Barrs playing with confidence but Castlehaven will push them to the limit... again

County champions are ready for their West Cork opponents in a semi-final three-peat
Barrs playing with confidence but Castlehaven will push them to the limit... again

St Finbarr's Ian Maguire and Paul O'Keeffe at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

FAIR to say that St Finbarr’s and Castlehaven know one another well, maybe too well, heading into their third Cork PSFC county semi-final in as many years.

Páirc Uí Rinn, October 2020. The Haven versus the Barrs. Patrick Mulcahy’s iconic commentary and a Cork PSFC county semi-final for the ages.

Level after extra-time, a penalty shootout decides the outcome 4-3 in the Union Hall-Castletownshend club’s favour. Joy for the culchies, heartache for the city slickers.

Similar to Liverpool and Newcastle United’s memorable 4-3 Premier League clashes of the late 1990’s, lightning couldn’t possibly strike twice, could it? Yes it could.

Fast forward twelve months and the two behemoths of Cork Premier Senior football cross swords once again. Another semi-final, another breathless draw after extra-time. Another shootout but, this time, a different outcome.

The Barrs prevail 5-4 at Páirc Uí Chaoimh and go on to win the county.

So, an obvious question for St Finbarr’s manager Paul O’Keeffe ahead of act three of one of Cork football’s most enduring rivalries.

“Have we been practising penalties? Of course we have," laughs O’Keeffe.

“I genuinely hope it doesn’t come down to that. There is no joy in winning on penalties. Having been on both sides, winning on penalties is horrible but losing is worse.

“I know it is great entertainment for the neutrals and supporters. Ask any one of the players, Barrs or Castlehaven, and I think that they would prefer to finish the game with a ‘golden score’ or anything else.

“Going to penalties is just a bloody lottery. I think it is a horrible way to end a game. Hopefully, one team or the other gets the job done in normal or extra-time and puts it to bed the next day.

“Jesus, I’ve had nightmares thinking about going to penalties all over again!"

St Finbarrs's manager Paul O'Keeffe against Carrigaline during the Bon Secours Cork premier SFC at Pairc Ui Rinn. Picture; Eddie O'Hare
St Finbarrs's manager Paul O'Keeffe against Carrigaline during the Bon Secours Cork premier SFC at Pairc Ui Rinn. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

O’Keeffe is unlikely to have learned anything he didn’t already know from the West Cork club’s progression to the last four of this year’s championship.

That said, tactics will once again play a huge role in the outcome of this weekend’s eagerly anticipated clash. For O’Keefe, it is all about concentrating on what the Barrs do best rather than overthinking their opposition.

“We are focussing on how we set up and our process,” the St Finbarr’s manager commented.

“Look, you always look at how the opposition might set up but only aligned to what you want to do yourself. That’s what we have been emphasising to the players all year.

“If we stick to our process and do what we know works out on the pitch then usually, we come out the right side of the result.

“Having said that, we are concious of the threats that Castlehaven possess. After the last two years, we know there is going to be some battle ahead. Yeah, it is going to be a tough one.”

Reigning county champions, the manner in which St Finbarr’s have transitioned defence to attack whilst scorching a path to this year’s county semi-finals has been hugely impressive.

Attempting to reclaim the Andy Scannell does not appear a burden on the Barrs players shoulders. Quite the opposite.

This is a much improved, confident and, dare we say it, county winning team that’s developed a swagger.

More pertinently, lessons learned from last year’s odyssey to the All-Ireland club semi-finals and that 1-18 to 1-13 loss after extra-time to Kilcoo has made St Finbarr’s an even more dangerous prospect.

“Last year, when we went outside the county and to the All-Ireland club semi-finals, we came up against really strong blanket defences,” stated Paul O’Keefe.

Against Kilcoo especially, trying to break down that type of well-honed defence is something we learned from. We are definitely more experienced when coming up against similar scenarios now.

“That’s why I’m really happy with the way things have gone so far this year. Certainly, there is a maturity gained from what we went through in 2021.

“A lot of the lads are on the road a long time so losing to Kilcoo was an eye-opener for us as a team. Having the ability to play for the full hour now compared to last year when we, at times, only played in patches is absolutely huge.

“We have definitely been more consistent this year and certainly playing better football. That’s the confidence that comes from winning a county."

So, part three of a Cork PSFC semi-final trilogy promises another epic.

It couldn’t go to penalties for the third time in a row, could it?

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