NEW St Finbarr’s manager Paul O’Keeffe knows all about winning county titles because he was at the helm in UCC’s 2011 triumph over Castlehaven.
He takes over from Ray Keane, who guided the Barr’s to a first title in 33 years with victory over Duhallow last season.
The Togher club make their first title defence against Clyda Rovers at Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday evening at 5.45pm and are showing impressive league form.
O’Keeffe required no encouragement in going for the role. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I tried a few times in the past but with club politics it didn’t work out.
“I’ve been involved with College for years and it’s a life ambition for me to be the Barrs' senior football manager. It’s worked out nicely for me,” he said.
Jim O’Donoghue, Ian Keeler and Eric Barrett are part of the management set-up, bringing with them a wealth of knowledge and experience.
“They’ve been involved with the club for a long time in various roles and they’ve a very good handle on the players we have.
“I had a good idea myself because I was going to the Barrs games all my life though I was away for a couple of years working as a doctor in Qatar, so I probably had a bit of a blind spot for the talent coming through.”
In some quarters there was some surprise that Keane stepped down, but he’d been involved for a good few years with Tony Leahy, though he exited with mission accomplished.
“Ray hasn’t set the bar half-high enough by winning the county last season. You couldn’t speak highly enough of him, bringing the county back to the Barrs after so long a time. It was a phenomenal achievement.
“There’s still a lot of potential in the side, though a good side passes quickly so my philosophy is that you must squeeze as much as you can from it. It’s vital to attract youngsters to the club.
“You’re competing with soccer and rugby and other different sports and inter-county teams in football and hurling haven’t achieved as highly as we’d like in the past 10 years which makes it even harder at underage level.”
O’Keeffe’s been involved with the Sigerson Cup for over a decade and picking up gems from the best in Billy Morgan, whose influence clearly has rubbed off.
“If you can’t learn from Billy you’re in the wrong business. Billy is excellent at man management, especially his honesty with players which is fantastic.
“Hopefully I can translate that into the Barrs situation though Nemo may not want to hear that.
“You have to be honest with players and I think they respect it. There are times when you’re picking teams that there’s only a toss of a coin between players and I find that more difficult than talking to a player who’s not doing as well as he should be. All you can do is give your honest opinion.”
The Barrs will be strong favourites against Clyda. The new boss detects a strong desire from the players to follow up the 2018 breakthrough season.
“It’s a long season and while hunger is hard to define I think it’s still there. I get that feeling off the players that they want more success.
“The attitude is good, but you won’t know until we get to the business end whether the hunger is there or not.
“It’s a quality hard to define because you might think you’re going ok and the attitude is good but you won’t really know. We have good leaders.
“I was in the background a bit as the team medic and you could see the drive in the lads, their togetherness and that will to win. It was special and great to see.
“As a player I was involved in teams with more than a fair share of losing county finals despite playing with great Barrs teams and seeing great Barrs teams over the last 30 years.
“The championship is two-phased. You get over the first round and see what the summer brings. The focus is to win because if you lose you don’t know when you’re out again.”