St Finbarrs do it the hard way after nearly surrendering half-time lead

Intervention from Cork veteran Shields proves to be crucial to take Munster crown

St. Finbarrs’ Enda Dennehy scores his side’s second goal. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

St. Finbarrs’ Enda Dennehy scores his side’s second goal. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

St Finbarrs 2-9 Austin Stacks 1-10

Michael Shields came off the bench for a decisive intervention in sunny Semple Stadium on Sunday afternoon. His club, St Finbarrs did it the hard way having looked likely winners at half-time and going into injury-time at the end but the match ended in a jangle of nerves only relieved by the final whistle.

The veteran Cork All-Ireland winner was introduced in the 50th minute and played a vital role in the winners’ second - and crucial - goal. Then after the plot had twisted in injury-time with a goal for Stacks by Seán Quilter to cut the margin to a point, he expertly drew a free, which Steven Sherlock converted in the 65th minute to seal victory.

Winning manager Paul O’Keeffe said afterwards that the player, who at 35 is as old as his club’s wait since their last provincial title, has the reputation in the O’Keeffe household as something of a stormy petrel.

“Shieldsy has just massive big-game experience and every time he takes the pitch now, you’re bringing him on - my wife says that any time she sees Shieldsy warming up we must be in trouble . . .”

To an extent they were. Having started with a bang - a goal for Cillian Myers, who found himself alone behind the defence within 20 seconds of the throw-in - Finbarrs were six clear at half-time, 1-7 to 0-4, a lead that looked substantial on a heavy winter pitch even in the benign conditions.

The Kerry champions were favourites going into the final and largely on the basis of a decent defence, so for them to cough up a goal so quickly put them under immediate pressure, which intensified as the Cork champions ran at them and created gaps. Had some of the passing been a bit more precise the half-time lead would have been even greater.

The gallop was led by Brian Hayes, whose powerful running proved a constant threat to Stacks but Sherlock and Myers Murray were also sharp points. Ian Maguire was the most influential centrefielder and took some marquee catches but the Barrs’ defence also made a great impact.

Time and again, Sam Ryan frustrated Kieran Donaghy by getting a fist in. Of course given the trajectory of the match, the veteran full forward only had to get lucky once but instead he got unlucky in the 40th minute when Michael O’Donnell’s cross hit the post as Donaghy loomed to finish the chance.

So, what happened in the third quarter? O’Keeffe said that he would have fewer sleepless nights if he could explain that.

“We spoke at half-time about the need to push on, all the ‘usuals’. It doesn’t matter what I saw at this stage, we seem to go asleep. If I could figure it out it would take a lot of pressure off.

“We come out with massive intensity. When you give full on intensity for 30 minutes, maybe they just need mentally to take a small bit of a break. It’s just a collective break. I wouldn’t mind if one or two of them did it rather than the whole lot.”

Stacks almost made them pay the full price. Having kept their opponents scoreless, they nearly eliminated the deficit. A constant press and points from Greg Horan (two), replacement Shane O’Callaghan, Fiachna Mangan and Quilter - who also missed a chance to level the match just before the second water break - doing the damage.

He nearly had a goal on the resumption but John Kerins saved well and replacement Colm Barrett tidied up. By then Hayes had opened Finbarrs’ second half account and it felt significant that for all their recovering heroics, Stacks couldn’t quite draw level or hit the front.

There were two points in it, 1-8 to 0-9, when Shields struck. He got on the ball in centrefield and did what his team had failed to do after half-time - made the run into space and took a return pass from Eoin Comyns. This opened up Stacks and Enda Dennehy was on hand to round Wayne Guthrie and kick into the empty net.

Even a five point lead in the 59th minute didn’t give full immunity and Quilter got a goal in injury-time to restore the one-score differential but that far and no farther was the end of it.

St Finbars: J Kerins; S Ryan, J Burns, C Scully; C Lyons (0-1), B Hennessy, A O’Connor; I Maguire, E Comyns; D O’Brien, B Hayes (0-3), E McGreevey; C Myers Murray (1-1), S Sherlock (0-4, 3 frees), C McRickard.

Subs: C Barrett for O’Brien (42 mins), E Dennehy (1-0) for Myers Murray (42 mins), M Shields for McCrickard (50 mins), L Hannigan for McGreevey (56 mins).

Austin Stacks: W Guthrie; C Griffin, D Casey (0-1), J O’Shea; P O’Sullivan, C Jordan, R Shanahan; J O’Connor, G Horan (0-2); M O’Gara, F Mangan (0-1), B O’Sullivan; S Quilter (1-4, 2 frees, 1 mark), K Donaghy, D O’Brien (0-1, free).

Subs: S O’Callaghan (0-1) for B O’Sullivan (16 mins), B Shanahan for P O’Sullivan (half-time), M O’Donnell for O’Brien (half-time), A Curran for O’Connor (50 mins), A Heinrich for Mangan (60 mins).

Referee: Chris Maguire (Clare).

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