PADDY HAYES was 19 when he first joined the St Finbarr’s senior football team in 1985.
The Barrs and Hayes did what he had been watching them doing all his young life – win a county title. The Barrs lost the Munster final that year to Castleisland Desmonds.
They lost the following year’s county final too to Imokilly but, since divisional teams couldn’t compete in the club championship, St Finbarr’s took Imokilly’s place and did what teams in the Barrs had become accustomed to – winning All-Ireland club titles. Hayes and three more of the county title winning team in 1985 had been minors the previous year.
They were all still only 20 when they won their All-Ireland club title. The good times was all that they knew. It was all the Barrs knew.
Those young players were surrounded by some great names. They all expected the good times to continue with the footballers. But they didn’t.
“I suppose when you win a county title in your first year, you half expect that it’s going to happen almost every year,” says Paddy Hayes now.
“It was easy for us to think that way. Sure how else could you think with the Barrs having won ten (five hurling and five football) county titles in the previous ten years?”
The hurlers won another couple of county titles after 1985 but the footballers didn’t.
Nemo Rangers were a factor during the late 1980s but even when Nemo were out of the way, the Barrs couldn’t get over the line.
They lost the 1989 final to Castlehaven by two points. The Barrs reached the following two county finals as well but were beaten by Duhallow on both occasions, by two points and one point respectively.
The 1991 final defeat was the most harrowing of all. The Barrs led by four points late on but they couldn’t close the game out.
The window was closing for the Barrs. They reached another county final in 1993 but Nemo whacked them by nine points.
That was an excellent Nemo team that went on to win the All-Ireland the following March but St Finbarr’s days of consistently reaching county finals were over. So was the Nemo-Barrs grip on Cork football.
When Hayes won All-Ireland senior medals with Cork in 1989 and 1990, half the squad of that time were made up of players from Nemo and the Barrs. Yet after Nemo’s county success in 1993, the next five county titles were won by clubs from the west, with the Divisional side Beara winning it in 1997.
Hayes’ last year as a senior club footballer was in 1996, when Clonakilty beat the Barrs in a semi-final, a last-minute goal providing the rapier thrust to Hayes and the Barrs’ spirit. Hayes returned as manager in 2001 and 2002, taking over from the late John Kerins, who passed away in 2001.
The Barrs reached the county semi-final that year but the match was re-fixed a few days after Kerins passed away, and Nemo beat them well.
When the sides met at the same stage again in 2002, Nemo won again but it took a cracking Colin Corkery late goal to edge a tight game. That was an average St Finbarr’s team. The club accepted that they had very little underage talent coming through so that is where they switched their focus.
The first fruits of that groundwork were evident in 2009 when the Barrs reached a first county final in 16 years but they were edged out by Clonakilty by one point. They returned to the final again a year later but Nemo had five points to spare.
The Barrs still had enough chances to win that game but Nemo’s experience, and know-how in finals, was decisive. That team didn’t return to that level as a group but the sustained underage work was paying huge dividends.
The Barrs began racking up county minor and U-21 titles. Now that they are finally back in another senior final, the club look ready to become a force again at senior level.
“There is a good feeling about this team in the Barrs at the moment,” says Hayes. “They have no baggage. With all their underage success, they are certainly not afraid of Nemo.”
Despite the huge tradition in the Barrs, the one box they have never ticked is beating Nemo in a county final. As well as trying to finally end a 32-year wait, finally beating Nemo on Sunday would add a huge sugar lump to the taste for the Barrs.
“The rivalry between Nemo and the Barrs is colossal,” says Hayes. “And yet some of my best friends are from Nemo.”
Proximity has always added to the intrigue but this final will be even more emotional for Hayes and so many people in the Barrs because Kevin McTiernan, the Barrs goalkeeper in the 2009 and 2010 county finals, a selector with the team last year, and one of Hayes’ best friends, is currently in Marymount Hospice in Cork.
“It would be fantastic if we won this game for Kevin,” says Hayes.
Nemo have felt the same pain because Kevin is a first cousin of the storied Kavanagh clan, with Larry Kavanagh training Nemo. There is always huge emotion and rivalry when Nemo and the Barrs meet but there is symmetry and historical analogies all over this fixture.
In 1976, St Finbarr’s won the first county football final played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, defeating St Michael’s by three points.
In the first county senior final to be played in the new Pairc, a victory, especially after a 32-year famine, would be the ideal way for the Barrs to rhyme a verse of their current history with their storied past.