The first two years of the group-stage format in the Co-op SuperStores Cork Premier SHC had proven frustrating for St Finbarr’s and the draw for 2022 was not a pleasant one.
With Sarsfields, Blackrock and Charleville for company, qualifying for the knockout stages for the first time seemed a tall order but the Barrs were the only one of the four sides to stay unbeaten, Manager Ger Cunningham was naturally pleased with how a 4-19 to 0-19 win over Sars on Sunday secured top spot.
“I’m absolutely delighted,” he said.
“At the start of the year, we set our stall out – we knew that it was a very tough group and that we hadn’t come out of the group stages since the format came in.
“One of our ambitions is to be playing at the very top level, so coming out of the group was our aim. We’ve done that, we’ve beaten Blackrock and beaten Sars, so we’re delighted with that.
“We played really well and a couple of moves we made paid off as well. It’s great to beat a very good Sars team, so we’re thrilled.”
The Togher side struck for two goals in the opening four minutes and led by 3-5 to 0-11 at half-time. Was the tactic to try to go for the jugular?
“I wouldn’t say it was an aim,” Cunninhgam said, “but these guys are good players – if the opportunity is created, you go for the goals if you can.
“If it’s on, it’s on and they’ll get no criticism if it doesn’t come off. It’s old saying, goals win matches, and it put us in a good situation. We only scored eight times in the first half and three of them were goals but still, massively important in the context of the game.
“At half-time, we told them to keep doing what they were doing and that if the goal chances came in the second half, to go for it.
“We felt obviously that Sars were going to come at us because it was a knockout match, with no second chances. We were expecting an impact from them but obviously we kept three, four, five points ahead and then, when the fourth goal came, it gave us that bit of a cushion.”
Next up for the Barrs is a quarter-final clash with Douglas as Cunningham hopes they can build on their momentum.
“We’ve been building,” he said.
“It’s a difficult situation, as you know, with the split-season and trying to get time with players.
“We had a lot of players involved with inter-county teams and playing football, so it’s difficult to get them together.
“In the last few weeks, it’s beginning to come together as we’ve been able to have a bit of time with them. This is a challenging situation as you’re playing week on week and our footballers must go out now next weekend, so it’s very tough on all of the lads playing football as well.
“We’ll enjoy this, review it and see where we go. We’ve football next week and then we’ll start focusing on Douglas.”