Dr Crokes out to bridge Kerry's 21-year All-Ireland club title gap
IN reaching Croke Park on St Patrick's Day for the third time in the club's history, Dr Crokes have had to overcome a lot of hurdles down the years.
Three All-Ireland semi-final losses in succession proved to be the one they couldn't quite clear until last month's victory over Corofin.
However, now 10 years on from their defeat to Crossmaglen, they look to add a second Andy Merrigan Cup to the club's long list of honours.
Harry O'Neill was manager of the Killarney side when they lost the 2012 semi-final to the Armagh kingpins.
But back as a selector this time in Pat O'Shea's management team, he feels that the team have learned a lot about the pitfalls that there can be at this level.
"You always learn more from your defeats than your victories I find," the Crokes selector said.
"We've a vastly experienced group of players that have played football at many different levels for different teams and we're trying to use all that to our advantage."
A simple 'one game at a time' philosophy has been the club's mantra in getting to the biggest day in club football.
Indeed pre-Christmas Crokes played for 10 consecutive weekends between the start of October and the start of December in matches not only at Kerry and Munster level but also at their local district level in East Kerry.
While the district title in East Kerry proved to be beyond them after such a schedule, losing out to Aidan O'Mahony's Rathmore, O'Neill did feel there was some benefit to 2016 ending when it did for the Killarney side.
"It would have been harder if we had kept going until the Sunday before Christmas because we would have to take some sort of break into the New Year which would have cut into the time before the All-Ireland semi-final.
"We were able to give them the three weeks before Christmas along with Christmas itself and the players were able to bond over that time and get them focussed for the All-Ireland semi-final," O'Neill said of the tricky dilemma in coping with the break between the provincial deciders and the All-Ireland semis.
The Crokes selector felt that game management was the key to their win over Corofin following the two goals the Killarney side scored in the game played at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.
Even though Slaughtneil's win over St Vincent's threw the date of the decider into a small bit of doubt allied to their involvement in the Hurling as well, O'Neill said that the club were only focussed on their own preparations and not when they might be playing if the Derry side had beaten Cuala.
"If they had beaten Cuala then we would have had to look at it in more detail depending on what Croke Park would have decided but we felt that we should go about our business quietly along with the assumption it would be St Patrick's Day," he said.
While Crokes might have more household names nationally than Slaughtneil, O'Neill doesn't feel that is the basis on which any side should be made favourites for Friday's showdown.
"I think Slaughtneil are the form team in the country with what they have achieved in recent years and we know what they can do from beating Austin Stacks two years ago.
"They bring an intensity and desire to games and I think some of their younger players have brought freshness to their set-up as well.
"We feel we are forewarned about what they can do and the question for us is whether we can match it," the Crokes selector said of the task in advance.
It is 21 years since a Kerry team won the Andy Merrigan Cup, Laune Rangers of Killorglin in 1996, four years after the Crokes' own win over Thomas Davis of Dublin.
O'Neill is hopeful that after what the Killarney side have been through since they were last here a decade ago, they can get the bit of luck needed to succeed.
"I think every team needs a bit of it (luck) to win,'' he said.
"If you look back at any team that wins a big honour they have had some bit of it along the way to their win.
"We hope that has come for us in the goals against Corofin and we want to play to our potential on the day."