AT THE end of normal time of the St Finbarr’s-Kilcoo All-Ireland club football semi-final in January, as hordes of Barrs’ fans made their way down from the stand to applaud the players and management as they came out of the dressing room for extra time, the image instantly rekindled memories of the Barrs’ storied and gloried past.
For generations, multitudes of Barrs supporters and kids had heard the stories of a time when the Barrs were kings of the club game, in both codes. The Barrs still had some distance to travel before they could return to that glorious natural habitat. But for the first time since that golden period of the 1970s and 1980s, the current generation finally got to experience what living there was really like.
Kilcoo had entered the game as favourites but the Barrs refused to yield. They lost after extra time to the side which went on to win the All-Ireland but the whole journey, especially the buzz in Semple Stadium after defeating Austin Stacks a few weeks earlier, reminded everyone why there has always been a mystique around the Barrs club.
That powerful symbiosis of history and confidence, married with ability and talent, had been missing for too long.
Yet the footballers had rediscovered it in recent years before the hurlers finally tapped into that magnetic force this season. And the outcome has returned the Barrs to their original status as a dual powerhouse.
Of course, they are nowhere near the place they once routinely dominated when regularly winning county, Munster and All-Ireland titles in both codes; between 1974 and 1984, the Barrs won 10 senior county championships, six in hurling, four in football.
In the same period, they contested five All-Ireland finals and won four of them — two in football, two in hurling. In 50 years of the competition, no other club has won All-Irelands in both codes. In 1981, the Barrs nearly did it in the same year.
They lost the hurling final to Ballyhale Shamrocks before going on to defeat Walterstown from Meath in the football final. It was the Barrs’ second football title in a row. Only UCD had won back-to-back football titles before then. Only Crossmaglen Rangers and Corofin (who won three in a row) have managed it since.
The Barrs are operating on a different level now.
Their footballers have become a serious force in Cork again but the hurlers are in their first county final in 29 years. Their match-up against Blackrock on Sunday is a 50-50 contest. Even if the Barrs were to win, Cork clubs no longer dominate the Munster club hurling championship like they used to when the Barrs were gobbling up county titles in the 1970s.
The Barrs are trying to end a hurling famine, the kind of which they never thought they’d witness. The footballers may be marginal favourites but they’re going to have to beat Nemo Rangers in a final for the first time in their history. That’s never an easy task, especially when the Barrs have failed to beat Nemo in the championship in three attempts over the last five seasons.
Neither team can dare to look beyond the next massive challenge but the club are still luxuriating in a period that echoes back to the halcyon days of the past.
“We are not really focusing on a double,” said football manager Paul O’Keeffe after St Finbarr’s defeated Castlehaven in the football semi-final. “We are focusing on the job we have to do. The buzz is phenomenal. You see all the kids around here.
“It’s like the best of the days in the ‘80s when we were contesting doubles on a frequent basis. It gives the kids a belief. It is something I grew up with. It’s fantastic to see the club back in that position again. It is a nice place to be.”
The Barrs have always had that rich dual history but, in a different form, Blackrock are also thriving in a golden dual period at the moment. St Michael’s are also in a Senior A football final on the same October Bank Holiday weekend as the Barrs footballers.
Similar to the Barrs, this is a second successive football final for St Michael’s, but they are hoping to finally end a torturous run of defeats at this level, having lost six finals in the last decade.
One of the three dual starters with the Rockies and Michael’s – Daniel Meaney – was involved in five of those football final defeats. The 2017 decider was one of the hardest defeats for those dual players when Blackrock also lost the 2017 hurling final. Meaney came on in that narrow loss to Imokilly.
Meaney finally made up for those disappointments in 2020 with Blackrock but he and his dual team-mates are now trying to win a unique double, just like the Barrs.
There was a time when the Barrs and Blackrock (along with Glen Rovers) were dominating Cork, Munster and the All-Ireland club championships in the 1970s when the Barrs and Michael’s also had a unique south-side rivalry during the latter half of that period.
As well as Blackrock contesting two hurling finals in 1976 and 1978, St Michael’s also reached three senior football finals in a row between 1976-1978. Michael’s lost the 1976 decider to the Barrs.
The terrain is different now. So is the landscape. Yet five decades on, the Barrs and the Rockies, and St Michael’s are rekindling golden memories of halcyon dual days once more.