Better decision-making, better game-management. Greater adaptability. More mature, more experienced.
Ian Maguire isn’t slow to point out where St Finbarr’s let themselves down in last year’s county football final replay, but, by the same token, he also knows they’re a much-improved outfit because of that game.
Having been so impressive when dumping out the 2014 and 2016 champions — Ballincollig and Carbery Rangers — en route to last year’s final, the Barr’s failed to put their best foot forward in either the drawn or replayed deciders.
Operating in Nemo’s slipstream on both afternoons, they did manage to come back from seven down in the second half of the drawn fixture, but were unable to reel in an 11-point deficit second day out.
In a swift return to the concluding afternoon of the Cork SFC senior football championship, Maguire is adamant the Barr’s are better equipped to make a successful bid for the Andy Scannell Cup, on this occasion.
“On the run into last year’s final, it was almost as if we couldn’t put a foot wrong. We were playing very well.
"In the quarter-final and semi-final this year, we have stumbled through. But what we have shown this year, unlike other years, is that when things went wrong in a game, we were able to adapt to get ourselves over the line,” Maguire begins.
The 24-year old cites their quarter-final victory over Douglas as the perfect example. 2-5 to 0-2 clear after 20 minutes, the Barr’s would add just three more points in the remaining 40 minutes of action. Forced to hang on at the finish as Douglas came within one goal of them, hang on they did.
“Things got out of hand very quickly that evening,” the midfielder continues.
“What we learned in that game is our ability to lock down defensively. Douglas didn’t get a goal. That was one of our weaknesses last year.
"When Nemo got on top in the county final replay, they rattled in two goals in a row. They got four, in total.
We learned last year that if the opposition chip over a few points, so be it. But don’t concede goals. Goals are such a huge influence.
"They get the crowd into it and, all of a sudden, the game is going away from you. We showed a bit of adaptability, compared to last year.
“We have obviously looked back at the Nemo games, the mistakes we made and tried to rectify them. We’ve learned with every game. Ray Keane is relatively young in terms of management experience. He’d have learned one or two things, as well. It is a cumulative effect.”
Evidence of their continued development was laid bare in the recent semi-final against Carbery Rangers. Trailing by 0-8 to 0-4 at the break, Ray Keane’s charges had gone scoreless for 20 minutes of that opening period and finished the half with just one name, that of Stephen Sherlock, on the scoresheet (three of his four points arrived via the dead ball).
There was no panic, though. Not a hint of it.
“Another learning we took from Nemo is that you have to keep the scoreboard ticking over and that is one thing we couldn’t get right in the first-half against Carbery Rangers. That doesn’t all fall on Stephen Sherlock’s shoulders, either. We need to contribute more in-play from other areas of the pitch.
“When things are going wrong, you just need to control the ball, whether that’s for a five-minute period or longer.
Once you have possession, you can stem the flow of the opposition and create a scoring chance to further kill their momentum. We didn’t do that against Nemo and we didn’t do it in the first half against Carbery Rangers.
The Cork captain added:
“We went in at half-time, reassessed and were like a new team in the second half. That shows a little bit of maturity that we didn’t have in 2017. There is great experience within the squad, the likes of Colin Lyons, Michael Shields, and Ross O’Dwyer.
“Even though we are not playing to the levels we were last year, we are ahead of where we were last year. We are moving the ball better. We had a lot of chances in the 2017 final but rushed so many of them. We are more patient now. Our decision-making is better.”
Having made his debut back in 2012 as an 18-year old, Maguire is still chasing a first county medal. The club has been waiting far longer, mind. Not since 1985 has their blue flag been planted at the summit of Cork football.
The club is crying out for success at this level. Once we make a breakthrough, I do feel it will be like a domino effect all over the club.