Crokes star Johnny Buckley actually sleeps with the UCC enemy

By Murt Murphy for
If there is anyone who knows how strong UCC are , then it must be Crokes tall midfielder Johnny Buckley and centre forward Daithi Casey who helped UCC win the Cork SFC and qualify for the Munster Club, but because of the Crokes win in Kerry, the lads had to jump ship and declare for their home club. Casey is on a year out of college but spares a thought for Kerry's next midfield star, Buckley, who not alone meets his opponents on Sunday, every day in the College canteen or down in the Mardyke but he actually lives with two of them
" It's a strange one right enough and its only in the last few days that it has really sank in, because up to that you are focusing on the games you are playing every weekend and while we would have been getting a bit a ribbing around town, you just have to focus on every game.
So now once both of the teams won their semi finals - its changed things. To really complicate matters I actually share a house with two of the UCC lads I will be facing on Sunday, Kerry senior panellist Peter Crowley and Kenmare's Stephen O'Brien and its been interesting so far this week. I have to be careful what I eat and drink out of the fridge (he laughs), but seriously its not a problem we are friends and team mates now at College - and while we will be on opposite side on Sunday - we will back in the same house on Monday - going off to lectures and we will be best of mates - no matter who wins. They know that my focus is on Crokes for this game, and they understand that so there is no tension just banter.
Look there are few secrets nowadays with DVD analysis and live coverage of games so both side know what the other is capable off so there are no secrets I can bring out of the UCC camp, and luckily I don't talk in my sleep"

The flame haired midfielder warns Crokes that UCC are not to be underestimated
" They are a fine side, they play some wonderful attacking football, they are underdogs, they have nothing to lose so they play with abandon, they are very good individually, they have gelled together and they will be difficult to break down so we will be taking nothing for granted- we will need to improve on recent outings to beat them"
But the year did not start too well for Buckley or Crokes when they lost to Nemo in that delayed Munster Final in January
"I suppose looking back on the year as a whole, it started poorly because loosing to Nemo Rangers in the Munster Final was very disappointing. I suppose the focus all year was to give ourselves an opportunity to redeem ourselves and things went well for us in the Championship which we managed to win. Then the last couple of games in Munster have been tough but we pulled through and thankfully we have that chance now of making up for what we could not achieve in January, by winning on Sunday. So I suppose from the downer we felt at the start of the year, we have a chance now of ending our year in a high and you are not afforded an opportunity like this, too many times in ones career, so it will be a major motivating factor on Sunday"

Buckley agrees that it has not been all flash and dash this year with the Crokes, they have been just getting over the winning line both in Kerry and in Munster and he expects more of the same on Sunday "This time of the year, pitches are heavy and weather is not always the best and the games will not always be the best. The first half down in Dungarvan was a very tough test and in the semi final, against Kilmurry-Ibrickane, we had to battle and battle for the entire sixty minutes and thankfully we pulled through after Daithi (Casey) got the road and we were down three points and it wasn't looking good. Thankfully we all put the heads down and battled back and with Colm (Cooper) producing a lovely cameo, we got through"

Buckley who is hoping to graduate to a starting place for Kerry this year, at last during the lead, thinks that Crokes have been able to get out of tight situations this year because they have leaders on the field who never panic
"We have some great leaders in the team, Eoin Brosnan had a massive game in the semi final because when we needed someone to get stuck in, during the last fifteen minutes when we were a man down and three points down, Eoin stepped up and led the fight back. Colm Cooper is another fantastic leader and not only for his skill and match winning capabilities, but opponents usually deploys one or two extra men to watch - him and the rest of us benefit as we might be left unmarked for a second and that's enough for Colm to find you. So from one to fifteen and the subs, are all willing to do it for the team, nobody is looking for personal glory. So yes this year we are using our experience and lads are not getting flustered so we are winning tight games that we might have lost a couple of years ago"

Buckley believes that the fact that game is being played in the Fitzgerald Stadium will not be a huge plus for Crokes "I think it will suit both sides to be fair - UCC are a young team who will be quite happy to play in Fitzgerald Stadium because it is a wide expansive pitch and will suit the two teams who like to play open attacking football. You must also remember that a lot of the lads from UCC are Kerry lads who play and train here regularly so the pitch will not favour either side but it is of course great if we could win on home soil as it were - just across the road from our own pitch!"

Dr Crokes boss Harry O'Neill believes the papers have got it badly wrong for Sunday's Munster Senior Club Final when the Kerry champions take on the students of UCC, a contest that many feel is almost a Kerry v Kerry clash!
" They are very dangerous opponents and I saw them in the semi final and final of the Cork SFC and they showed tremendous fighting qualities in both those games, where they did not play spectacular football but they did grind out

" The way I am looking at it right now, is that we have shown tremendous battling qualities and we have dug ourselves out of holes. We have probably relied on a lot of individual brilliance to get us out of trouble, Kieran O'Leary got us over the line in a couple of Championship games, Colm Cooper did a similar job in our two Munster Club Championship games to date.

We are not playing to our full potential and there are a lot of areas we are trying to address but they are just not right still and these areas include - the middle of thye field where the dogs in the street can see that we are struggling for possession and when have that possession we are putting teams under an awful lot of pressure but when we are not getting that ball out around the middle of field, we are putting ourselves under pressure, and we are letting teams attack us and get at us. These are areas that we must work on and we don't get them right, some day we will go to the well and the well will be dry. If we don't correct these deficiencies, we could be in trouble against UCC on Sunday"

O'Neill believes making an early statement against a side like UCC could be crucial to the outcome " You always go out and try and make an early statement by putting scores on the board as quickly as you can. But there is a niggling fear in the back of the head that we went out and did that in the Senior Club Championship semi final against Rathmore when we raced nine points clear and ended up losing the game, because we fell sound asleep. We were seven points up against Austin Stacks in the SFC quarterfinal and they came back at us. We felt after the Rathmore game that we threw all the eggs into the basket in the first half and that we had nothing in the tank coming towards the end of the game so we addressed that by deciding that we our performance throughout our games should be a more level performance, rather than peaks and troughs. We go into every game hoping we would get the start that Kilmurry-Ibrickane got against us in the semi final- you want to punish the opposition, get the scores early because we will need them against a team like UCC who have a very potent forward line. It si something that we are looking at and seeing what is it we need to do to get the players to focus in on it and in fairness we looked for it last year in the Championship against South Kerry and we got it and they nearly caught us in the second half. Sometimes when we get these big leads- it doesn't suit us so what we are striving for against UCC , is a more level performance"