ST FINBARR’S football manager Tony Leahy is disarmingly frank about how he originally saw 2009 unfolding.
He was hoping for consolidation. Now Clonakilty stand between the Blues and a first county title since 1985. “At the start of the year, that was the furthest thing from our minds. We just wanted to get over our first game, against Carbery Rangers, which we did.
“That win secured our senior status for the next two years, which was what we wanted – the last thing we needed was another dogfight.”
They had enough dogfights after 2007, when they dropped out of senior ranks. The Barr’s ended up facing Douglas in a relegation game and the men from Togher would only go to intermediate if they lost by six points or more. As Leahy says, they felt they’d be okay maybe, but the final scoreline was Douglas 0-10, St Finbarr’s 0-4.
“It’s water under the bridge now,” says Leahy. “We’re just looking forward to tomorrow.”
The manager was a vital component in the club’s last title win, but he points to significant differences between that side and the current crop.
“Back then, we had inter-county players all over the pitch but it’s slightly different now. We have a young crop of players coming through and a group of older lads as well – Dad’s Army and a little army, if you like – but back then, we just had a team that went out and played football. That was just the way it was.”
He doesn’t see “a huge difference” between the game then and now.
“When all’s said and done, most players play because they enjoy it, and that’s our attitude.
“We try to clue the lads into how to play the game, and we work on that, and it was much the same back in the 80s. Everybody knew what they had to do, they were all intelligent footballers then and it’s a similar situation now.
“I don’t know if there’s any great science to it. You go out and win primary possession and work the ball in and try to get scores. If you have talented players you try to get it to them: that’s always been the way to play football.
“Possibly it’s changed a bit at training in that sessions are now a lot sharper and shorter. Back in the 80s you could have spent 45 minutes running, but the days of those long runs are gone. We do a lot of drills and sharp work.”
The Barrs, of course, have a player who has had to overcome the disappointment of All-Ireland football final defeat last Sunday in Michael Shields. Would Leahy and his selectors have liked another week’s preparation?
“We would,” says the manager. “We looked for October 4 and so did Clonakilty. The board wouldn’t agree to it and that was it.
“We would have welcomed another week and so would Clonakilty. In our case we only got our hurlers back last Tuesday night week, so it would have suited us. But we certainly won’t be using it as an excuse if we lose.”
No matter how it goes tomorrow, Leahy sees the year as standing to his players in future seasons. “This year we were looking more to consolidate more than anything,” he says. “But we had some good results along the way.
“The Castlehaven game was a big one; even against Na Piarsaigh we were lucky to get out of it. The one thing I wanted was a championship run to give them experience, and going down to west Cork for championship games will stand to them.”
And finally, Clon? What has he made of their championship run?
“We haven’t seen an awful lot of them,” says Leahy. “What we did see of them was probably in a Kelleher Shield game against them back in June – a great game of football.
“We got an early goal and they missed one or two chances. It was a grand open game and I’d be expecting the same tomorrow. They’ll try to play football, we’ll try to play football and hopefully football will be the winner.”
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