AT the outset of the season, hurling at the latter end of November was probably far from the minds of the players and management of St Finbarr’s.
When you are without a Cork senior title for so long, the first and only priority is trying to regain that much-coveted championship and thoughts of Munster club participation would certainly have been very much on the back burner.
Well, it’s history now that they came through the Cork campaign with a near 100% record, five victories and one draw from their six outings which included their emergence from what was generally regarded as the toughest of the three groups at that stage of the competition.
One mountain had been negotiated but behind that an even bigger one awaited at provincial level in the form of Clare champions Ballyea, far more seasoned campaigners in that championship.
The draw decreed that the Cork champions avoided a potentially hazardous quarter-final but the semi-final assignment was an away encounter in Cusack Park last Sunday against Clare’s best.
Cusack Park, down the years, has proved to be a difficult venue to get anything from, both at club and inter-county level for Cork teams and that’s what the Barrs found out when coming up short by the bare minimum.
Having to be superior to the opposition on a ground that they are far more familiar with and with 15 players was always going to be a big ask but having to do so with a man less for the best part of the hour was a far more onerous task.
But, as we have seen so often in the past, playing with 14 players can have a galvanising effect on a team and that was the case again this time where the Barrs were concerned.
Conor Cahalane, given how well he had performed in the Cork campaign, was a serious loss even if the numerical advantage wasn’t apparent on the scoreboard.
Character and resilience have been very much at the forefront all season with this Barrs team and so it was again last Sunday in a contest that as we had predicted went right down to the wire.
This was a searching examination of both teams’ credentials, there was little or nothing between them for long stretches and if it required another 20 minutes of extra-time there would have been no dissenting voices.
When the final whistle sounded it was the Ballyea players who had their arms raised and despite a quite admirable display the Barrs season was at an end.
Let there be no argument, the Cork champions, despite just falling short, had every reason to hold their heads high as they went to salute their supporters for the magnificent support that they had provided throughout a protracted campaign.
Those supporters were the first to appreciate what this team had achieved, coming from a fair distance down the pecking order in Cork to land a first title in 29 years. And doing that with so many players still in the infancy of their senior careers made that victory all the sweeter.
When it reached boiling point last Sunday, Ballyea were that bit more streetwise and they had Tony Kelly. His influence in the opening half was minimal enough but thereafter he burst forth to become a major figure, splitting the sticks with some wonderful points, from open play and from the dead ball.
In fact, you could almost say that he became the difference between both sides. Gary Brennan’s goal was a huge score too as events transpired, a goal in the type of game that developed was always going to be of great significance.
Mossy Galvin’s hat-trick of points were important scores too and apart from the outstanding Ben Cunningham in the Barrs blue, Ballyea had that bit more power up front.
And they had that bit more experience of hurling at this time of the year.
In recent times some of Cork’s representatives in this competition have come up well short but that cannot be thrown at this Barrs team.
They went out, gave it their very best shot in difficult conditions and now that they have made the big breakthrough in Cork again expect them to be among the leading contenders for some time to come.
So, another Munster club campaign has come and gone for a Cork team and it will be Clare against Waterford next Sunday week.
Ballygunner were outstanding in overcoming Na Piarsaigh at the Gaelic Grounds and in doing so rubberstamped their position as the country’s best club team. This was one of those games of two halves, Na Piarsaigh firmly in the driving seat at the interval, five points to the good and looking good.
But it was a much different story in the closing 30 minutes with Ballygunner coming very much into their own and finishing the much stronger unit.
In a game that was well above the standard that was on display at the Gaelic Grounds even it that game was compelling in its own right, some of the scores that were delivered were from the top drawer and the individual returns were greater too.
Pauric Mahony’s contribution must have delighted the new Waterford boss, the watching Davy Fitzgerald and a 13- point haul told its own story. Young Patrick Fitzgerald took up from where he left off against Kilruane McDonagh’s and his goal was sublimely executed.
Midfielder Conor Sheehan fired over a quartet of fine points and overall you would have to say that this is a very well-oiled Ballygunner team.
They’ll carry the favourites tag in the final against Ballyea but that’s going to be a hurling Sunday in December.
For now, though, the wait goes on for another title to wend its way to Leeside, 13 years now will stretch into 14.
The Barrs departed after a mighty effort but in the end, it was not to be.