Conor has the inside track on 'Barrs’ rivals in All-Ireland club semi-final

Next up for the new Munster champions are crack Down outfit Kilcoo who are the favourites to lift the title
Conor has the inside track on 'Barrs’ rivals in All-Ireland club semi-final

Conor McCrickard's knowledge of Down and Ulster champions Kilcoo will assist St Finbarr's in their All-Ireland club semi-final. ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo.

NEW Munster club football champions St Finbarr’s don’t have far to look for information on their All-Ireland semi-final opponents, Kilcoo, the weekend after next.

It just so happens that last summer’s addition of Down forward Conor McCrickard fits in timely because he can run the rule over the Ulster champions, who impressed in a 3-10 to 0-3 destruction of Fermanagh’s Derrygonnelly in the provincial final.

McCrickard joined the ’Barr’s from intermediate club Liatroim on moving to Cork as work placement in Stryker, the medical development company.

It’s part of his biomedical engineering degree at Ulster University and McCrickard is here until September.

Kilcoo are joint 8/11 favourites with Dublin’s Kilmacud Crokes to reach the pinnacle of the club season on February 12-13 with the ’Barr’s and Roscommon champions Padraig Pearses 7/1 outsiders.

The Cork side face a daunting task of trying to stop the Kilcoo juggernaut, marshalled by legendary figure Mickey Moran, who, 30 years ago, managed his native Derry to the All-Ireland title, when defeating Cork in the final.

It’s a major job of work for the ’Barr’s management led by Paul O’Keeffe, but they’ll be under little pressure and in many ways Kilcoo won’t have faced a quality outfit like the Munster champions so-far.

The ’Barr’s are basking in the warm afterglow of Sunday’s thrilling 2-9 to 1-10 win over a more fancied Austin Stacks in Thurles.

As is always the case, though, the Togher club don’t make life easy for themselves or those watching their every move.

They were handed a boost before throw-in with the availability of last season’s Cork U20 captain Brian Hayes, who contributed hugely, scoring 0-3, off either foot and a fisted effort, as well as making the goal after 20 seconds for Cillian Myers-Murray.

Yet, there was the worrying sight of seeing Hayes stretched out on the ground after only six minutes which worried all involved.

“Brian’s class and had a massive game for us, but I nearly had heart attack, when I saw him going down,” said O’Keeffe.

“I don’t know what happened. I went out to have a look and I couldn’t figure out what happened and neither could Brian.

“Thankfully, he was able to continue and that was critical because he was a big part of what we were planning.

“Brian gives us an extra dimension in that middle third of the pitch because he’s such a big man who is hard to stop.” 

Another heroic display came from defender Sam Ryan, who managed to break ball away from Kieran Donaghy despite the obvious difference in physique during crucial moments in the second-half.

The thinking pre-game was that Jamie Burns would pick up Donaghy, but the ’Barr’s management thought long and hard about it.

“The lads had faith in the defence all year and by bringing Jamie back to make Donaghy would have meant disrupting it.

“Sam had a fantastic second-half and did a brilliant job. It worked out very well.” The role of Michael Shields in the twin county and provincial victories was also important.

The former Cork captain was introduced after 48 minutes with his side just a point in front, having been six clear at the interval.

“My wife says any time she sees him warming up we must be in trouble because we’re bringing him on.

“Michael is there to steady the ship and he’s a warrior for us. You take your hat to him.

“He’s totally on board and will do whatever it takes for the team.

“He’s just a fantastic guy to have around the camp and there’s never an issue.

“If he starts, Michael is delighted. If he comes on, Michael is also delighted.

“Now, it might be a different matter if he doesn’t come on.” Stacks’ third-quarter dominance, hitting 0-5 without response, was another talking point, again.

“If I could figure it out it would take a lot of the pressure off us.

“We come out with massive intensity and give it all for 30 minutes and maybe they just need to take a break mentally.

“The problem is that it’s a collective break and not one or two which you wouldn’t mind.

“It’s the story of our season, bad starts, bad third quarters and nearly left all our opponents back into games,” O’Keeffe concluded.

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