Dr Croke's captain Johnny Buckley seeking to end 25-year wait against Slaughtneil
HAVING been on the fringes in 2007, Johnny Buckley returns to Croke Park with his club 10 years later. The Dr Croke's captain is bidding not only to make amends for their 2007 defeat to Crossmaglen after a replay but also to try and replicate his father Mike's achievement in winning an All-Ireland Senior Club title 25 years on from the Killarney men's sole Andy Merrigan Cup win.
While Buckley is more well-known now, back in 2007 he was just after coming out of the Kerry minors and got a taste of what to expect at senior level.
It's taken a while to return here in club colours though with many disappointing defeats on the way not least three consecutive All-Ireland Semi-Final losses between the years of 2012 and 2014. Buckley agreed that they was a slight hangover effect from those losses in terms of Crokes enduring a barren two year spell by their own high standards. "The nature of being in an All-Ireland Semi-Final is that it is a 14 month campaign and when you add in three of those in succession, it's bound to take its toll at some stage. We still went out with the ambition to succeed in 2014 and 2015 but the bodies were probably telling us something different out on the pitch. We've managed to recharge both mentally and physically this year though to bring us to this point," the team captain said.
Allied to efforts on the pitch, the return of 2007 All-Ireland winning manager with Kerry Pat O'Shea to the managerial helm at the club along with a backroom team featuring three time Kerry Championship winning manager Harry O'Neill, 1992 All-Ireland winning manager Eddie 'Tatler' O'Sullivan and Johnny's father Mike represents a strong effort on the sideline by the club to end a 25 year itch. Buckley also feels changes to the local Championship in Kerry, which reduced the number of sides from 20 to 16 worked in their favour. "It was a lot more competitive in Kerry this year I felt and it's true a lot of the time that the toughest games that you can get on the way to an All-Ireland Final can be those in your own county. St Kierans (Second Round) and Dingle (Semi-Final) were two games where we were put to the pin of our collar but we came through them and learned a lot about ourselves for the road ahead," he feels.
While Crokes won their seventh Munster title with minimum fuss, there was always a sense that their All-Ireland Semi-Final with 2015 winners Corofin would be their biggest test thus far with the club's recent difficulties at the penultimate stage. While Buckley couldn't put his finger on any one thing the club did differently to win this time out, he did feel the timing of their two goals against the Galway side was crucial to their win. "Goals are valuable in winter football I feel especially when it can be so hard to score them in matches depending on conditions. They settled us when Corofin appeared to be coming back into the game and there was a big sense of relief at the final whistle to finally get this semi-final thing off our backs and know that you can have a lash off it now in the Final," he said of last month's game.
Although the club had always been preparing on the assumption that the Final would be St Patricks Day regardless of how Slaughtneil fared in the Hurling, the Crokes captain admitted that receiving the official text message confirming the date and time of the match did put the mind at ease somewhat. "We have some knowledge of Slaughtneil from two years ago when they beat Austin Stacks in the Semi-Final and what they have done in getting not just here but in the Hurling and Camoige also has been amazing and we know they are going to provide us a massive challenge in the decider," Buckley said.
On the 25th anniversary of the club's most famous day, Buckley agreed that to replicate the club's 1992 heroes in winning a second All-Ireland title. "When you see how revered the 1992 team are around the club it always has been an ambition to try and match them. I talk to my father a lot about it and whenever I bring a medal home from something, he always shows the 1992 medal in return so it would be nice to match him for that now!"