Christy O'Connor: Barrs young guns can make an impact for Pat Ryan's Cork

Ben Cunningham, Ethan Twomey and Ben O'Connor, if he doesn't choose rugby when he finishes his Leaving Cert, have the potential to hurl at senior inter-county level
Christy O'Connor: Barrs young guns can make an impact for Pat Ryan's Cork

Brandon O’Connell of Ballyea battles with Ben O’Connor of St Finbarr’s for the breaking sliotar. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

IN the 42nd minute of Sunday’s Munster semi-final, St Finbarr’s worked a short puck-out where Damien Cahalane attacked out from the middle of the Barrs defence before being forced to play a lofted hand-pass into Ben Cunningham in traffic.

The ball went to ground but Cunningham won it against two Ballyea players before shrugging off the challenge of Brandon O’Connell and landing a brilliant point from just outside the 45-metre line into the breeze.

Cunningham shook his fist as the ball was sailing over while the noise from the large nest of St Finbarr’s supporters behind him in the north stand nearly lifted the roof off ‘The shed’. The score put the Barrs one point ahead and seemingly with huge momentum at a key stage of the match.

Ballyea won the puck-out but James Murphy was met with a wall of blue jerseys as he went on the attack approaching the 45 and Ben O’Connor turned the ball over. O’Connor played the pass into Brian Hayes but Ballyea forced the turnover and Tony Kelly took off and landed his first point from play.

The trend of the rest of the match was firmly set. The Barrs won the puck-out and as Ethan Twomey was about to shoot at the target, he was hooked by Gary Brennan and Aaron Griffin scored off the turnover. Then Twomey set up Ben O’Connor for another equalising point. And on it went until Ballyea eventually edged the match by one point.

St Finbarr's Ethan Twomey goes for a high ball. Picture: Eamon Ward
St Finbarr's Ethan Twomey goes for a high ball. Picture: Eamon Ward

Being a man down so early, and with that man being the Barrs’ key strike runner in Conor Cahalane, the Togher side were never able to get their running game going like they had in Cork.

Goals had provided the Barrs with so much oxygen since their last group game against Sarsfields but they only created one goalscoring chance, where the excellent Cunningham’s shot from distance late on was saved by Barry Coote.

REGRETS

In such a tight game, a goal was always going to be decisive and the Barrs will have regrets at the manner in how they conceded it. The score stemmed from a Barrs puck-out but it also looked like the Barrs defence didn’t appreciate how effective Gary Brennan can be with his power and forceful running.

There wasn’t enough heat applied by the outstanding Twomey at source and Brennan ran straight through the heart of the Barrs defence, with three defenders after him, and two more converging, but Brennan was still able to get his drop shot away and smuggle the ball to the net.

It got worse for the Cork side within seconds as Ballyea won the puck-out and while Niall Deasy shot wide, Conor Cahalane was harshly sent off after that phase of play.

That immediately put the Barrs up against the eight ball, while having a man less also contributed to their huge volume of turnovers in the opening half — the Barrs turned over the ball a colossal 19 times in that period.

The Barrs also struggled on their own puck-out in that opening half, not just in terms of the volume lost — as five was a decent number in the conditions — but because of the damage Ballyea did with possession, converting it into 1-2.

All the odds pointed towards a Ballyea win after the sending-off, not just for their numerical advantage but because of the Clare side’s far greater experience at this level, with this being their seventh game (including a run to the 2017 All-Ireland final) outside Clare in four previous campaigns. Yet the Barrs showed heroic bravery and fortitude to take the game to the absolute wire.

St Finbarr's Eoin Keane in action against Ballyea. Picture: Eamon Ward
St Finbarr's Eoin Keane in action against Ballyea. Picture: Eamon Ward

Both sides had the same amount of shots (28 each), with the Barrs having a marginally better conversion rate of 50% to Ballyea’s 46%.

The game though was heavily defined by turnovers, with the Barrs turning the ball over 37 times compared to Ballyea’s 36. On the other hand, the sending-off and the way Ballyea set up was bound to force the Barrs into turning the ball over more often than they needed to.

Still, the Barrs adapted. That was evident in their puck-out numbers after the break when they lost just two of their own restarts in that period.

The Barrs, especially the excellent Jamie Burns, also held Tony Kelly to just two points from play, even if Kelly did have four wides from play, along with having an assist.

The Cork side only bagged two less scores on Sunday than they hit in the Cork final but that game against Blackrock was played in a monsoon and those two additional scores were goals, both of which were either scored or engineered by Conor Cahalane.

It was cruel for Cunningham to miss that last-second 65 but that shouldn’t detract from the impact Cunningham had on the game. From 11 plays, Cunningham scored four points from play while he was fouled for a free and forced another free.

Ben Cunningham was immense for the Barrs. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Ben Cunningham was immense for the Barrs. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Similar to Cunningham, Twomey and Ben O’Connor also showed what they can potentially offer Cork going forward under Pat Ryan. Both were really impressive, both in quality and leadership. In the second quarter, Twomey in particular grabbed the game by the throat when the Barrs were still trying to adjust to the culture shock of being a man down.

In the end, the Barrs ship went down. Just. Yet, they can be incredibly proud of the manner in which they fought with everything they had to stay afloat for so long in such difficult and choppy waters.

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