Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE St Finbarr's player Alan O'Connor.
# Munster Showdown
The rich history of the Barrs, Cork hurling and Down football additions, and facing Kerry champs
St Finbarr’s defender Alan O’Connor is gearing up for Sunday’s AIB Munster senior club football final.

IT’S WELL OVER three decades now since they soared high in the Munster and All-Ireland arenas, but the passing of time has not diluted St Finbarr’s standing in the club game.

A rich tradition means their name continues to evoke memories of that golden past, with four provincial and three national club football titles accumulated between 1979 and 1987.

They packed in plenty hurling exploits as well in that time frame but the subsequent barren spell increases the significance of their participation in next Sunday’s Munster final, a first such outing since 1986.

“It’s certainly something that you can’t overlook,” agrees St Finbarr’s defender Alan O’Connor.

“You can’t walk into the Barrs without seeing some sort of Barrs legend. We’re always conscious fellas who have worn the Barrs crest have gone on and won Munster clubs and All-Ireland clubs and represented Cork to a very high level.

“One of the things we’re also conscious of as well is that when we won it (Cork senior title) in 2018, there was a 33-year gap between when we had last won the county final, (and) to my knowledge we had only one player on our panel that was actually alive then, Robbie O’Mahony.

WWe’re kind of playing for fellas as well who have come before us, who haven’t had the chance to win that. You look at the history of the club, we want to be part of that proud history.”

When they moved outside of their county borders in 2018, they received a harsh lesson when exposed to a higher level. Dr Crokes put 5-20 on them and had a hefty winning margin of 21 points.

Returning to Munster combat before Christmas provided a chance to make partial amends and taking care of Éire Óg Ennis leaves them in a healthy state before Sunday’s final.

“I remember I was chatting to one of long-standing club men Liam Hodnett (after the 2017 county final), he was involved in the football section for years, he’s a great club man.

“He said, ‘Look lads in my experience, you have to lose one to win one. I know the next time ye’re in it, ye won’t lose one.’

“We followed it up then with 2018 county final win. When we went out against Crokes, we under-performed and certainly didn’t give as good an account of ourselves as we probably should have. There’s a lot of us that were involved in that game, we’re looking to kind of right those wrongs.

“One of the things Paul O’Keeffe (St Finbarr’s manager) says quite a bit, good teams will win a county, great teams will win more than one.

“That’s something we’ve been able to show ourselves now that it wasn’t luck.”

St Finbarr’s have remodelled their team since 2018 and most strikingly during this campaign. When they began their group games in Cork last September, neither Billy Hennessy or Conor McCrickard were in action.

conor-mccrickard James Crombie / INPHO St Finbarr's Conor McCrickard. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The former was part of Kieran Kingston’s Cork senior hurling squad last summer, the latter part of Paddy Tally’s Down senior football squad. They have provided an injection of impetus into their respective defensive and offensive sectors.

“From Conor’s perspective he came down and was training with us,” says O’Connor.

“In the initial stages (he) wasn’t sure whether or not he was going to be with us or commute up and down to his club team. We’re very very thankful that he chose to play with us because since he’s come in, he’s been absolutely unbelievable for us. He’s an excellent scorer and always an option inside. Even beyond that, he’s a great man to have in the dressing-room. He doesn’t talk a lot but when he does, he makes a lot of sense and has a good eye for the game.

“With Billy, he’s not necessarily new to us because Billy has come in from the hurling side a few times in the past and we know what Billy is capable of. He’ll always bring a physical game, he’ll advance the ball, he has a great eye for football. You can see yourself the talent that he brings to the team as well. He’s a very good man-marker and communicator in the backs as well. He’s not someone you’re afraid to slot into the big occasion because you know he’s going to rise to it.”

Away from the pitch, O’Connor immerses himself in other aspects of the club life. He works both as an occupational therapist in a psychiatric intensive care unit and a physio, while also operating in the mental health services. That prompted him to get involved in the GAA’s Healthy Club Project for St Finbarr’s.

“A few years ago I got involved because one of the things I was quite passionate about was sport inclusion. So with the Healthy Club what we did was we ran an inclusive underage training for children with mixed abilities who maybe weren’t comfortable or felt they weren’t capable of playing with the mainstream underage section.

“We had a lot of kids come in for about eight to ten weeks getting hurling and football training. It was a fantastic thing to be a part of, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done to be honest. It was something I was very passionate about.”

Collecting a first Munster medal is now his aim but Austin Stacks provide a sizeable challenge to be side-stepped.

“The impression we got from them is that they’re a very good running side. They break very hard from the back and are very good at working the ball up. they don’t make any stupid decisions and they create a pressure situation to try to come up with turnovers and break fast.

“Kieran Donaghy gets the headlines given his history with Kerry and stuff like that, but a lot of their threat is from out the field. When they run it from deep is where they get their scores so we just have to be mindful of that.

“We know that we’re going to have a battle on our hands and we know that we’re going to have to work very, very hard to win this game.”

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