It was a memorable game, clean, sporting, at all times thrilling and capped by one of the most controversial finishes. Seconds from the end, with Crotta holding on to their one point lead, Stacks were awarded a 70 and full-back Christy McQuinn came up to take it. It was a nerve-wracking moment, made harder still for the Stacks man by the delay of some minutes while referee Cronin (Cork) cleared over-enthusiastic spectators from behind the Crotta goal. Eventually, McQuinn stroke the ball, high and hard and from the moment it left his hurley it looked a good one, but the umpire, the man who counts, felt otherwise and so the title went to Crotta.
What a pity there isn't going to be a replay. The attendance on Sunday was said to be a record for a Kerry hurling final and this would surely be doubled if these two fine sides could meet again for the coveted title. Fears that Niall Sheehy would be unable to line out for Stacks, due to influenza proved only too true and so the Tralee men were on bad terms with Lady Luck from the start.
Yet they started well and had the much fancied Crotta men on the run for most of the opening half. After Crotta had broken away from the throw-in Stacks went into the attack and a shot by David Lucid came back off the cross-bar. Seconds later Crotta goalkeeper James Breen did well in clearing a fine sideline cut by Joe O'Sullivan. Crotta attacked once more and when they were awarded a 21 yards free, JP. Twomey went for a goal, but John Barry saved and cleared.
The hurling was fast and furious in those opening minutes with both defences holding out well under heavy pressure at times. Actually, it wasn't until the 13th minute that Jim Gannon opened the scoring when he had a fine point for Stacks. Three minutes later Paudie McCarthy pointed a Stacks free and although they missed a close-in free a minute later it hardly seemed to matter at the time as Stacks were well on top. Yet in spite of exerting heavy pressure they had little to show on the scoreboard and in the 24th minute Brendan Twomey cut the margin to a point when he slipped over a good score. It was Crotta's only score of the half. With about 10 minutes remaining in the first half the Stacks mentors moved Jim Gannon to mark Pat Cronin on the forty with David Lucid going to right half-forward and Sean O'Sullivan to left full. It was a decisive move as from that point Cronin thundered into the game to snuff out most of the Stacks attacks. Earlier Gannon had been having a rare dual with Donal Leen in the corner, while Lucid's fast striking was proving troublesome for Cronin.
Nearing the end of the half, Tommy O'Regan made a fine save from Brendan Twomey and at the other end Crotta's James Breen somehow got his hurley to a fast shot from Mick Quirke to bring off the save of the match. Just before half-time, Stacks forced two successive 70s and from the second John Barry sent a great ball between the uprights to leave his side ahead by 0-3 to 0-1 at the interval.
At this stage it was obvious that Stacks would need to improve greatly if they were to hold out, as Crotta, with the prospect of the wind behind them and only a two-point deficit to overcome, looked poised for victory. However, a mightly cheer greeted Stacks when they re-appeared from the pavillon when it was seen that Niall Sheehy was lining out. He started at centre forward and soon made his presence felt when he was in to challenge goalkeeper Breen and force the ball to the net after David Lucid had cut in a masterly ball from the sideline. Now Crotta were understandably shaken and six minutes later Lucid pointed to give Stacks a lead of 1-4 to 0-1.
Crotta were suddenly in real trouble. But within thirty seconds they showed they were far from quitters, indeed they proved during the next six minutes that they were worthy champions by coming back from the jaws of defeat to get into the contest once more. Tom Cronin sent in a high ball which broke in the square and after a melee J.P. Twomey crashed it to the net. From the puckout Crotta won a free and Tom Kenny, who moved to midfield on the resumption, drove it straight between the posts to cut the margin to two points. A minute later Todd Nolan raced away to flash over a point and just as the game entered the last quarter Tom Kenny pointed another free to put the sides level.
When Todd Nolan sent over a fine point with twelve minutes remaining to give Crotta the lead for the first time in the hour it looked as if the Tralee men were beaten at last, but now it was they who showed their great spirit by fighting back for the equalizer from a free by Paudie McCarthy. Two minutes later, Tom Kenny pointed another free to give his side the lead once more, but still Stacks refused to give up. Those last six minutes were fantastic. Stacks threw everything into attack, but Pat Cronin was magnificent and he must have almost broken his opponents hearts by the manner in which time after time he came away from rucks with the ball on his hurley. At the other end, when Crotta did manage an occasional breakaway, the Stacks backs defended fiercely displaying some of the most courageous tackling seen for many a day.
