Paul O'Keeffe, on top of his duties as St Finbarr’s senior manager, lends a hand coaching the club’s U15 team.
When working with these 14 and 15-year-olds at the Barrs field in Togher, O’Keeffe is not exclusively focused on the game’s fundamental skills and developing each player’s respective skillset.
Of importance too, he says, is impressing upon these youngsters the club’s rich history and the significance of the blue jersey they pull on each matchday.
The problem, though, is that these teenagers find it difficult to get excited about or care much for a storied past that is of no relation to them.
That’s where O’Keeffe’s current crop of seniors shoot into relevance. The Barrs boss realises the importance of his players becoming present-day heroes for the club’s underage wing, the same as the all-conquering men of the 70s and 80s were for O’Keeffe and his generation.
St Finbarr’s may sit third in the Munster club football roll of honour with four titles, all of which arrived together in a gloriously successful seven-year period, but the last of these wins dates right the way back to 1986.
Fresh tales of success are required, written by players that O’Keeffe’s U15s know to see and speak to when they are milling about the clubhouse.
“The more the game comes into focus, the more you are looking at the history of the club,” says O’Keeffe.
“It is a massive game to try and bridge that 36-year gap, it kinda puts the [current] team up as one of the great Barrs teams. I think they are at that level in terms of what they have achieved already, winning two counties.
“We spoke about that this season, in terms of being able to go from a good team into a great team. If you win two counties, you are moving up the gears in terms of your reputation.
“For the last four to five years, they have been at the business end of the Cork championship. This is trying to take it a step further and create their own bit of history and create their own legacy going forward, which would be a huge thing.
“You see all the kids at games and it would be giving them the belief too. I coach the U15s and you are trying to translate the message that this is a big club. But they are looking at you going, ‘what’s he going on about’, because they have never seen it.
“When you are telling them about great players like Christy Ryan and these fellas and they winning All-Ireland clubs, it is like you are talking about ancient history. So, it is just trying to put us back in that zone, which would be absolutely fantastic, and it would be a brilliant legacy for the boys.”
If they are to cement their status as one of the great Barrs teams with victory at Semple Stadium tomorrow, there’s no question but Steven Sherlock’s imprint will be smeared all over the win. With 3-50 to his name from their run through Cork and Munster, the 24-year-old has been in irresistible form the past few months. Chatting to the inside forward last Monday evening in the Barrs clubhouse, it was mere coincidence that he should perch himself on a chair underneath framed pictures of previous Munster winning teams.
“You can’t really come out to the Barrs without being hounded by fellas talking about the 80s and talking about all the fantastic players that were there,” he says, wearing a broad smile.
“We always felt that we were a good team, but knew we needed a county title to prove that.
“After that, we wanted to push on and become an even better team and win a second county. Now, we want to take the next step and the next step for us right now is winning Munster.
“To be in a Munster final is dreamland, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. We are all best friends and so we want the journey to keep going because we are having the time of our lives. Hopefully, we can get the win on Sunday and there will be a Munster championship coming back to Cork.”
Two tables down from Sherlock in the clubhouse is Barrs captain and leader Ian Maguire. We ask the county final man of the match what he believes they have done differently this season to position themselves within touching distance of Munster glory.
“At the start of the year, we would have been very hard on ourselves in terms of discipline and scoring efficiency because we felt they were two areas where we let ourselves down against Castlehaven in the 2020 county semi-final. As the games went on, we improved in those areas. We feel we corrected them because we were harsh on ourselves.
“We didn’t pat ourselves on the back after any win. Instead, for example, we asked why did this season’s semi-final go to penalties.
“It’s gas. Christmas time can be a time where there is an AGM and there is hustle and bustle and hassle, whereas now we are working towards a Munster final which is something everybody aspires to.
“It has been an emotional rollercoaster in terms of where we have come from — from heartbreaking 2020 county semi-final loss to now being in a Munster final and playing a game we believe we can win.”