For a man reared on the winter wonders of the North Kerry Championship in his native Listowel, Stephen Stack knows the value of ‘winning football’ better than most.
Hence his indifference yesterday to the aesthetics of Austin Stacks’ Munster Club SFC semi-final victory over Cork champions Ballincollig.
“I’m not particularly worried what kind of a game it was now that we’re out the other side of it. Two teams going at it, both committed, both very worthy of winning their respective county championships. If we weren’t prepared mentally in the way we were, I think they could have beaten us,” the Stacks manager suggested. “We knew we were up against a very difficult side.”
His players were hesitant when it came to going for the jugular in the final quarter, preferring to retain possession and run down the clock.
“I complimented my players for not giving away the ball because Ballincollig were playing 11 or 12 men behind the ball (in the latter stages). We had five forwards with at least two players on each of them so there was no point in kicking it in (aimlessly). Ballincollig are an excellent counter- attacking team, if you give them ball, they’ll run it from one end of the field to the other.
“Even though we were holding the ball a lot, we were always moving it. They were never getting a chance to get a hand on us and we were just trying and waiting to create the openings.”
Stack correctly pointed out: “We showed incredible character early on after going six point down.
We were slavishly kicking the ball into Kieran (Donaghy), and you must give credit to their full back, he played him very well while he was inside. Our fellas panicked a little bit in possession and we were lumping it in, so we had to become a little bit more patient. We’ve won 16 games without Kieran this season so we know how to play without him. Once we switched it, David Mannix and Shane O’Callaghan did the devil inside. When we started to hold onto the ball, we caused them problems. If there was any period that was decisive in winning the game, it was the ten minutes before half-time.”
Stacks had great trouble shaking off the dogged Cork champions, but the winning manager was expecting a dogfight. He was also ready for one: “Looking at their Cork games, I felt it was the collective that was decisive in winning them games. It was the combined effort of 17-21 players, whatever they used, that was key for them winning big games. If we couldn’t match and exceed that, we wouldn’t win. That was a key thing, our will to win.”
Ballincollig manager Michael O’Brien admitted tears had been shed in a shattered dressing room afterwards. It was all they had left to give, he indicated.
“The character of the team is there for all to see, but we just ran out of legs in the end. In fairness to them, Austin Stacks were slightly better than us overall. We felt we had them ready, we prepared for Kieran Donaghy inside at full-forward and that worked well for us. But when they moved things around, they had other good forwards inside who caused us problems. However, we’ve got a taste of this now and we will be gunning to retain our title in Cork in 2015.”
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