AT the end of Sunday’s county senior football final, when Clonakilty were chasing an equalising point in a desperately difficult situation – with the clock against them and St Finbarr’s having pulled almost everybody behind the ball – Clon still looked more than equipped to land it.
Clon had been devastatingly efficient and economic throughout that second half. Their composure had been remarkable. When the Barrs had gone one point ahead with time up, Clon held their heads to work an excellent equaliser through Gearoid Barry.
Clon’s conversion rate in the second half had been off the charts, having nailed nine points from nine shots at the target. Clon looked capable of anything by then but Mark White’s late effort from distance with the outside of his boot was ultimately, just one final bridge too far.
By that stage, the drama was at fever pitch as a draw looked on the cards from midway through the second half.
It was almost fitting that Steven Sherlock landed the winning score deep in injury-time because he had been the best player in this year’s senior championship.
The story of Sherlock’s afternoon was almost an accurate reflection of the Barrs' performance, and how they eventually overcame so many of the barriers put in their path by an outstanding Clonakilty team display.
Limited to just three possessions in the first half, and one point from play, the Barrs were struggling to get their best forward on the ball. Sherlock was being well marshalled by Tom Clancy, as well as having Clon’s well-organised defence outside and around him.
Sherlock had kicked four placed balls wide, three from frees along with one mark, in that opening half. Some of those kicks were from long range but that was another indication of Clon’s discipline, and how hard they were making it for the Barrs to get through their cordon.
Yet Sherlock and the Barrs eventually found a way through.
Sherlock’s contribution from seven second-half possessions was massive; as well as scoring two crucial points, he was fouled for a converted free and had another assist. In a game of such tight margins, it was always going to take something that little bit extra to get over the line.
Ian Maguire’s contribution, especially after the break, was also central to the outcome, scoring two points and having an assist.
The impact of the Barrs bench was also decisive; Eoghan McGreevy provided the killer pass for Sherlock’s winner while Adam Lyne won the free which Sherlock nailed to put his side ahead on 60 minutes. Cillian Myers Murray also scored a crucial late point while Michael Shields provided the steady hand at the tiller around the middle when the Barrs desperately needed stability in those closing stages.
The match was largely played on Clon’s terms throughout but the pain of losing will be all the more acute again considering the two great goal chances they created in the first half but failed to take.
Given how well Clon were set up, how much they frustrated the Barrs, and how long it took the city side to break them down, putting significant daylight between the teams early on would have certainly put Clon in control of the match, and in a much greater position to dictate those terms even more.
The second goal chance was a shot from Joe Grimes when a slip-pass to Ross Mannix would have been a much higher-percentage option. A goal at that stage would also have been even more of a boost considering how that second quarter was the only period in the game when Clon were gasping for oxygen; they only created three chances in that quarter and didn’t take any.
The Barrs scored four points from four shots in that period but they were still struggling to establish any real rhythm in the match. Clon were never going to allow the game to be the open shootout the Barrs had played out against Castlehaven, putting incredible pressure on the Barrs in possession from the word go.
Yet it had to be that high considering Clon’s conversion rate was 90% in that second half.
The Barrs were also more efficient in possession, turning the ball over just 15 times in comparison to Clon turning it over on 26 occasions. Sixteen of those Clon turnovers came in the second half but the Barrs had ramped up the intensity by then and six of those were turnovers-in-possession from relentless Barrs tackling.
Clon though continued to secure possession off White’s restarts, with David Lowney constantly providing a superb outlet with the timing of his runs to space. Still, the Barrs also did well on their own kick-out in the second half, particularly when Clon would have expected to win more of the Barrs' long kick-outs into the breeze.
A draw probably would have been the fairest result, but it was almost fitting that the last game of the championship was in synch with so much of the action played out in this year’s senior championship, and how tight and closely fought so many of those games were, especially in the latter stages of the championship.
And Sunday’s final was absolutely faithful to that trend.