The Down hurling manager Ronan Sheehan recalls a story that for him, captures something of the character of St Finbarr’s favourite import, Conor McCrickard.
Sheehan was in charge of an underage Down team who were going well in the Celtic Challenge Cup a few years back. They played a South Kilkenny selection in the semi-final of the ‘A’ competition and lost by three points in a decisive game.
Afterwards, most of the players were glowing about how they put it up to The Cats. Paudie O’Neill, chairman of the Hurling Development Committee of the time came into their huddle and dished out the platitudes.
Once he left, McCrickard told his team-mates, ‘I didn’t come down here to get beat and I couldn’t care less that they are from Kilkenny!’
“Conor would be of the opinion that every time you go out on the field, you go out there to win and he doesn’t want to live on reputation,” says Sheehan. “It shows where he sees himself and where he wants to compete, where he wants to push himself to be the best. He wouldn’t accept that wherever you live should determine how good you are, or aren’t.”
It just so happens that where he is living right now, doing a biomedical engineering degree placement in Stryker, in Carrigtwohill, has him in the blue of St Finbarr’s.
It has brought him Cork and Munster senior football titles. He has hurled Cork Senior Hurling Championship in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and has played football in Semple Stadium.
As the 2021 season bleeds into 2022, McCrickard must wonder how dizzying the journey has been. Back in late June, he was an innocent bystander in the Down forward line as Donegal blitzed them in the Ulster Championship by 16 points.
He’s since been on the ultimate busman’s holiday.
All through that run through Cork and Munster, half a dozen cars around Liatroim have filled up and the occupants have become familiar with the journey up and down to Cork and Thurles.
This Saturday, they will travel just five miles before they blend into the Kilcoo traffic heading for Portlaoise and their All-Ireland semi-final.
“Saturday sets a bit of a conundrum for club members,” says Liatroim clubman and former coach of many of the Kilcoo players, PJ McGee.
“There are some who would love to see Kilcoo, a small neighbouring rural club like our own, getting to an All-Ireland final, while there are many who want to see St Finbarr’s succeed because one of our own is involved.”
How close are the two communities? Well, there is a good chance that given the switches and constantly changing patterns of the game, that McCrickard will be in the territory of Ryan McEvoy, Kilcoo’s princely young full-back. The two are cousins.
In a way, he has been exceptionally lucky to catch the wave at the right time.
He tried to keep going with Liatroim by commuting up for matches but the travelling was leaving him exhausted. He was lucky in that Down camogie player Sorcha McCartan was already with St Finbarr’s, giving him an ‘in’ with the club. Leaving Liatroim though would have caused a serious upheaval.
“It wasn’t an easy decision for him to move,” says McGee, “but the travelling every weekend would have played a major role in that decision. He’s a lovely humble young fella and is a real role model for our club juveniles.”
Sheehan concurs. “He is very much a club man. He was heartbroken to transfer and agonised over it for so long. He had already been travelling up the road to play club matches but it was crazy stuff.”
As he got his feet under the table, his contribution to the Barrs’ attack has evolved. He got his Championship debut against Ilen Rovers and was slotted into corner-forward, kicking 0-4 from play. By the time of the semi-final he was more confident to roam out the field and took Castlehaven for 1-2. He chipped in with a point against Clonakilty in the county final.
Against Eire Óg of Ennis in the Munster semi-final he caught fire, scoring 2-1 in a match-winning contribution.
Aside from that, the coach in McGee purrs at his willingness to not just look for the brackets after his name. “He demonstrates great awareness of those around and is keen to move the ball to a better-placed teammate,” he says.
For Sheehan, “What he brings in football is no different to what he brought in hurling in many ways. His movement, his aggression, excellent feet, fantastic attitude…
“He has great aerial ability for a guy who is not overly tall. He is well able to win his own ball. But I think his greatest attribute is his will to win.”
It’s brought him this far. County and provincial titles in the bag, and a shot at the neighbours. It’s different. It’s fascinating. It might even be uncomfortable for some.
He will love it.