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St Finbarr's manager Paul O'Keeffe has worked with the legendary Billy Morgan during successful UCC Sigerson Cup campaigns.
St Finbarr's manager Paul O'Keeffe has worked with the legendary Billy Morgan during successful UCC Sigerson Cup campaigns.

Old rivals Barrs and Nemo clash again

By Cian O'Connell

It remains one of the great GAA rivalries: St Finbarr’s versus Nemo Rangers. The Barrs and Nemo. An edge will always exist, but the respect runs deep.

Whoever prevails under the Saturday night Páirc Uí Rinn lights will have earned their passage into the penultimate round of the Cork Senior Football Championship.

That the two city clubs contested the 2017 and 2018 County deciders merely adds another layer of intrigue.

There is never any shortage of subplots, but the fact that Barrs manager, Paul O’Keefe, has soldiered so long with the ultimate Nemo figure, Billy Morgan, on the UCC Sigerson Cup beat provides another talking point.

O’Keeffe is grateful to Morgan for supplying so much guidance and stresses the manner in which club and county allegiances are forgotten in UCC.

“Absolutely, if you can't learn from Billy there is something wrong with you,” O’Keeffe says. “He is just phenomenal, you'd just learn by seeing the way he operates. He has been a brilliant influence on UCC.

“You park all those rivalries. UCC has that, almost like a club feel to it. I think that is what works in our favour. You try to get fellas to buy into that club attitude from the word go that is there in UCC. It has served us well over the last 10 years.

“With Billy at the helm, he is just brilliant. Then you have guys like Kevin Murray doing strength and conditioning and coaching in the background. Brilliant coach as well, you are learning from these guys watching them, it is a really positive environment to be involved in.”

Indeed O’Keeffe has already managed a UCC outfit to Cork Championship glory in 2011. “I had a break for a year or two when I was working in Qatar in the Gulf,” O’Keeffe states.

Paul O'Keeffe managed UCC to Cork Championship glory in 2011.
Paul O'Keeffe managed UCC to Cork Championship glory in 2011.

“I've been involved in Sigerson with Billy Morgan, I learned my trade with Billy. That was over the last 10 years. The stars aligned in 2011. We had a lot of Kerry players playing on the day and a good few Cork fellas too.

“We just had a very good team and the luck of the draw in terms of games falling at the right time of the year when you had players available. It was a phenomenal experience to be involved with College.

“Being involved with it is fantastic in terms of there being no politics. You have six or seven fellas involved. The UCC GAA Development Officer John Grainger, Dr Con (Murphy), these kind of fellas. It is just a fantastic environment there, it is really enjoyable. I love being involved with the College.”

Still O’Keeffe will always place considerable value on the sporting education received in Togher with the Barrs. The childhood memories were about watching successful teams be stitched together.

“They were incredible,” O’Keeffe recalls. “I've often said it to fellas, when you were in primary school you used to get a half day if the Barrs won.

“At the time the banker was you'd get a half day for the Barrs winning a county and for Cork winning the hurling. As a seven or eight year old you'd be thinking you'd definitely get a half day for this.

“Almost at that level it was like a foregone conclusion looking at it through a child's eyes. They were just that successful, they came within a hair's breath of winning the All Ireland club hurling and football in the same year. That would be unheard of now nearly.

“They were phenomenal teams, you'd still see John Cremin, Christy Ryan, these fellas around the place, who were involved in those teams. It was just an incredible era for the Barrs.

“That is what I grew up with in terms of looking at all of these great teams. I played senior football towards the end of that era, from 1989 onwards. We had no success, I suppose, we came very close.”

St Finbarr's won the 2018 Cork Senior Football Championship.
St Finbarr's won the 2018 Cork Senior Football Championship.

O’Keeffe acknowledges that it hurt not to secure the piece of silverware which is so craved by the Barrs during his own playing career.

“I came on the panel in 1989, we lost then, we lost the double in 1990, we lost 1991, and 1993, and then two semi-finals after that,” O’Keeffe reflects.

“We were done and dusted. You always felt you were in with a chance, but it never materialised. It is amazing that it took us 30 odd years to come back to finally get the monkey off the back so to speak. It was incredible.”

O’Keeffe acted as doctor for the victorious 2018 outfit and was delighted to succeed Ray Keane. “It was far too long as far as we were concerned in terms of getting us back, but there is a really good team there at the moment,” O’Keeffe comments.

“I suppose the ambition getting involved would be the fact that you just see that there is really good potential there.”

Next on the agenda, though, is an eagerly anticipated knockout encounter against long time foes, Nemo. Now both are established as serious contenders which has been the case for the past number of years.

“That is a fair comment, we will see where we are at against them next Saturday,” O’Keeffe replies. “That is going to be a great battle. The thing about rivalry is that you want your rivals to be strong to make it worthwhile.

“I think we are in for a fierce battle because there is bragging rights at the end of the day. Nemo have been the gold standard in Cork.

“For the past 30 years while we have been down they have been flying the flag for Cork football, to be fair to them. We are really looking forward to next weekend, to pit ourselves against Nemo, and to renew that old rivalry.” Barrs and Nemo always counts in Cork.

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