FOR a man who has won ever domestic honour as either a player or a manager, it speaks volumes of the magnitude of the success when John Crofton hailed Sarsfields’ Kildare SFC success – meaning the Sash have recorded a clean sweep at senior level this season – last Sunday as one of his proudest moments of his glittering GAA career.
Crofton, in his second stint as the Sash manager following a brief reign during the mid-1990’s, won league and county titles as a player with Sarsfields and again as a manager with Round Towers, with whom he nearly guided to provincial glory.
However, most of that pales into insignificance in comparison to last Sunday’s 2-11 to 0-11 triumph, founded on the back of second half goals from Declan McKenna and Conor Tiernan (penalty).
“We have been beaten in a few (three) county finals in the last seven years so there is great joy,” admitted Crofton, himself a former county senior manager (2006-08).
“It’s a great thrill for me. I was involved once before (as manager) but packed it in after six or eight months to go join Mick O’Dwyer for his second term with Kildare.
“And if I am to be honest it has always been a niggle and always been a source of discontent, so to come in and manage my own club team to win a county title is my biggest thrill outside of playing.
“I just wanted to have a crack at it. There is a great bunch of lads here and lots of good underage coming through; we won the U-16 title this year and there is a power of good young lads coming through in Sarsfields.”
Sarsfields laid down the gauntlet to their opponents Carbury – last year’s beaten finalists also – when easing into a 0-5 to 0-1 lead after just 12 minutes. However, despite that early prominence, the Sash struggled badly thereafter and failed to score for another 23 minutes. They entered half-time two points behind (0-7 to 0-5) and Crofton admitted that he was a worried man at that stage.
“Absolutely,” he conceded.
“We stopped working. We started really well and turned over possession four or five times and got scores on the board. But we literally stopped working; in fact there was virtually a power failure all over the place.
“Carbury had done the same (come from behind) against Athy – in that case they hit ten points without reply – so I was very glad of the half-time break so we could address some of the issues and get talking to the guys.”
Despite their struggles, Sarsfields didn’t remain in the dressing rooms for long during the interval, with Crofton revealing that his half-time pep talk was long beforehand confirmed.
“You see the thing was we were so poor for the ten minutes prior to half-time that we (management team) had a lot of the decisions made as to what we were going to do before we went in, so there wasn’t a lot that needed to be said in there.
“I mean, when fellas stop working it can be as simple as telling them to switch back on again.”
And that they did to devastating effect, McKenna’s goal the catalyst for a six point win.
“We had a couple of guys – Matty Byrne and Ray Cahill – who had to take (pain-killing) injections before the game for ankle injuries, yet it didn’t happen for them on the pitch.
“I think the fellas who came in for them (Conor Walsh and Caoimhin McDonnell) definitely made a difference; in fact all the substitutes who came on played their part.
“Neither Matty’s nor Ray’s were serious injuries but when you get those injuries during the calendar week of a big game like today – they train on fitness and they train on mobility and it (ankle) affected them both.”
While Sarsfields’ first county senior title since 2005 will be well celebrated over the next few days, a possible assault on Leinster is not something that is immediately on Crofton’s radar.
“Genuinely, and I know it is a cliché, but we have not mentioned the Leinster championship. I know we play the winners of Offaly and Louth but this will be celebrated for a few days and only then will we look at it.”