It remains sport’s enduring mystery: The No-Show.
When months of meticulous preparation vanish inexplicably down the plughole and all you want is a mulligan and another chance to put it right. The limp, lifeless display by St Finbarr’s, last year’s beaten finalists, in the first half of yesterday’s Cork SFC semi-final had all the recognisable ingredients of a team that forgot to bring their form on the team bus from Togher. Fortunately for them, it was arrested after 30 minutes.
The Barr’s have previous with this issue, and the fact it hasn’t proved fatal yet hasn’t minimised manager Ray Keane’s concern over it. Ditto his captain Ian Maguire.
“I don’t know why, for some reason, we can’t put 60 minutes together,” reflected Maguire, who was zero-for-five in wins at the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh before yesterday. “It’s either 30 minutes or 45 or sometimes 15, but there’s a lesson there maybe. Last year we were lifting, this time we seem to be stumbling our way to the finish line. Ross are a seasoned team, but we showed real hunger there at the end. I hate using that word ‘hunger’ because it means nothing. Work-rate, I suppose.”
In the quarter-final, St Finbarr’s put 2-5 on Douglas in the first 17 minutes and only added three more points in the ensuing 53 minutes. They got the bad stuff out of the way early yesterday against fancied Carbery Rangers. The best that could be said of the Barr’s in the first half was that Rosscarbery only led 0-8 to 0-4 at the break. Even their high-percentage free-taker Stephen Sherlock looked woefully out of sync.
However inexplicable such a zombie half was to their management and supporters, the stunning metamorphosis by the same players after the interval might be tougher still to explain. The boys in blue suddenly looked energised and aggressive, propelled by a work-rate that could have come straight off those famed blue collars. A 15-minute time-out in the dressing room will sort some tactical creases, but the change in mindset has to be driven by the individual.
Early substitute Conor Dennehy excelled in defence and Eoghan McGreevey grafted even harder for the outlet ball up front. Sam Ryan and Colin Lyons pushed onto the front foot, giving the likes of Maguire a platform. Instead of looking for the next fella to trigger the comeback, everyone brought it.
‘What did you say to them at half-time?’ is the world’s worst line of questioning a journalist can sink to, but it was almost difficult not to ask it yesterday. Fortunately, we were spared by Keane: “Was our work-rate mentioned at half-time? It was the only thing we spoke about at half-time!
I don’t mind being beaten by a better team as long as we leave everything on the field. We will go places then. When we are not fully at it, like in fourth or fifth gear, then we have issues. It’s up to us to try figure out why they were so flat.
It’s worth referencing Stephen Sherlock in all this. The 22-year-old has been unfairly catapulted into a situation where he went from a promising underage scorer to a potential saviour on the inter-county scene. He has a way to go before fulfilling the latter expectation, but while the pressure on him at club level is constant, he meets and greets it more often than not. Yesterday he finished with ten points, six frees, but few of them gimmes. He’s a young lad with a disproportionate scoring burden on him, a point his captain accepts.
“I am tough on Stephen, but we’ve great time for him in the club. He’s dealing with pressure all the time, because if he doesn’t deliver, we are under pressure, and he knows that,” Ian Maguire said. “When he kicks wides, everyone gets on him straight away which is a negative thing, but he showed real balls because things weren’t going right in the first half. It’s a good sign of any fella, he wanted them in the second half. He’s only 22, and he’s leading the forward line.”
Agreed Ray Keane: “He’s a very talented player. I am onto him constantly about improving his conversion rate, but he will tell you if I don’t shoot I won’t score and in fairness, it always comes right for him at some stage.
Once Sherlock levelled at 0-10 apiece on 46 minutes, the semi-final’s rhythm had altered to such an extent that the Barr’s looked to have thieved Rangers’ first-half poise. They achieved this in spite of a trio of disruptive injuries which forced the departure of Dylan Quinn, Colm Keane and Alan O’Connor. It was no bad thing that replacements Conor Dennehy, Eoghan Finn and Colin Barrett had such positive impacts.
A nostalgic word too for their keeper with a famous name. John Kerins made his first senior championship start yesterday at 26, and showed the sort of poise in defence and with restarts that his dad produced more than once on the biggest stage. “He really managed the game well,” Maguire said of the Barr’s No 1, who got his chance after Declan Murphy broke his leg in the quarter-final.
“There’s been a lot of work done there between Eric Barrett, James McDonnell and Deccie (Murphy). They are a tight crew.”