IAN MAGUIRE produced one of the most memorable county final displays in the modern era to drag St Finbarr’s back from the brink yesterday.
Awesome in the air but also fast and furious when carrying the ball through the heart of the Nemo rearguard, Maguire’s tour de force saw the Barrs claw their way back from 0-8 to no score down in the first quarter and 0-12 to 0-5 early in the second half.
There were other noteworthy performers for the Blues. Colin Lyons brought the house down with a couple of monster points from wing-back. Stephen Sherlock recovered from a shaky first half to lob over two gems from play in the closing stages.
Michael Shields hoovered up dirty ball and hemmed Nemo’s impressive half-back line in. Sam Ryan’s vital tackle on Ciarán Dalton after 56 minutes stopped a certain Nemo score, perhaps even a goal, when the Barrs were two down.
Yet this was the Ian Maguire show.
Make no mistake, if it wasn’t for the captain’s all-action effort from midfield, the long wait to bring the Andy Scannell Cup back to Togher would be dragging into a 33rd year.
It might yet of course, because Nemo were at their flamboyant best in the first half as their measured kick-passing, selfless running and pure skill made the most of the vast expanses of the Páirc. Luke Connolly was their MVP throughout, with 0-3 from play and four assists as well as being fouled for one of his frees.
No one else was quite as menacing in the Rangers attack but they were as balanced as you’d expect from a club with their depth. Barry O’Driscoll, despite being restricted by injury, Cavan native Paddy Gumley, and Colin ‘Tucker’ O’Brien clipped two from play apiece. Dalton and Paul Kerrigan nabbed 0-1 each, as did midfielders Alan O’Donovan and Jack Horgan.
Most of their 10 first-half points involved a kick-pass for the assist, with Tomás Ó Sé showing his nous in that regard, along with the Cronins, Stephen and Alan. Defensively they had the measure of the Barrs initially, with Alan Cronin hounding Robert O’Mahony, Aidan O’Reilly forcing Sherlock to shoot under pressure, and Cian McWhinny always on Cillian Myers Murray’s heels.
Of the Barrs’ vaunted attack only Myers Murray scored from play in the opening period, with seven efforts between the full-forward line wide, short or blocked. The underdogs’ work-rate and intensity, in general, was well below the levels they brought to their wins over Ballincollig and Carbery Rangers in the initial exchanges.
Their selectors had rejigged the defence to man-mark Nemo’s household names, but there was too much space between the half- and full-backs. And the front six weren’t setting the tone.
The most significant shift came in midfield. With Maguire, aided by Eoin Comyns who got to the pitch of the contest towards the end of the first half, dominant in the air and the middle eight swarming, the Barrs got a grip on possession.
It took Nemo until the 43rd minute, through Jack Horgan, to win their first kick-out of the second half, while their opponents collected nine more kick-outs overall. The favourites were just that bit more economical with the ball, though Kerrigan was left to rue his two wides in the last quarter, and Connolly had a wild shot when points were at a premium.
No one really looked like raising the green flag that would have been decisive, though Dalton did have Gumley to his right when Ryan flicked the ball loose. On a couple of occasions, Sherlock and Robert O’Mahony were on the brink of turning and driving goalward but Nemo’s experience told in keeping them at bay.
That may well have been a reason for the Barrs’ sluggish start given Nemo were chasing their second county in three years and you’d imagine they’ve more room to improve in the replay. Larry Kavanagh’s charges will feel they’ll be able to get a handle on the middle third and the kick-outs next weekend.
Vital too will be quietening the Barrs’ support by pressing the Blues further up the pitch. Nemo sat too deep in the second half and, roared on by their fans, St Finbarr’s gathered significant momentum.
Overall the Barrs refused to lose, despite their great rivals taking control from the off and threatening to blitz them. Yet one of the most entertaining county finals in a while will only be cherished if they seal the deal next Sunday.
Nemo don't do sentiment, which is why they've such a full trophy cabinet and it would be naive to assume they won't have learned a bit from this. Remember too, they delivered in a county final replay in 2015.