The pain of eight county final defeats since 1985 added a sense of relief to the delirious joy as the Blues celebrated wildly at the final whistle.
With all the negativity surrounding Gaelic football recently, owing to the dour defensive slugfests at inter-county level and the increased incidents of violence at club games, this was a welcome feast of football served up by two teams intent on playing to the traditional values of the game. There was little sign of sweepers or cynical play as a free-flowing, high-scoring game developed.
The final score of 3-14 to 2-14 highlights the quality on show. There were key moments throughout the game but the decisive period came with just 10 minutes remaining with the sides level at 2-11 apiece. The Barr’s capitalised on two short kickouts to go four clear.
While it’s easy to point the finger of blame at Duhallow keeper Patrick Doyle, his eagerness to go short reflected the dominance the Barr’s were enjoying aerially. In Eoin Comyns and Ian Maguire, the Barr’s controlled the midfield battle right from the throw-in.
In the second replay last week the trio of Doyle and the Walsh cousins at midfield were crucial in overcoming Castlehaven’s aggressive press. Yesterday, however, there was no escaping the dominance of the Barr’s duo. In fact, for much of the second half, Kevin Crowley was marking Maguire at kickouts. A David versus Goliath battle, with a predictable outcome.
For a division of Duhallow’s riches not to have a third midfield option at their disposal is surprising. In total, 1-3 of the Barr’s tally came from Duhallow short kickouts going astray; a kickout in the first half was received inside the 21’ with the resulting hop ball finishing in a Barr’s score and a fumble from Doyle receiving a return pass flashed just over the bar in the second half.
Contrast Duhallow’s self-inflicted wounds from kickouts to the St Finbarr’s approach. From my memory, at no stage did Barr’s custodian John Kerins go short. In fact I don’t know if he even looked short for any kickout. And why would he? With the aforementioned midfield duo and their wing-forward outlet Denis O’Brien on top, the Barr’s gave themselves a platform to attack time and time again.
Wing-backs didn’t look short, instead positioning themselves on the 45 before attacking the breaks with intent.
The key strengths of the Barr’s is they are a physical, fit, hardworking team who attack at pace and in numbers.
The abundance of possession they garnered from kickouts allowed them to play the game at an intensity Duhallow just couldn’t handle. Similarities with Mayo spring to mind with the power of Maguire and Comyns ably assisted by speed merchants Colin Lyons, Colm Scully, and the Dennehys, Conor and Enda. Their running game produced two goals while Stephen Sherlock’s eight-point haul from frees is a reflection of just how difficult it is to stop their rampaging runs.
While their work ethic, intensity, and discipline as a collective are standout traits of their team, no player epitomises this more than captain Ian Maguire.
Maguire was a colossus throughout the game. His fielding caught the eye but his overall contribution was extraordinary. He was constantly the spark for attacks, breaking forward to create an overlap, but his aggression around the middle third was inspirational. Perhaps his greatest contribution was an excellent piece of defending in the closing minutes with little between the sides.
As Kevin Crowley cut in about 30 yards out expecting a near hand tackle, Maguire instead unexpectedly reached around the far side and punched the ball from the grasp of the Duhallow man, forcing a turnover. Fine margins but a big play at a key moment.
Rewind three weeks and it was a tour de force from Maguire that inspired the Barr’s’ second-half comeback against Carbery Rangers when the need was greatest. He is the Barr’s and Cork’s most important player and was man of the match for me by a country mile yesterday.
For Duhallow, things had started so brightly. Playing a nice, fluid brand of football they racked up 2-7 in the first half and were good value for their lead. On paper, the six Duhallow forwards are as good as you’ll find in the Cork championship. For whatever reason they just didn’t click yesterday. Perhaps the fourth weekend on the trot after a long year with club, division and in many cases Cork juniors, caught up with them.
Just as likely, however, is that the level of attention they received from the Barr’s rearguard was at a level they hadn’t experienced this year. That may seem strange given that of the Duhallow total of 2-14, 2-10 came from the starting six forwards (1-6 from play) but it was a game where you felt if even one more of their forwards produced to an expected level, they would have gotten over the line.
Their main problems were, as the scoreline would suggest, further back the field. The aforementioned midfield struggles allied to a porous defence was their undoing. As is often the case with less organised divisional sides, a somewhat selfish approach to man-marking can emerge.
The game was played in the traditional six backs versus six forwards formation which led to some fantastic individual battles. Against a powerful running team like the Barr’s, however, once a line is broken, all bets are off. This should immediately cause all defenders to leave their own men outside the danger zone, congest the middle channel and meet the more dangerous runners coming through.
To be fair to the Barr’s, and Michael Shields at centre-forward in particular, they looked a well-drilled team. Shields’ response to a Barr’s attack was to break to the wings freeing up the centre channel which the Barr’s exploited repeatedly.
The thought process in the build-up was if Duhallow kept Stephen Sherlock quiet, the Barr’s wouldn’t have the firepower to get sufficient scores. Credit to John McLoughlin for doing a fantastic man-marking job on Sherlock who only managed a goal from play.
This also highlights the improvements in the Blues’ game, winning without their talisman doing much damage from open play.
The Barr’s management and Ray Keane in particular must take tremendous credit for taking the Barr’s to the next level and getting over the line after last year’s heartbreak. Barr’s legendary former player and manager Tony Leahy can take huge credit and satisfaction for bringing Keane to Togher following their partnership at Cork IT.
This group of players owe a lot to Leahy and a county title is just reward for the elder statesman Shields, the injured Deccie Murphy, and Robbie O’Mahony, who fittingly ended the game with possession. To win yesterday missing regular keeper Murphy, their main man-marker Sam Ryan, and young forward Cillian Myers Murray is some achievement.
With their intermediates competing to the latter stages of championship and several successful minor and U21s teams in recent years, don’t be surprised to be hearing celebratory cries of “Allez les Blues” again in the near future.