ANYONE leaving Coachford six weeks ago after the Barrs wrapped up qualifying from the group phase with a 1-12 to 1-5 victory over their west Cork rivals couldn’t possibly have predicted a repeat pairing in the final.
It wasn’t a game to savour or remember as the city club dictated matters in the second half with Clon struggling to keep pace on the scoreboard.
Yet, it’s a measure of the tangible improvement in their overall play that they’ve qualified on merit and history has shown how dangerous Clon can be in finals.
They revealed impressive levels of composure and self-belief in the manner in which they reeled in Duhallow in the quarter-finals and were better than their one-point semi-final victory over Douglas might suggest.
That 0-15 to 1-11 victory came at a price, though, because of the hamstring injury suffered by Cork defender Liam O’Donovan, who along with club and county colleague, Sean White, had a huge influence at wing-back, and he now has to sit this one out.
The pair raided successfully down either flank and how manager ‘Haulie’ O’Neill rejigs his half-back line will be interesting, especially as Clon are now denied a significant defensive cog, as well.
With Tom Clancy and Maurice Shanley helping to block incursions on Mark White’s goal, losing O’Donovan denies them a fourth inter-county player at the back.
There’s an intriguing midfield battle between Ian Maguire and Brian Hayes for the Barrs against Joe Grimes and Ben Ridgeway while Clon’s placing of regular defender David Lowney at centre-forward against Douglas worked out very well.
As did the switch of Sean McEvoy from his listed position on the wing to full-forward, where he helped himself to 0-4 from play, supplementing Dara Ó Sé’s half-dozen scores with Ross Mannix adding an important couple, too.
The Barrs are hot favourites to lift their 10th title and their second in three years after surviving close calls against Éire Óg in the quarter-final and Castlehaven in the semis.
Manager Paul O’Keeffe was a relieved man the final wasn’t played a week ago.
“Physically, some of the lads were in a cruel condition after it. We trained last Sunday morning and fellows were still not quite there,” he said during the week.
“I was amazed at how much it took out of some of our key players. It was a massive physical effort on the day, but they’ll be fine, fresh and ready to go.”
In the group game, Steven Sherlock finished top scorer with 1-3, his points stemming from frees, and Clon would be quite happy to restrict the championship’s top marksman on 3-34 to that figure again.
“His form has been simply outrageous this year, sensational really.
He kicked some unreal scores when we were three points down in extra time in the semi-final and showed real character.
“That’s a part of his game which he would have been criticised for at inter-county level, but he’s definitely matured as a player. Cork definitely have to have a look at him next year in that kind of form.”
The Barrs are a well-balanced side with just as much quality in reserve and if they play to form should win.
Jamie Burns and Colin Lyons are seasoned campaigners in defence and there’s scoring power in Hayes, Conor McCrickard and Cillian Myers-Murray.
But, it’s all about delivering on the big day and O’Keeffe and co are well aware of the challenges in breaking down Clon’s defensive approach especially if trying to play catch-up.
“You certainly don’t want to be doing that because they are very tight and it’s going to be very difficult to score against them. That’s the challenge in front of you.
“The bottom line is that you’ve got to produce it on the day."
It would be one of the great days to win a second title in quick succession, something the club hasn’t done since the 1980s.
“We have a very good team, but ‘deserves’ doesn’t enter into the equation in sport as I’ve found out since my involvement three years ago.”