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St Finbarr's Overcame History But Can They Topple Kerry's Aristocrats?

St Finbarr's Overcame History But Can They Topple Kerry's Aristocrats?
By Gavin Cooney
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Club championships are usually suffocating things, hewn of familiar rivalries enacted and re-enacted beyond the point of contempt and rewarded with a success observable within a relatively narrow purview. For the champions of Cork and Kerry this year, however, the challenge and the reward were broader than usual.

In Cork, St Finbarr's battled their own history; Kerry's Dr. Crokes fought everyone else's.

Both won.

A fortnight ago, Finbarr's annexed a 33-year gap that featured eight-straight final defeats to win their first Cork football title since 1985, while Crokes became the most successful team in the history of the Kerry championship with a six-point win over Dingle. Having long-since broadened the definition of their respective successes, this weekend brings the necessity of both clubs doing the same with their horizons.

Both meet in the Munster senior football championship semi-final on Sunday, with a place in the final against either The Nire (Waterford) or Miltown-Malbay (Clare) on offer.

Finbarr's arrive at this game with their Holy Grail already tucked away. Having spent the mid-1970s to the early 80s swapping Cork titles with Nemo Rangers, an era burnished with three All-Ireland and four Munster titles, their success ebbed away with a loss in the '86 final and then three consecutive final defeats between 1989 and 1991, an era which the club website terms "enigmatic". Worse was to come - Finbarr's lost another four finals, the last of which came in a replay of last year's decider against Nemo.

The streak was finally broken this year against Duhallow, who were responsible for two of those final defeats. It was a game in which they twice trailed by five points, but ultimately won by three points, 3-14 to 2-14. While substitute Eoghan Finn scored a crucial goal, 'Barr's steadiest source of scores was Stephen Sherlock, who notched 1-8.


Michael Shields, who brought an inter-county career garlanded with the 2010 All-Ireland win to an end at the beginning of the year, ended the game in tears.

While he played at full-back with Cork, Shields has converted into a roving centre-forward for his club, as they tooled to compete in the modern game.

While the Munster championship is unchartered territory for this 'Barr's squad, Crokes are among its more grizzled veterans. They have appeared in each of the last two finals, winning in 2016 before falling to Nemo last year. They face 'Barr's following a facile 3-15 to 0-08 win over Tipp's Moyle Rovers in the Munster quarter-final; the game a preliminary prize for winning a record 13th Kerry title the week previous.


In beating Dingle by 1-15 to 0-12, Crokes overtook Austin Stacks at the top of the roll of honour and now stand clear with 13 titles. Eoin Brosnan and Colm Cooper made final appearances off the bench, making both the most decorated players in Kerry club football, with eight medals each since 2000.


On Sunday, Crokes will likely feature Johnny Buckley, who traded the Kerry captaincy last year for exile in 2018 and goalkeeper Shane Murphy, who came in from the margins to take that role in 2018. Other recognisable names among the Crokes panel are Kieran O’Leary, Micheál Burns and Gavin White, Man of the Match against Dingle. Colm Cooper is likely to be limited to a role from the bench.

'Barr's have a Kerry influence of their own: they are coached by Ray Keane, brother of new Kerry senior manager Peter.


Cork's new champions are seeking a first Munster final appearance 1986, while Crokes are bidding for their tenth decider since 1990.

Crokes are strong favourites on Sunday, and if they manage to curtail the influence of Ian Maguire - 'Barr's outstanding player in their win over Duhallow - they can start adjusting their aims and conquer a grander stretch of their opponent's history than even 'Barr's did last month.

While Crokes are ahead on Munster titles, they are one behind 'Barr's on the All-Ireland roll of honour.


The game throws in at 1.30pm on Sunday in Killarney and is live on TG4.

This weekend's club fixtures 

Connacht club SFC semi-finals
Aughawillan (Leitrim) v Ballintubber (Mayo), Pairc Sean MacDiarmada, 1.30pm
Clann na Gael (Roscommon) v Corofin (Galway), Dr Hyde Park, 1.30pm - Full, deferred coverage on TG4

Leinster club SFC quarter-finals
Dunboyne (Meath) v Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin), Pairc Tailteann, 1.30pm
Moorefield (Kildare) v Portlaoise (Laois), Newbridge, 1.30pm
Rhode (Offaly) v Mullinalaghta (Longford), O'Connor Park, 1.30pm
Newtown Blues (Louth) v Eire Og (Carlow), Gaelic Grounds, 1.30pm


Munster club SFC semi-finals
The Nire (Waterford) v Miltown-Malbay (Clare), Fraher Field, 1.30pm
Dr Crokes (Kerry) v St Finbarrs (Cork), Dr Crokes GAA, 1.30pm - Live coverage on TG4

Ulster club SHC final
Ballycran (Down) v Cushendall (Antrim), Athletic Grounds, 3pm

Ulster club IHC final
Keady (Armagh) v St Galls (Antrim), Pairc Esler, 1pm


Ulster club JHC final
Castleblayney (Monaghan) v Cushendun (Antrim), Athletic Grounds, 1pm


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