St Finbarr's v Austin Stacks: Patience will be key for Barrs in Thurles

Kerry outfit will look to frustrate Ian Maguire and Steven Sherlock in provincial decider on Sunday
St Finbarr's v Austin Stacks: Patience will be key for Barrs in Thurles

St Finbarr's Conor McCrickard celebrates his goal against Éire Óg in the AIB Munster SFC semi-final at Páirc Uí Rinn. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

SUNDAY: Munster club football final: St Finbarr’s v Austin Stacks, Thurles, 1.45pm.

ONE curious aspect of the teams’ progress to the provincial final is that both required penalty shoot-out victories in their respective county semi-finals.

The Barrs avenged the previous season’s loss to Castlehaven at the same stage and in the same manner, holding their nerve in a nerve-tingling 5-4 victory after the rivals couldn’t be separated at 3-16 apiece at the end of extra-time.

Stacks overcame similar issues when defeating divisional side St Brendan’s 5-3 on kicks following a 2-9 to 1-12 draw after extra-time.

The shoot-out supplied heroes in Barrs keeper John Kerins, who pulled off a brilliant save, and Kieran Donaghy for his cool finish to send the Tralee side to the final.

Could there be a repeat? There has to be a winner on the day with extra-time and penalties on the clár should they be required.

It’s their first final Munster since 1976 when Stacks won by 1-7 to 0-8, and they added a second title in 2014 after overcoming first-time Cork champions Ballincollig en route to defeating The Nire by 3-5 to 2-4 in the final at Pairc Ui Rinn.

The Barrs have four titles to their credit between 1979 and 1986, when getting the better of Kilrossanty in their last triumph Since then the Blues have only made one other appearance in the provincial championship and that was a chastening experience against the all-conquering Dr Croke’s in 2018.

Stacks are the bookies' favourites to progress to the All-Ireland club semi-final against the Ulster champions, either Down’s Kilcoo or Fermanagh’s Derrygonnelly who also meet this weekend.

The Kerry champions’ last appearance at this stage ended with defeat by Derry’s Slaughtneil.

And while the smart money may be on Stacks to collect the honours, it really is a wide-open affair and a Barrs victory wouldn’t come as a major surprise.

They’ve developed a wealth of experience in the county championship in recent years, suffering the heartbreak of final replay defeats before bouncing back to claim two titles.

Their 2021 success reflected their evolving maturity, winning all three games in the group phase against Ballincollig, Ilen Rovers, and Clonakilty before taking debutants Éire Óg by seven points despite a man down for the closing quarter.

But, it was the manner in which they somehow managed to keep their composure against the Haven, notably in extra-time, when the Togher club’s ambitions looked to be doomed until Steven Sherlock came to the rescue, that impressed most of all.

The final itself, in a repeat of the Clon qualifying game, was another test of their character as the Barrs just about coped with the West Cork club’s defensive approach.

It’s that experience and knowledge of how to deal with blanket defences that will determine the Barrs fate because Stacks adopt a similar pattern of play, withdrawing chunks of players behind the ball before counter-attacking at pace.

Brendan O'Sullivan hits the net for Austin Stacks. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Brendan O'Sullivan hits the net for Austin Stacks. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It’s been evident throughout the latter stages of their campaign, the Kerry final against neighbours Kerins O’Rahillys, winning their 13th county by 0-13 to 0-10 and more recently against Newcastle West in the Munster semi-final.

They frustrated the Limerick champions with their smash and grab style, surging 0-9 to 0-1 clear at the break and ending any doubts about the outcome with a 42nd-minute goal.

This reflected in a nutshell how Stacks rip teams apart as Colin Griffin, Joe O’Connor, and Sean Quilter played roles in teeing up Brendan O’Sullivan for a tap-in goal.

The Barrs, though, have the ammunition to cause difficulties for captain Dylan Casey, Conor Jordan, and company in the Stacks defence, especially if Sherlock, Conor McCrickard, and Cillian Myers-Murray hit form.

There’s an intriguing battle as ever around the middle of the pitch where Barrs captain Ian Maguire is a huge influence for the Cork champions up against Greg Horan.

St Finbarr's Ian Maguire. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
St Finbarr's Ian Maguire. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

For their part, the Barrs had a tougher semi-final against Éire Óg, Ennis, winning by 2-14 to 0-12, the goals courtesy of McCrickard’s opportunism as well as Sherlock’s quick thinking.

That said, the defence has to contend with the obvious aerial threat of Donaghy, the speed of Michael O’Gara and Darragh O’Brien’s accuracy from placed balls.

It has all the ingredients of being a fascinating final between the respective champions.

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