HIGH fitness levels have helped St Finbarr’s reach another county football final, according to captain Ian Maguire.
The 2018 champions take on Clonakilty in the Bon Secours Premier Senior Football decider at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the scene of their epic semi-final win over Castlehaven, Sunday, at 3pm.
And Maguire paid tribute to Brian Roche and his predecessor Kevin Healy for their important Strength and Conditioning contributions.
“Brian is brilliant at what he does, having developed a huge reputation with Sars [in that role and later as manager],” he said.
“We had Kevin, who left for family reasons, before Brian and he was also very important. When Brian came in we were essentially in lockdown and modified his training around that.
“We’re a club with dual demands especially coming into the championships, but we finished all our games strongly and that’s a testament to his S&C skills.
“We were down to 14 men against Éire Óg, but we were still driving on, and we finished well, too, in extra-time against the Haven.
“It’s very reassuring to know that you’ve got that conditioning in you and there’s a mental side to that, as well.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Brian, who has been a bit of fresh air around the place.”
After the euphoria of that nail-biting 5-4 penalty shoot-out semi-final win came the fall-out in terms of the toll it took on the players.
It wasn’t until the following Thursday that we felt we could train properly. It was a huge physical exertion with extra time and penalties, but there was a mental aspect to it, too.
“You couldn’t ignore the history between ourselves and the Haven, who had our number from 2010 onwards.
“We felt we righted a wrong in a way from the previous year, when we were left very frustrated by the loss.”
Allied to their impressive conditioning is the experience gained from the thrilling 2018 final win over Duhallow.
“I believe that’s been a factor this year. As a group we’ve been together since 2016, winning and losing games.
“Since last year’s loss to the Haven, we said we needed to manage games a bit better and while we’ve been inconsistent at times, we’re finishing games well.
“It also goes back to management and our own self-awareness, learning from the experiences of county finals in 2017 and 2018.
“Patience and composure are the keywords for us going into the final tomorrow.”
It will be their third meeting in as many months, the Barrs winning the league final, which yielded seven goals, and the last group game, when both had already qualified.
Maguire, though, is paying no attention to either of those games and is mindful of the threat posed by Clon.
“To be fair to their manager ‘Haulie’ O’Neill and Clon, they are a different animal this year and we would have been keeping a close eye on them.
“The league final was a write-off in a way because Clon had junior hurling the night before and Cork had been knocked out of the championship.
“It was one of those games that turned into a shoot-out, but we knew it would be very different in the championship, when Clon set up very defensively.
“They were also coping with injuries [including Cork senior Liam O'Donovan] so they’ve a lot of resilience in the camp and clearly they’re building on results, too.
“I think the scoreline flattered us in the second game in what was a very physical game.” As in 2099, the Barrs are hot favourites, but Maguire shrugs off any relevance to tomorrow’s outcome.
“There are no favourites in finals. You have to perform and sometimes finals are all about just hanging in there.
The biggest think that I’d take from Clon is that they stuck to their plan, when six down against Duhallow, and it shows the level of belief in the group.
“Belief is a big thing in championship football so they have that and a structure, as well, and we’re expecting a huge challenge.
“They’re going to bring a big crowd and they’ll play with huge energy in addition to having players like Sean White, Maurice Shanley and Mark White, all inter-county players. We know what they’re building and there’s also the element of 2009 with a few players still involved.”