Anyone present at Páirc Uí Rinn on April 22 wouldn’t have been including St Finbarr’s in their list of contenders for the Andy Scannell Cup.
It wasn’t so much the margin of defeat to Ballincollig that was galling, rather the manner in which the Barr’s accepted their fate. Trailing 1-7 to 1-6 at the break, the city outfit were outscored by 2-10 to 0-4 upon the resumption. The 13-point difference at the end could have been even greater.
Admittedly both Michael Shields and Stephen Sherlock were absent that evening but that doesn’t excuse the collective effort. Management realised as much.
Corrective surgery was required and manager Ray Keane, along with his backroom team, had no problem taking a scalpel to the team. On September 22, Ballincollig and the Barr’s renewed acquaintances at Páirc Uí Rinn. At stake was a county semi-final berth.
The Ballincollig team showed three changes in personnel from the side which had kick-started their championship campaign in such impressive fashion. The Barr’s team-sheet, meanwhile, bore no resemblance to that which had surrendered so meekly on April 22.
Declan Murphy had replaced James McDonnell between the sticks, Glenn O’Connor was in at right corner-back, Jamie Burns was chosen at left wing-back, Michael Shields was returned at centre-forward and there was a brand new full-forward line of Cillian Myers Murray, Robert O’Mahony and Stephen Sherlock. Of the eight players to hold onto a jersey numbered one to 15, four had been subject to a positional switch. The midfield pairing of Ian Maguire and Eoin Comyns was the only line to remain untouched.
The result, too, contrasted sharply with the 3-17 to 1-10 scoreline of late spring, Keane’s side emerging three-point winners.
The victory also bridged a seven-year gap to the club’s last semi-final appearance. Having since fallen thrice at the quarter-final hurdle and thrice at the fourth round juncture, it was an important result on many levels.
“The simplest way of looking at it is that we’re heading into October and we’re still playing football, which is great for the club,” said Keane. “The changes in the team between the two Ballincollig games are linked to injuries and natural progression, probably more of the latter. The way things developed throughout the summer, you had one or two playing hurling, training picked up and lads put their hands up. You pick who’s playing on form and that is the way it has worked out. Put the work in and you will get your chance.
“If you perform, you’ll survive. So far so good. We’ve knuckled down over the last few months. The lads are working hard and that is the minimum you can ask for. We’ve had a few games over the last few weeks, some lads have moved on and some haven’t. It is just the way the team has naturally evolved over the summer.”
Glenn O’Connor, Michael Shields, Colin Lyons, and Robert O’Mahony are the sole members of Keane’s team with prior county semi-final experience — and that was back in 2010. Compare this with Carbery Rangers who are appearing in their seventh county semi-final in eight years. The manager doesn’t see this being an issue.
“A lot of our lads would have played with Cork teams and college teams along the way. Experience in big occasions is a thing that is mentioned only if you lose. Dublin’s All-Ireland final team this year had six lads who weren’t on last year’s final team. Was experience a factor there? No.”
Keane, a brother of Kerry’s All-Ireland minor winning manager Peter, studied at Cork IT and it was there he first encountered the Barr’s Tony Leahy. Leahy trained the CIT team of which Keane was a member. On retiring, Keane joined Leahy on the sideline, first, at CIT and then with the Barr’s. Leahy stepped out early in 2016, with Keane stepping up. The club won the county minor championship in 2013 and ’14, backing these victories up with U21 success last year. From the all-conquering U21 team, Dylan Quinn, Eoin Comyns, and Sherlock have graduated to the senior side.
“Indications would tell you the club’s graph is rising. There is an awful lot of work going on at the various age-groups. Coming from a country background, you’d be gobsmacked when you see the numbers of young lads training at weekends. With regard to our own progress, I wouldn’t use the phrase ‘bonus territory’. We’ll need a big performance to get over the line, but we’ll go at it nonetheless.”
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