Tom Kenny ( Captain ) receives
Co. Championship Cup from Gerald McKenna.
Paudie McCarthy sent a high ball just wide two minutes from the end and then in the third minute of overtime - the delay was caused by the encroachment of spectators and officials and players from both clubs - Christy McQuinn hit that controversial 70. Whether or not the umpire was wrong in his decision, there is no doubt that he had less than a fair chance owing to the number of hot heads from both sides who were inside the wire and around the goal in the closing minutes.
So the title went to Crotta, the team which made better use of its scoring chances. Undoubtedly, the switch of Tom Kenny to midfield had a great deal to do with Crotta's win. Playing at centre foward in the first half he could not cope with John Barry's speed and when he completed the first half without a score to his credit it was obvious that he would need to improve greatly in the second half if Crotta were to win. The switch to midfield paid off handsomely. Picking balls out of the air with uncanny accuracy he sent a stream of balls goalwards and helped keep the pressure off his backs in the second half. His partner, Todd Nolan, also turned in a great second half, scoring two fine points and being just narrowly wide with several other long range efforts.
MAN OF THE MATCH
But over the hour Crotta's man of the match was Pat Cronin. Though not really happy against Lucid's fast pulling in the early stages, the London based Crotta man turned in a wonderful performance when Lucid moved to the wing and through most of the game he was the man who broke down most of the Stacks moves in attack. Apparently, impervious to punishment he took the most determined shoulder charges in his stride and was still going all out up to the final whistle.
All the other Crotta backs played their parts, wtith Donal Leen and Billy Kenny especially sound. The attack was not as good, although J.J. Landers, J.P. Twomey and Brendan Twomey were always dangerous.
It was a day that Stacks can always look back on with pride, although they will probably want to forget it as quickly as possible. The loss of Niall Sheehy in the first half was a colossal blow and although he was responsible for a goal soon after coming on he was naturally, only a shadow of his normal self.
Had Stacks won most of the credit would have gone once more to the defence, in which team captain John Barry had a tremendous game. Displaying exceptional anticipation and striking beautifully he drove Crotta back time and time again and the wonder was that he was not switched to mark Tom Kenny when the latter moved to midfield for the second half.
The McCarthy brothers Mike and Seamus, Christy McQuinn and Mick Barry all turned in great displays, maintaining their wonderful form of the two games against Ballyduff.
Midfielders Garry Scollard and Paudie McCarthy tried hard throughout, although outplayed in the second half by Kenny and Nolan.
In attack, Joe O'Sullivan had a great game, although playing most of the second half with an eye injury which subsequently required five stitches. With a stricter referee he would have won a few frees which could have proved extremely valuable. David Lucid played well throughout although having no luck with some long-range efforts that were just off target.
CROTTA; J. Breen, D. Leen, T. McCarthy, W. Kenny, J. O'Driscoll, P. Cronin, M. Hickey, T. Cronin, Tod Nolan, M. Leen, T. Kenny(Capt.), J.J. Landers, J.P. Twomey, L. Twomey, B. Twomey.
A. STACKS; T. O'Regan, M. McCarthy, C. McQuinn, S. McCarthy, W. Walsh, J. Barry(Capt), M. Barry, G. Scollard, P. McCarthy, P. Conneally, D. Lucid, J O'Sullivan, M. Quirke, R. McCarthy, J. Gannon.
Subs; S O'Sullivan for Conneally, N Sheehy for S O'Sullivan, E Barry for M Quirke.
Referee; P. Cronin(Cork).
1968 County Champions
Back row(L/R) Tim Lawlor, Jer Relihan, J.P. Twomey, Jack Kenny, Brendan Twomey, Mike Leen, Tom Quilter, Tadgh McCarthy, Tom Cronin, Ciaran Nolan, J.J. Conway, Gary Landers, Donal Leen, Mike Laide, Arnie Parkinson, Eamonn Leen, Lawrence Twomey, Pat Herbert, Ned Neenan, Johnny Kenny, Son Egan, G. Whyte.
Middle Row; Pascal Nolan, Tomasin Nolan, Billy Kenny, Vincent Cahill, James Driscoll, M. Hickey, J.J. Landers, Tom Kenny, Tod Nolan, Jim Breen, Pat Cremin.
Front Row; Joe McElligott, D. Nolan, Jimmy Flaherty, Monty McElligott.