture has to be right and that’s one thing Slaughtneil always had, whether it had success or not.
“The club always tried to help people and always embraced the role of volunteerism. That’s why our facilities are so good it’s all based on volunteerism and there’s a real community spirit. When all them things are added up and you go onto the field things click. It’s a big reason why we’ve been so successful.”
Slaughtneil’s attitude and application, especially under Moran’s watch has been rewarded with three Derry and two Ulster titles.
It is a staggering achievement, but Crokes’ tradition is proud too with Fionn Fitzgerald, Eoin Brosnan, Johnny Buckley, Daithi Casey, and Kieran O’Leary accomplished footballers alongside the gilded talent of Colm Cooper.
Crokes have won four Munster Championships since 2011, but for a myriad of reasons an All Ireland Championship hasn’t followed in this spell.
It is why this game matters so much to them, they want to follow up on what they have done in the fields of Kerry and Munster by performing nationally now.
In 1992 when Cooper was the mascot they shaded a tight match against Thomas Davis, but since then they have only contested a decider in 2007, losing after a replay to Crossmaglen Rangers.
That means Crokes will bring a burning desire to the Jones Road venue, but Slaughtneil won’t lack motivation either.
“When you get to this stage, at the elite level, you’re expecting it to be very tough,” McKaigue admits. “Dr Crokes are very similar to Vincent’s and I think we’re a much better team from the experience of 15 and Crokes have been around a lot too so you can only imagine they’re the same.
“That has helped them too. So we’re underdogs in the final again, we just have to look after our own house and see where that takes us. At the end of the day we have to win this game, it means so much, we have to keep fighting no matter what Slaughtneil people are very ambitious.
“So many people thought the heartbreak of 2015 would have set us back, but it actually galvanised us. Slaughtneil people have had their fair share of adversity in the past, but they keep bouncing back so we have to keep strong no matter what happens against Dr Crokes, we have to have the mentality of ‘we have to get better, we have to get better’ and be full of that mantra and that can bring good things.”
It should be interesting to see how the Dr Crokes and Slaughtneil drama unfolds at Croke Park.