WHEN St Finbarr’s met Dr Crokes in the Munster club championship in 2018, the Kerry side scored nine points from 10 attacks in just 14 minutes.
A goal from Eoin McGreevey in the 21st minute reduced the deficit to three points, but Crokes’ response was firm and deadly. Crokes won five out of six Barrs' kick-outs in a handful of minutes, with Crokes’ second goal coming off one of those Barrs restarts.
Crokes ended with 5-20, all from play, from 28 shots. An 89% conversion rate from play in atrocious conditions further underlined the quality of a performance that was so impressive that Crokes could afford to leave Colm Cooper on the bench for over 40 minutes.
The Barrs' inexperience was obvious once the Kerry side got a run on them, but the task was all the harder given Crokes’ history at home: In the previous seven Munster championship matches that Crokes had played at their Lewis Road home during the decade, they had won by an aggregate of 72 points.
The win ensured Crokes’ progression to a third successive provincial final, and a seventh in the decade.
Nemo Rangers will always be the kings of Munster club football, with 16 titles, but Crokes confirmed their status as the province’s modern superpower two weeks after that destruction of the Barrs by winning a fifth provincial title in the decade.
The Barrs are still third in the Munster roll of honour, with four titles, but their last title was in 1986 and that meeting with Crokes three years ago was their first sojourn into the province since 1991.
That year, they also met Crokes in the semi-final, which the Killarney outfit won by one point in Ballincollig.
Crokes went on to win successive Munster titles in 1991 and 1992, but Cork clubs emphatically wrestled back the grip they’d always had on the Munster club by winning eight of the next 11 provincial crowns.
That run was all the more impressive because it wasn’t just Nemo who were gobbling up titles: O’Donovan Rossa, Castlehaven, and UCC (albeit with a Kerry-dominated team) had also got in on the act by the end of the decade.
Nemo continued to thrive in Munster, but one of the most incredible stats in the Munster club championship over the last two decades is the poor record of Cork clubs when Nemo weren’t involved.
That hasn’t just extended to a lack of success, because Cork clubs have struggled to even make an impact in the province: Outside of Nemo, UCC, in 2011, and Castlehaven, in 2012, were the only two clubs to reach finals, both of whom were well beaten by Crokes.
Cork clubs can’t just use Crokes’ dominance in that period as an excuse for their lack of competitiveness; in the last 21 years, Clare clubs have contested seven finals, Waterford clubs have appeared in five deciders, while a Tipperary club (Clonmel Commercials) and a Limerick side (Dromcollogher-Broadford) both won provincial titles.
Those two clubs didn’t just get a lucky break, either, because they both beat Nemo en route to those wins.
In another way, the success of Clonmel and Dromcollogher mirrors the Cork’s clubs struggles.
Both were experienced sides that had won multiple county titles, whereas the majority of teams that represented Cork over the last two decades (outside of Nemo) were first-time winners (Ballincollig and Carbery Rangers) or were ending a hiatus that extended to a decade or more (St Finbarr’s, Clonakilty, and UCC).
Castlehaven have a proven track record in Munster, with titles in 1989, 1994, and 1997, but they were beaten by Kerry opposition — an Ghaeltacht and Crokes — in the province in 2003, 2012, and 2013.
They were serious sides, but the closest Castlehaven got to them in those games was six points.
When Carbery won the 1994 title, Bishopstown represented Cork in Munster, but they were beaten by Waterford’s Stradbally.
In both hurling and football, the team that loses the county final to a divisional side has never provided a profitable return in Munster, but there have been a few exceptions, most notably the Barrs.
After losing the 1986 county final to Imokilly, St Finbarr’s took Imokilly’s place and did what their teams had become accustomed to at that time: Winning All-Ireland club titles.
Yet that 1987 All-Ireland-winning team was loaded with experience, having contested the two previous Munster finals, which they’d lost to Castleisland Desmonds.
When the Barrs competed in Munster in 2018, the team clearly lacked that worldliness of their predecessors. Losing by 21 points was a chastening experience, but the Barrs head into this year’s campaign with far more knowledge of what it takes now.
Two county titles in four seasons will also give them the confidence to attack Munster that they would have lacked in 2018.
“It (Munster) is something we would have talked about quietly in the background, but we had to get over this first,” said Dr Paul O’Keeffe after the county final. "But we’d be dead keen on giving it a right rattle.”
They face Éire Óg, Ennis, on Sunday, a good side who took down Loughmore-Castleiney after extra-time.
The Barrs won’t be looking beyond that challenge, but given their huge tradition in the competition, the Barrs will firmly believe that it’s time for a club other than Nemo to put Cork club football firmly back on the provincial map.