Return to Cork and Munster summit completes long journey for St Finbarr’s

Victory over Kerry’s Austin Stacks secure first provincial crown in 35 years

The Munster club championship victory by St Finbarr’s against Austin Stacks at the weekend threw a bridge from past to future over the present. It was a first provincial win in 35 years and immediately triggered talk about the significance for Cork football of beating fancied Kerry opponents in a final.

Goalkeeper John Kerins, son of the late All-Ireland winning goalkeeper of the same name, made a point about that history.

“Growing up, you’d always hear about it. The ’Barrs have kind of been in the doldrums for 30-odd years, there or thereabouts. Always the bridesmaids, we’re starting to come good now. We’ve a good crop of players coming through; we’re getting over the line.”

Captain, Ian Maguire expanded on that tradition and how painstakingly it had been revived, building a panel that could compete. The commanding centrefielder, who took the vital catch after Stacks' late goal threw the match back into the melting pot, underlined his club's determination.

“I think it reflects on the club as a whole. We fought hard and we’ve put in years of work to get to this point and we got our reward. It was a brilliant performance and goes to show the 25 fellas on the panel are so important – I’d almost go 30, to be honest.”

St Finbarr’s was the pre-eminent dual club in the country 35 years ago, winning six All-Irelands – evenly divided between football and hurling – in the space of 15 seasons.

It has taken nearly three decades for the club to get back to business in either code. For the successful footballers it’s been an incremental process, at times bruising.

“To be fair, we set out in 2016, ’17 and ’18,” according to Maguire, “and it was all about getting to the county final because we hadn’t been to one in 10 years or whatever.

“Obviously we then had the heartbreak in ’17 (narrowly losing a replayed Cork final to city rivals Nemo) and then it was a relief in ’18 to get over the line. Sometimes when you get that relief you’re not looking beyond. We didn’t and we got a lesson. To be fair to Crokes they were probably the best team, or second best team in it at the time.”

Lesson is one way of putting it. The Killarney club, All-Ireland champions the previous year, beat Finbarr’s by 21 points.

"Liam Hodnett was the chair at the time and he said, 'you need to learn these lessons unfortunately'. They're unforgiving but you need to learn them and we learned the hard way a couple of years ago. It goes to show that you have to appreciate the moment because if you'd asked me in 2019 would we get back here, I'd have said, who knows?"

For all that Sunday was a rollercoaster, the Cork champions struck for a goal within 20 seconds and never relinquished that lead.

The hoped-for significance on the broader Cork-Kerry frontier was in everyone’s thoughts. Maguire, who has also captained his county, has been battling the neighbours for most of a decade, experiencing Munster success just once, in 2020 – a famous result that looked less like a breakthrough when Kerry annihilated them a short few months later in last year’s championship.

St Finbarr’s manager Paul O’Keeffe was cheerfully optimistic about the vital signs for football in the county.

“It is massive. Any time a Cork team plays a Kerry team, there’s always that bit of edge there. I kind of think that Cork might be turning a corner this year. There’s new management in. Small things like that give Cork a boost.”

Maguire, who made his county debut eight years ago in a qualifier against Sligo, sought to define the relationship without losing sight of the fact that the club’s horizons had now broadened beyond the perennial Munster squabble.

“Ultimately for us it is a sub-plot. For a lot of people Cork/Kerry is obviously a sub-plot when you are playing. It’s positivity; it’s a win but again Nemo have been doing this for years, we can’t understate that Nemo have a brilliant record and they have done this before.

"For us, from chatting to Keith Ricken [Cork manager] during the week, Cork have won a Munster final. It's a huge bonus and we need to push on from there. We're in the final four now – Cork/Kerry stuff is done. It's brilliant, the journey continues."

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