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Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 5°C
# shock loss
'Was it lack of hunger because we won it last year?'
The sting of Saturday’s Dublin SFC semi-final defeat to Thomas Davis will last long into winter for Kilmacud Crokes.

FOR ALL THE wins they’ve piled up over the past 18 months, last December’s Leinster final defeat to Mullinalaghta and Saturday’s Dublin semi-final loss to Thomas Davis will be major sources of frustration for Kilmacud Crokes.

johnny-mcgee Bryan Keane / INPHO Kilmacud's joint-manager Johnny Magee. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

On paper, they were games Kilmacud should really have been winning but they put in under-par performances on both occasions.

They led the half-parish from Longford by three points with four minutes left but succumbed to a late fightback in Tullamore 11 months ago.

Last weekend, Crokes were three ahead shortly before the interval yet were blown away by the underdogs in the second-half and deservedly lost by five points. 

Over the winter, joint-managers Robbie Brennan and Johnny Magee must pick over the pieces of their latest championship exit. Granted, the loss of Paul Mannion to an early injury badly hampered their challenge, but Crokes need to stop being so reliant on the All-Star forward.

“We’re not making excuses,” said Magee. “The fact of the matter was they were the better team and they wanted it more than we wanted it.

“You can say we lost Paul Mannion and we lost Craig (Dias, also to injury), but there was still a good chunk of the game left to play and win the game. Look, we’ve no complaints. They were better than us on the 60 odd minutes.”

Mannion was held scoreless from play in the Leinster final and Crokes struggled to generate scores around him. 

Against Thomas Davis, Dara Mullin, Shane Cunningham and Callum Pearson were well below their best, while Shane Horan’s shooting let him down and even the usually reliable Pat Burke left a few chances behind him.

Despite starting the campaign on fire in April with wins over Ballymun Kickhams and Na Fianna, Kilmacud’s season petered out in disappointing fashion.

“Was it lack of hunger because we won it last year?” asked Magee. “We just don’t know. We didn’t put in a good performance the last day against Clontarf (in the quarter-final) either, you can’t just switch it on and off like a light switch. It’s a serious learning curve for the lads.

stephen-williams-dejected-after-the-game Bryan Keane / INPHO Kilmacud substitute Stephen Williams after the game. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

“Thomas Davis came and played some good football, they wanted it more than what we did, that’s football.

“Compared to the form maybe we showed in April against Ballymun and Na Fianna, we didn’t carry that forward to the latter stages of the championship and that’s when you need to be showing your best form.

“We wish Thomas Davis all the best, they’ll go on and give Ballyboden a good rattle, it’s there to be won, it’s only 60 odd minutes again.” 

The sting of that shock loss to Mullinalaghta would have been a very difficult one for the players to take, particularly the ones that didn’t have inter-county duty to refocus the minds soon after.

In a piece on the Sports Chronicle back in January, Magee spoke about the pain of losing the Leinster final as a player to Carlow kingpins Éire Óg in 1998.

“There’s not a day goes by that I don’t have regrets about losing that final and that’s the truth of it,” wrote the former Dublin player.

“I understand that you learn more in losing than in winning. It just pisses me off that we have to learn that way but that’s sport. Maybe I should thank Éire Óg for beating us that day.

“It pushed me and other Crokes lads to not have regrets. Don’t leave anything behind. Keep raising the standards.”

eoin-kirby-and-craig-dias Bryan Keane / INPHO Eoin Kirby claims a high ball over Craig Dias. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

It took Crokes six years to win another county title after that Leinster final loss and the current group – an extremely talented bunch when on form – must heed Magee’s advice to avoid a similar drought in the ultra-competitive Dublin championship.

For the Tallaght club, a first trip to the senior decider since 1991 awaits. 

“A mixture of great relief to be honest,” reflected Thomas Davis manager Paul Kelly, who’s been at the helm for the past six years.

“We know we have performances in us, look we’re trying to bring joy into Tallaght, we have been working very hard in redeveloping a team and we delivered again today, playing a nice style of football.”

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They were only crowned Tier 2 champions in 2018 and have clearly benefited from the momentum provided by that victory.

The club rallied hard against the Dublin CCC’s decision to effectively relegate them by splitting the 32-team Dublin SFC into new 16-team ‘A’ and ‘B’ competitions in 2018.

Teams were seeded on the basis of their previous five seasons and Thomas Davis were furious to discover they’d been placed in the second tier competition.

They took their case all the way to the Disputes Resolution Authority but ultimately failed. 

paul-kelly Bryan Keane / INPHO Thomas Davis manager Paul Kelly. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Thomas Davis took their medicine and now, a year after they sealed a return to the big-time, they’ll face Ballyboden St Enda’s with the chance to win the fourth county title in their history.

“Winning is a bit of a habit and if you look back over the six years that we’ve all been together all been together, and there have been lads coming and going alright, but the most we have lost any championship match was by four points against anybody – I think (it was) Na Fianna.

“So we know we have a boxer’s chance in any game,” continued Kelly.

“What last year brought us was a consistency and this year through a group stage rather than a straight knockout brought us to experience for young lads if you understand me.

“Because a straight knockout doesn’t suit when you are trying to develop a team. And this has allowed us to develop a team.”

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