O'Connor hoping to build on St. Finbarr's proud tradition
By John Harrington
When you’re a footballer for St. Finbarr’s in Cork, there’s no escaping the club’s history.
They’re rightly proud of it too, because for a spell in the 1980s they were the best team in the country, winning three All-Irelands and producing legends of the game like Jimmy Barry Murphy, Dave Barry, and John Kerins.
Going 32 seasons without a Cork SFC from 1986 to 2017 did little to erode the club’s own sense of tradition, which is why expectation has gone hand in hand with a recent return to prominence that has seen them win two county championships in four years.
So, even though Sunday’s AIB Munster Club SFC Final against Kerry champions Austin Stacks is their first time to grace a provincial showpiece since 1986, they’ll feel quite at home on the big stage.
Current team-member, Alan O’Connor, is very much aware that the club’s tradition demands a big performance in a match of this magnitude.
“It's certainly something that you can't overlook,” he says. “You can't walk into the Barrs without seeing some sort of Barrs legend, who's had massive club success and Cork success as well, so I think you can't help but kind of think about it.
“One of the things we're always conscious of as well is that when we won it in 2018, there was a 33-year gap between when we had last won the county final, to my knowledge we had only one player on our panel that was actually alive then, Robbie O'Mahony.
“But we'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 and we want to push on and be history-makers in our own right.
“So, look, the club history definitely does factor in but we try and internalise that focus and focus on one game at a time, this is another step in a long-term plan.
“I don't think there's anyone in our panel, including our management, who don't think we're not capable of going out there and putting in a good performance and giving a good account of ourselves.
“It's not to under-estimate Stacks, they're a very strong team. Look all we can do really is focus on the messages that we're going with, which is we'll work hard and we'll give a good account of ourselves and we'll hopefully come away on the day with a win.”
O’Connor is well aware of the qualities that Austin Stacks will bring to the contest because the two teams played one another in a challenge match last year.
“The impression we got from them is that they're a very good running side,” he said. “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 then break fast. They're a very, very strong side.
“When we played them that day I think they were probably at half-strength and I know we were as well so it's very hard to read into a challenge game where both teams don't have a full outfit. We had quite a lot of injuries and I think so did they.
“It's very hard to get an impression from that but we know that they're a very good side. 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.”
A tightly padlocked defence was arguably the main reason that Austin Stacks won a Kerry championship this year, but St. Finbarr’s will hope that in Steven Sherlock they have the key to opening it up.
He scored 2-27 in the three knock-out matches in the Cork SFC and was recalled to the Cork panel on the strength of such red-hot form.
“Steven has always produced scores,” says O’Connor. “You need look no further really than the last three or four years. He's probably been the top scorer in the Championship. He's always produced scores for us and he never shies away from the occasion, he never shies away from taking the shot.
“I think maybe this year he has continued to improve year on year and this year one of the things I would say is that he's a great reader of the game and his movement inside...I mark him in training and it's very difficult to mark a fella who makes the right movement all the time and can split the uprights from anywhere.
“His work-rate this year has been second to none. If you look at that score he got in the Munster semi-final, chased a fella down from 60 yards behind him, dispossessed him himself, got his handpass, and then ran 30/40 yards and put the ball back over the bar.
“If you have a forward who can make the right movement, kick 2-10 in the county semi-final, and can actually work hard and dispossess fellas, you're going the right way and he certainly warranted his call into the Cork set-up.”