Mastering the art of the six-day turnaround

It would be doing yesterday’s Cork county football final some disservice to move immediately beyond it and onto the matter of who emerged with their tails up.
Mastering the art of the six-day turnaround

Nevertheless, the respective claims on the so-called psychological edge – whatever that means – is a seductive place to start. From a desperate position, St Finbarr’s excavated a draw.

That in itself franks the view that their status as the team-to-emerge-from-the-pack in Cork is moot now.

It also suggests the traditional Barr’s respect for reputation is appropriately modest – especially when it comes to their medalled neighbours on the southside of Cork city.

They were eight points down after 17 minutes, but worse than that, they hadn’t engineered a score.

The manager Ray Keane might have questioned the notion the Barr’s were playing the occasion as much as Nemo Rangers in the first quarter, but the evidence supporting it is considerable.

A yard off the pace defensively, fumbling possession repeatedly, snatching at half-chances for scores, the side seeking their first title in 32 years betrayed all the guilty indicators of it.

In the opening exchanges of the second half, Nemo streaked into an 0-11 to 0-4 lead, but over two or three seasons of consistent progress under Keane, the Togher outfit has shown it is made of resolute stuff.

“They give me every last bit they have,” he repeated afterwards. No-one in the crowd of just under 10,000 was rolling up their programme and heading for the exits just yet.

By the time the stadium clocks had ticked past 60 minutes, Stephen Sherlock had claimed his eighth point, and the Barr’s equaliser.

Ian Maguire – what a game he had – had built a bridgehead at midfield, and pinned Nemo Rangers in their own third of the pitch. The pre-eminent football force in Cork, and some would say nationally, was starved of the ball and drained of energy.

Two missed chances from Paul Kerrigan and Ciaran Dalton (though Sam Ryan deserves kudos for the steal) were conspicuous as much for their rarity as any profligacy.

That Nemo even survived the three minutes of injury-time, barely touching the ball in that period, underlined a renowned savvy in such situations.

Having coasted through to the final, winning three times by double-digits, they did well to hang in here.

The Barr’s failed to get a shot off in injury-time and if that stressed the reliance on the bottled-up Sherlock, it also indicates maturity that will serve them well in next Sunday’s replay.

So, who’ll need more re-tooling over the next six days? The Nemo manager Larry Kavanagh said it was “still a bit raw” when he addressed that question afterwards but something off-handed he said was instructive in sussing out where Nemo heads were at.

“You’re seven points up in the second half of a county final, you expect to win it. Well we expect to win it anyway.”

Recent history has shown that opponents which don’t strike Nemo down when given the opportunity suffer the consequences.

But there’s a strong sense that this St Finbarr’s group isn’t the conforming type. From full-back Jamie Burns all the way through to young Stephen Sherlock, yesterday’s roller-coaster 60 minutes provided an invaluable stockpile of experiences.

And speaking of such, the maturity of Michael Shields, in his liberating role of roaming centre-forward, was a considerable factor in their recovery.

However, no-one offered as much dynamism, and from that, belief, to the Barr’s cause as Ian Maguire. His barrelling runs from midfield breached Nemo’s half-back line consistently and created the overlaps for the likes of wing back Colin Lyons to claim two points.

Hard to believe Maguire’s not 24 til next April. He will be a central element to any Cork football recovery in 2018 under Ronan McCarthy.

Of course, Nemo will be fuming in the privacy of their own clubhouse. With Luke Connolly on fire, and Paddy Gumley offering the sort of intelligent attacking options in the first half that the Barr’s were sorely lacking, the favourites reeled off the first eight scores of the match.

Each of their six starting forwards scored, and they had little difficulty in repelling St Finbarr’s stuttering attempts to make a match of this historic occasion before the interval.

However, even in their dominance, there was tangible evidence they were finding Maguire difficult to handle.

The Barr’s midfielder will surely be the focus of any tactical change Nemo introduce for the replay, but finding someone to go stride for stride with Maguire is an ask.

“They put a line across the middle of the field and we couldn’t get it out,” Larry Kavanagh bemoaned afterwards. “And on the few occasions we did get it out – and I’m not going to castigate our own fellas – there were a few bad decisions made.”

Paul Kerrigan described the “quietness” in the Nemo camp afterwards, and mentioned those same misses. “We should have won,” he sighed.

The Barr’s management has its own reconfiguration to take care of – but the experience of a final in a new Páirc Ui Chaoimh versus their celebrated rivals is no load to be carrying into next Sunday.

However, the defence was run ragged in the first half, the open expanses of the new stadium ideal for Nemo’s patented pass and move.

“I wasn’t panicking,” smiled Ray Keane. “We kicked a couple into the keeper’s hands, missed another, had five first-half wides. We were six down at the break, but it could have easily been three.

“We’ve been seven years waiting for a county final, now we have two in a week. You can’t buy that (experience). We have work to do on injuries – we had three or four coming in and some of them are definitely worse after this game.

“There’s a lot that went with this occasion – brand new pitch and stadium, a tunnel you drive a bus into, which is a unique thing for these players, big open dressing rooms – and then it’s a Nemo final.

“That’s all gone now. We’re alive.”

That both will improve next Sunday is no given. If Keane or Larry Kavanagh required any evidence that an enhanced performance does not guarantee silverware, they should heed the sobering experience of St Michael’s in yesterday’s Premier IFC final – coming up short by a single point for the third final in the grade since 2012, their attempts to go senior foiled by Mallow.

County finals have always been far too nuanced to be a reliable indicator of the wellbeing of the game in a particular county, but Mallow’s promotion to the senior ranks should enhance a grade that some argue has carried too many lightweights for too long.

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