FOOTBALL in November isn’t always pretty but Croom junior footballers certainly got the job done as they defeated Ballyduff Lower with two points to spare in a cool but dry Bruff on Saturday afternoon. (Croom 0-8 Ballyduff Lower 0-6)
Having been defeated in the Limerick Junior A Football Championship final Croom represented the county in this Munster quarter-final tie due to Monaleen’s senior status, securing a Limerick win in the Munster Junior A Football Championship for the first time in five years.
Three Mark O’Kelly scores pointed the way for a side inspired by former Limerick dual star and management team personnel, Stephen Lucey, against a Waterford side who simply didn’t have a sufficiently sharp cutting edge up front, with the visitors hitting eight wides and recording only four points from play.
Mark O’Riordan broke through the Ballyduff defence in the opening moments to flash his effort over the bar and sound a warning sign to John Carey’s charges who were facing into a lacklustre opening half.
Croom attacked in numbers, with men coming from deep, and cruised into 0-4 to 0-1 lead inside the opening twenty minutes.
Jack Lyons hit Ballyduff’s only point from play during the first half to cancel out O’Riordan’s earlier opener but a well-worked score from centre half-forward Jamie Greaves restored Croom’s lead before two O’Kelly frees also found the target.
The story of game could have taken a completely different path but the excellent Shane Burke was equal to a close-range effort from Ballyduff corner-forward Jack Harrington with less than ten minutes on the clock.
The lively Croom goalkeeper responded well after Calum Lyons hit the post before denying Harrington's rebounded shot on goal.
The men in blue and white should have had a goal of their own, moments after opening up a three point lead, but the impressive O’Kelly failed to find the back of the net after a Mark Reidy hand pass put the Croom corner forward through on goal.
Full forward Emmet Power rediscovered Ballyduff’s scoring boots from a free to narrow the deficit to two as half time fast approached.
The Waterford junior champions failed to contain the tireless running of the youth-inspired West Limerick side who were determined to not only maintain but build on their deserved 0-4 to 0-2 interval lead.
They did just that as Mark O’Kelly grabbed his third score of the afternoon to restore his side’s three-point cushion as the second half got underway.
Both sides exchanged points and as the substitute benches began to be taken advantage of Ballyduff replacement Eoin Cummins swung the momentum in the visitors’ favour.
His second score of the game, a free from out wide, made it a one-point game with just eight minutes remaining.
But Croom substitute Eoin O’Farrell had the final say to book his side’s place in the Munster Junior A Football Championship semi-finals.
His late point sets up a last four showdown with Tipperary champions CJ Kickhams GAA Club Mullinahone of Tipperary on Saturday as Croom look to become the first Limerick club side to appear in the Munster junior football final since Glin were defeated by Kerry side Brosna in 2014.
CROOM: Mark O’Kelly 0-3 (two frees); Eoin O’Farrell 0-2; Ryan O’Shea, Mark O’Riordan, Jamie Greaves 0-1 each.
BALLYDUFF LOWER: Eoin Cummins 0-3 (one free), Jack Lyons 0-2, Emmet Power 0-1 (one free).
CROOM: Shane Burke; Padraig Brennan, Aidan Morrissey (capt.), Dara Hayes; David Woulfe, Eoin Cregan, John Quirke; Ryan O’Shea, Mark O’Riordan; Dara O’Farrell, Jamie Greaves, Kevin Laffan; Mickey Cahill, Mark Reidy, Mark O’Kelly.
Subs: Eoin O’Farrell for Mickey Cahill (39 mins); James Malone for Mark O’Riordan (48 mins); Stephen Lucey for Dara O’Farrell (57 mins).
BALLYDUFF LOWER: Adam Carroll; Gavin O’Rourke, Colman Power, Brian Power; Colin O’Brien, Cormac Dunphy, Marcus Millea; Calum Lyons, Jack Lyons; Dylan Reade, Declan Cheasty, Ronan Dunphy; Jack Harrington, Emmet Power, Dylan Power.
Subs: Eoin Cummins for Dylan Reade (five mins)(injury); Alex Foley for Dylan Dixon (40 mins); Niall Clifford for Jack Harrington (47 mins); Ross Coffey O’Shea for Emmett Power (60 mins).
Referee: David Grogan (Tipperary)