Kilmacud Crokes 1-16 Ardee St Mary’s 1-11
By Paul Keane at DEFY Pairc Mhuire, Ardee
A five-point win for Kilmacud Crokes which moves the All-Ireland club SFC holders to within an hour of a historic three-in-a-row of Leinster titles, perhaps the result that many expected.
But it may surprise some to learn that the strong favourites briefly flirted with disaster in Ardee and were mightily relieved to hear Brendan Cawley’s full-time whistle which confirmed their place alongside Naas in the final in a fortnight.
Leading by a whopping 10 points at half-time, the Stillorgan side were reeled in by the resurgent hosts in the third quarter and, remarkably, just two points separated the teams after 46 minutes.
That was as close as Cathal Murray’s Ardee side got to scoring a shock win though and holders Crokes finished strongly to win with a slightly flattering five to spare.
Dublin hero Paul Mannion, overlooked for an All-Star on Friday evening, and 2022 Galway All-Star Shane Walsh led the scoring for Crokes with five points each while Darragh Dempsey hit their first-half goal.
They will return to a familiar venue in Croke Park to face familiar foes Naas who they have beaten in each of the last two Leinster campaigns, including in the 2021 final. Crokes will also know that a third consecutive title will elevate them to joint top of the roll of honour, alongside Portlaoise and St Vincent’s.
St Mary’s will kick themselves for not pushing on and at least levelling the game when they got the chance midway through that second-half. A couple of missed opportunities at that stage ultimately proved their undoing.
Visitors Crokes had the stiff wind behind them initially and used it to run a big half-time lead, handing them a massive 10-point cushion that they would end up needing.
Wing-back Cian O’Connor did his usual trick of bombing forward and sniping a point for Crokes when they opened the scoring after just 45 seconds.
Dublin midfielder Craig Dias, back in the lineup after a long-term injury, was influential too in the opening half as was hard-running half-back Andrew McGowan who burst through and fisted a point.
But the real quality came from dynamic forward duo Mannion and Walsh who struck 0-7 between them in that opening half. Both players kicked a series of long range scores and, as if to underline their quality, they also both scored points off their left and right feet.
Mary’s, who put three goals beyond Blessington in the quarter-final a fortnight ago, were under real pressure and failed to score from play in the first-half.
Their only scores in the first 30 minutes came from free-takers Carl Gillespie and Jonathan Commins and their first point from open play didn’t arrive until the 46th minute.
That latter stat doesn’t tell the full story though because Ardee did dominate the third quarter and, crucially, scored a goal from play during their blitzkrieg of scoring to reduce the deficit to just three points at one stage.
Ciaran Keenan, a key figure in their run to the last four in the province, came roaring into the game and converted back to back points from advanced marks in the 32nd and 33rd minutes.
Keenan then won a free that Commins converted before Ryan Rooney hit the most opportunistic of goals for Ardee in the 40th minute.
Crokes attacker Dara Mullin was turned over on his own 45-metre line and Rooney picked up the loose ball and lobbed a clever kick in over goalkeeper David Higgins’ head.
In all, Ardee outscored Crokes by 1-5 to 0-0 between half-time and the 46th minute to cut their arrears to two just two points.
They could have drawn it too but a couple of point attempts that went wide from Rooney and Commins cost them and Crokes showed all their experience in the closing 15 minutes or so.
Walsh kicked three points in the final quarter while substitutes Shane Horan and Luke Ward both got on the scoresheet as the Dubliners displayed the full power of their bench.
Scorers for Kilmacud Crokes: Paul Mannion 0-5, Shane Walsh 0-5 (3f), Darragh Dempsey 1-0, Cian O’Connor 0-1, Andrew McGowan 0-1, Shane Cunningham 0-1, Shane Horan 0-1, Dara Mullin 0-1, Luke Ward 0-1.
Scorers for Ardee St Mary’s: Ryan Rooney 1-0, Jonathan Commons 0-3 (3f), Ciaran Keenan 0-3 (3m), Carl Gillespie 0-2 (2f), Liam Jackson 0-1, Tom Jackson 0-1 (1f), Daire McConnon 0-1.
Kilmacud Crokes: David Higgins; Anthony Quinn, Rory O’Carroll, Dan O’Brien; Mark O’Leary, Cian O’Connor, Andrew McGowan; Brian Sheehy, Craig Dias; Darragh Dempsey, Paul Mannion, Dara Mullin; Hugh Kenny, Shane Cunningham, Shane Walsh.
Subs: Shane Horan for Dempsey 44, Callum Pearson for Kenny 49, Luke Ward for Cunningham 51, Liam Flatman for Sheehy 61.
Ardee St Mary’s: James McGillick; Donal McKenny, Eimhin Keenan, Tiernan Corrigan; Kian Moran, Paraic McKenny, Carl Gillespie; Sean Callaghan, Robert Leavy; Liam Jackson, Ciaran Keenan, Jonathan Commins; Ryan Mooney, Daire McConnon, Tom Jackson.
Subs: Shane Matthews for Commins 55, Tadhg McDonnell for Corrigan 55, Ronan Carroll for Rooney 58.
Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare).