Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin) 0-14 Naas (Kildare) 0-07
Kilmacud Crokes proved they're a serious force to be reckoned with, even without talisman Paul Mannion, as they cruised to AIB Leinster club SFC title success against Naas on Saturday evening.
Struggling with a knee injury beforehand, Mannion didn't feature at all though the excellence of Tom Fox, who struck 0-05, and the combined efforts of Dara Mullin, Callum Pearson and ultra experienced midfielder Craig Dias went a long way to securing the club's fifth provincial title.
Crokes, who have lived dangerously throughout their county and provincial campaigns, coming from behind to defeat St Jude's and Portarlington, delivered their most efficient performance of the season when it mattered most.
They kept pace with Naas in the first half before pulling decisively clear in the second half, holding the Kildare men scoreless for the entire 30-odd minutes.
Crokes will return to duty later this month when they play the Connacht representatives - Padraig Pearses of Roscommon or Mayo's Knockmore - in the All-Ireland semi-finals on 29/30 January.
It's the end of the line for Naas who won their first Kildare title since 1990 under a player-led management team following the departure of manager Paul Kelly before the semi-final.
Crokes made three alterations to their published lineup with former Offaly forward Shane Horan and midfielder Ben Shovlin joining Mannion in missing out.
But Mannion's absence was the big blow with the three-time All-Star bang on form, striking 0-06 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. Shane Bergin and David Gahin were also withdrawn from the published lineup.
In Mannion's case, 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 as Crokes showed no signs of difficulties in Mannion's absence.
Fox, Mullin, Dan O'Brien and Craig Dias all pinched points too as the Glenalbyn side hit the interval with a narrow 0-08 to 0-07 advantage.
Committed defending like this has allowed Kilmacud Crokes to take control of the Leinster final in the third quarter. They lead Naas 0-12 to 0-07 at the last water break.— RTÉ GAA (@RTEgaa) January 8, 2022
Live now on RTÉ2 on the RTÉ Player at https://t.co/j90jEuzRU2 pic.twitter.com/xTKAbbFik1
Paddy McDermott was terrific for Naas, bursting forward from his half-back position and kicking one score before setting up Dermot Hanafin and Callaghan for others.
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 with two first-half points.
Captain Eamonn Callaghan accounted for half of Naas' first-half tally, shooting 0-04 from frees and leaving the game balance on a knife-edge.
Crokes pushed decisively clear in the third quarter and went a long way to putting the game beyond Naas.
They outscored the nine-times Kildare champions by 0-4 to 0-0 between half-time and the second water break though, in truth, should have been even further ahead.
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.
The Seán McCabe Cup is with Kilmacud Crokes for a fifth time as they shut out Naas in the second half to win the Leinster title on a 0-14 to 0-07 scoreline. pic.twitter.com/gTD4lc1ScB— RTÉ GAA (@RTEgaa) January 8, 2022
Still, Crokes were sitting pretty with a 0-12 to 0-07 advantage at the second water break and looked well placed to push on for a memorable win.
They duly closed out the game with fourth quarter points from Fox, the half-forward punching the air in anticipation of the landmark win when he split the posts in the 58th minute.
Kilmacud Crokes: Conor Ferris (0-01, 0-01f); Michael Mullin, Ross McGowan, Dan O'Brien (0-01); Cillian O'Shea, Rory O'Carroll, Andrew McGowan; Craig Dias (0-01), Conor Casey; Aidan Jones (0-01), Dara Mullin (0-03), Tom Fox (0-05, 0-02f); Hugh Kenny, Shane Cunningham, Callum Pearson (0-02).
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 (0-01); James Burke, Jack Cleary; Sean Cullen, Colm Joyce, Brian Kane; Eamonn Callaghan (0-04, 0-04f), Luke Griffin, Dermot Hanafin (0-02).
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).