KILMACUD CROKES (DUBLIN) 0-14 NAAS (KILDARE) 0-7
By Paul Keane at Croke Park for GAA.ie
Dealt a crushing blow with the loss of ace marksman Paul Mannion ahead of the AIB Leinster club SFC final, Kilmacud Crokes still secured their fifth title with the minimum of fuss at Croke Park.
Tom Fox rose to the occasion in Mannion’s absence for the Dublin champions with five points while there were huge performances too from Craig Dias and a Rory O’Carroll led defence that held Naas to just three points from open play.
Naas didn’t score at all in the second-half as Robbie Brennan’s Crokes turned the screw and produced their best performance of the campaign to keep their All-Ireland title hopes intact.
They will play the Connacht champions – Padraig Pearses of Roscommon or Mayo’s Knockmore – in the All-Ireland semi-finals on the last weekend of the month.
They may also be without Mannion for that game too with the six-time All-Ireland winner and three-time All-Star understood to be sideliend for several weeks with a knee problem.
There was no obvious drop in standards despite Mannion’s unavailability and the win will go some way to making up for the club’s previous Leinster final defeat to Mullinalaghta of Longford in December of 2018.
Crokes made three alterations to their published lineup this time with former Offaly forward Shane Horan and midfielder Ben Shovlin joining Mannion in missing out.
Mannion’s absence was the big blow with the 28-year-old bang on form lately, striking 0-6 in the quarter-final win over Wolfe Tones and dragging his team to victory against Portarlington with two important second-half scores.
His unavailability was offset somewhat by the withdrawal of Kildare forward Darragh Kirwan from the Naas team, a considerable blow to the underdogs considering his 1-2 haul in the semi-final win over Shelmaliers.
Shane Bergin and David Gahin were also withdrawn from the published lineup.
In Mannion’s case, Callum Pearson, an O’Byrne Cup finalist with Dublin in 2019 and the county final matchwinner in November, was a decent replacement.
Pearson needed just 13 minutes to get on the scoreboard. Tom Fox, Dara Mullin, Dan O’Brien and Dias all pinched points too as the Glenalbyn side hit the interval with a narrow 0-8 to 0-7 advantage.
Paddy McDermott was terrific for Naas, bursting forward from his half-back position and kicking one sumptuous score off the outside of his boot before setting up Dermot Hanafin and Callaghan for separate points.
Hanafin, son of the former Kerry player of the same name, was handed a starting berth after netting from the bench in the semi-finals and impressed too with two first-half points.
Veteran team captain Eamonn Callaghan accounted for half of Naas’ first-half tally, shooting 0-4 from frees and leaving the game balanced on a knife-edge at that stage.
They held the nine-times Kildare champions scoreless in the third quarter, kicking 0-4 themselves, though probably should have been even further ahead.
Dara Mullin was a central figure in this period but only came away with a point from two great goal chances.
He slammed a 34th minute shot off the post and while he registered a point from a 44th minute shot, it was a terrific opportunity for a goal set up by Dias who burst through the centre and offloaded.
Still, Crokes were sitting pretty with a 0-12 to 0-7 advantage at the second water break and looked well placed to push on for a memorable win.
They duly closed it out with two more points from Fox in the final quarter. Naas probed for a goal in the dying minutes but were unable to rescue the game. They will reflect on a terrific season when they won a first Kildare title since 1990 despite the departure of their manager before the semi-finals.
Scorers for Kilmacud Crokes: Tom Fox 0-5 (0-2f), Dara Mullin 0-3, Callum Pearson 0-2, Dan O’Brien 0-1, Craig Dias 0-1, Conor Ferris 0-1 (0-1f), Aidan Jones 0-1.
Scorers for Naas: Eamonn Callaghan 0-4 (0-4f), Dermot Hanafin 0-2, Paddy McDermott 0-1.
Kilmacud Crokes: Conor Ferris; Michael Mullin, Ross McGowan, Dan O’Brien; Cillian O’Shea, Rory O’Carroll, Andrew McGowan; Craig Dias, Conor Casey; Aidan Jones, Dara Mullin, Tom Fox; Hugh Kenny, Shane Cunningham, Callum Pearson.
Subs: Shane Horan for Kenny h/t, Cian O’Connor for Pearson 49, Anthony Quinn for Cunningham 55, Darragh Jones for Fox 57, James Murphy for Dias 62.
Naas: Jack Rodgers; Cathal Daly, Eoin Doyle, Paul Sullivan; Tom Browne, Brian Byrne, Paddy McDermott; James Burke, Jack Cleary; Sean Cullen, Colm Joyce, Brian Kane; Eamonn Callaghan, Luke Griffin, Dermot Hanafin.
Subs: Conor McCarthy for Joyce 48, Ailin McDermott for Kane 55, Jack McKevitt for Cullen 55, Shane Bergin for Griffin 56, David Gahin for Cleary 59.
Referee: Patrick Maguire (Longford).