TWENTY-FOUR years is a long time to wait for an appearance in a county senior football final in any man’s language.
For a club with the football tradition that the Barr’s carry, it’s an eternity.
Michael Ryan, their captain, admits with a grin, that their sights weren’t set that high when they set out on the 2009 championship road.
“We’re looking forward to it immensely, it’s been so long since the Barrs were in a county football final. It was great to win the intermediate championship last year and get back to senior. Anything after that was always going to be a bonus.
“It’s great that we’ve reached a county final, we’ve a great bunch of lads and it’s a great reward for the effort that they’ve put in for the last couple of years.”
Ah yes, relegation. If you’d told the blue-jerseyed participants in that 1985 county final that the Barr’s would drop out of the top tier of Cork club football they’d have laughed, but that was the situation the Togher club found themselves in two years ago.
Ryan was positive about their chances of regaining senior status, however. “I was confident last year that we would get back up — I felt we had a good base of players in the squad, when you consider the mix of fellas who were playing minor and U21 recently and the older lads.
“Two years ago was a low ebb for the club certainly. Seeing a club with such a great reputation and tradition drop out of senior football was very disappointing. It was really imperative that we got back up to senior football as quickly as possible, and we were delighted when we managed to do so.”
Those outside the club — indeed, those outside the county — would probably see the return of Michael Shields from his Australian Rules exile as being crucial in that regard.
Ryan agrees and also pays tribute to the management team.
“It was a great boost when he came back, without a doubt. What also helped was the management set-up — the likes of Tony Leahy, Martin Desmond and Brian Hurley.
“The effect of all of that has been to bond us together and to be honest it’s more like a big family spirit rather than players and management — everybody is in this thing together, and that’s shown in our performances on the field.”
And one of the best of those performances came in the semi-final win over Carbery.
“That was certainly a huge game,” says Ryan. “You’d have to be fair to Carbery and point out that Alan O’Connor was a huge loss to them, as was Carthach Keane.
“It just came good for us that night. We played very well and Carbery didn’t perform as well as they’d done in previous games in the championship.
“But that’s championship football.”
Has the Barr’s great tradition ever been a pressure for Ryan and his teammates?
“It is a pressure. You look at the likes of Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Christy Ryan, our manager Tony Leahy, who was involved in the last win back in 1985. There are huge names here, and a long list of them. What I’d be doing with the younger players in particular is emphasising to them that it’s a county final, and there’s no guarantees that you mightn’t be waiting another 20 years for the next one to come along.”
Ryan has plenty of respect for their opponents on Sunday.
“Clonakilty would be similar enough to ourselves I suppose, in that they have a very good tradition in football. They’ve been very close for the last few years and the game is going to be fifty-fifty. From what I hear they’re playing very well, I’ve only managed to see one or two of their championship games and they’ve been very impressive. It’s going to be a very difficult game for us, but at least we’re there. And happy to be there.”
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