After over 80 minutes plus of unrelenting football, the Cork club, which straddles the Kerry border, came good in extra-time.
Much of the talk beforehand was of the Kingdom’s dominance in this grade, and while Dromid Pearses gave it everything, it was Knocknagree who brought the silverware back to the Rebel county for the first time since Canovee won the trophy in 2007.
But John Fintan Daly’s side had to dig deep. Ultimately, it was a goal from Cork junior Anthony O’Connor in the first period of extra-time that helped get them over the line.
Brilliant approach play by corner-back Paul O’Connor resulted in the hard-working full-forward – who was marked by Kerry U21 Graham O’Sullivan - getting a boot to the ball and sending it past goalkeeper Brian O’Leary.
The south Kerry team got the perfect start when Chris Farley kicked a goal after a mere five minutes. Despite being under pressure, Knocknagree profited with five different players on the scoresheet as they went 0-5 to 1-1 ahead on 20 minutes.
It wasn’t long before Dromid Pearses regained the lead with a second goal – this time it was Gearoid Jackie O’Sullivan who found the net.
Significantly, Knocknagree matched their opponents score for score on the approach to half-time, with points from Shane O’Connor and Niall O’Shea cancelled out by two Anthony O’Connor points. O’Shea (0-5) was able to take his place at corner-forward after his red card from the Munster semi-final was overturned.
Trailing by 2-3 to 0-7 at the interval, Knocknagree were level six minutes after the restart following superb finishes by captain Matthew Dilworth and Eoghan McSweeney. They were still tied at the threequarter mark, 2-4 to 0-10.
Knocknagree goalkeeper Patrick Doyle then came to his team’s rescue when he bravely came off his line and won the battle with the in-running Niall O’Shea, and when Fintan O’Connor landed a remarkable point, it was all square.
It was heart-stopping. Aidan Shine O’Sullivan handed the initiative back to Dromid Pearses, only for McSweeney to tie them once more. In the second minute of injury time, the Kerry representatives hit the front again. Knocknagree though were not going to be denied, and Fintan O’Connor found the target from the tightest of space to send the game to extra-time.
Anthony O’Connor’s goal put Knocknagree 1-14 to 2-10 to the good at the end of the first period of extra-time, and in the second period they outscored Dromid Pearses three points to one. Both sides finished with 14 men after the late dismissals of James Dennehy and Graham O’Sullivan.
Multiple All-Ireland winner Declan O’Sullivan, manager of Dromid Pearses, said he was incredibly proud of his players to a man.
“That was our third bout of extra-time in the last number of weeks. We have been on a great journey and we lost nothing in defeat today.
“Knocknagree are a great footballing side and they went toe to toe with us and we wish them well as they move onwards.”
A O’Connor (1-7, 0-6 frees), E McSweeney and F O’Connor (0-3 each), M Dilworth (0-2), M Mahoney and J F Daly (0-1 each).
N O’Shea (0-5, 0-2 frees), G Jackie O’Sullivan and C Farley (0-1 free) (1-1 each), K Farley (0-2), A Shine O’Sullivan and S O’Connor (0-1 each).
P Doyle; G O’Connor, K Buckley, P O’Connor; M Mahoney, A Sheehan, D Moynihan; D Cooper, P Collins; E McSweeney, J F Daly (Jnr), F O’Connor; M Dilworth (Capt), A O’Connor, J Dennehy.
C White for J Dennehy (47), T Long for A Sheehan (59), K Daly for D Moynihan (65), J Dennehy for M Mahoney (70), T Cooper for P O’Connor (71).
B O’Leary; C O’Shea, G O’Sullivan, S O’Connor; D Shine O’Sullivan, K O’Leary, P Jackie O’Sullivan; T Curran, A Shine O’Sullivan; K Sheehan, D O’Donoghue, D O’Sullivan; G Jackie O’Sullivan, C Farley (Capt), N O’Shea.
K Farley for T Curran (46), P Sheehan for D Shine O’Sullivan (54), J G O’Shea for K Sheehan (61), T Curran for D O’Donoghue (65), M Sheehan for D O’Sullivan (73), N O’Connor for A Shine O’Sullivan (76).