This story originally appeared in our 16-page county final preview in this week's Southern Star sports section which is available in shops across West Cork now or online via our digital edition ➡ http://bit.ly/2Z9T9Z1
‘GIVE it a lash, give it everything’ – they are the words of advice for Clonakilty’s county senior finalists from a former Clon county winner.
In 1996 Limerick man Paddy Barrett was on the Clonakilty team that won that year’s Cork senior football crown, beating UCC in the final.
He can see similarities between his Clon team and the current group. He also sees no reason why the class of 2021 can’t cause a huge shock on Sunday and beat the fancied St Finbarr’s in the Premier senior football final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh (3pm throw-in).
‘They’re very like us, no-hopers with a great belief in themselves,’ Barrett told The Southern Star.
‘Haulie O’Neill is back in charge and we all know what he can do with a team. They played great football against Douglas in the semi-final and like our team, the defence is the strong part of the team. They have been very solid all season.
‘If the full-forward line can produce scores to back Dara Ó Sé, then I honestly think we’re in with a good shout. Give it a lash, give it everything.’
Clon, the unexpected finalists, will give it everything – but will that be enough against a seasoned outfit like the Barrs?
The West Cork men have nothing to lose here. The pressure is on the boys in blue; they were county champions in 2018 and this is their third final in five years. This is Clon’s first county final in 12 years and no current Clon player has played in a senior county decider before.
In the 2020 Premier SFC, Clon didn’t even get out of their group – but they have smashed through barriers, football and psychological, this season. The first goal was to get out of their group and they did, along with the Barrs. Since then, it’s been bonus territory.
They felled Duhallow, 2018 and 2019 finalists, in the quarter-final. Then they knocked out Douglas, the top side from the group stages, in the semi-final. Clon won both games by a point and showed massive character and desire in each.
‘It’s huge psychologically, not just for this year but for next year and the year after,’ Clon defender Liam O’Donovan told the Star before the semi-final against Douglas.
‘If we get to a quarter-final again we will know that we have won one; we played a tough game against a good team like Duhallow and we won. Why can’t we do this next year and the year after? We have got out of the group, we have got past the barrier of the quarter-finals, and given the calibre of players we have, we are now backing it up so hopefully we will drive it on for the next few years.’
In the aftermath of the 0-15 to 1-11 semi-final win against Douglas, Clon selector Eoin Ryan quipped that they were now in ‘bonus, bonus territory’ – but this is also an incredible opportunity for this group.
They weren’t tipped to get to a county final, but here they are. And as much as they have progressed, developed and matured during this campaign, there are no guarantees what 2022 will hold and when they will get back into the county final again.
This is a competitive championship. Reigning champions Nemo Rangers didn’t even survive the group stages this year. Castlehaven will regroup and go again. That’s why Clon need to make the most of now – and make the most of the big chance they have on Sunday.
The Barrs are favourites, and with good reason, but Clon have their strengths, too. They will be missing the injured Liam O’Donovan – that man is due some luck soon, surely – but they have current Cork senior footballers in Sean White, Mark White and Maurice Shanley, while ex-Cork defender Thomas Clancy, still only 29, is a man reborn this season.
It’s not just their quality that is driving Clon this season, it’s a change in mind-set and approach. This group of players has been labelled as underachievers, and they know that. They were viewed as a sleeping giant of club football, having won nine Cork SFC titles in the past, but football games aren’t won by former glories, it’s all about the now and the present.
The Clon players – under the new management team led by Haulie O’Neill this season – have committed to the cause more this year.
‘In the past few years we feel we have underperformed and that we haven’t played to our potential, so we are working hard and focusing on ourselves. Let’s see where that takes us,’ Thomas Clancy told the Star earlier this year – and that approach has taken them to within 60 minutes of glory.
‘As a team we just want to go out there and perform as best as we can. If that is good enough on the day, great, but we want to come off the pitch knowing that we played as well as we possibly can.’
The Clonakilty management want a performance on Sunday against the Barrs. Do that and there will be no regrets. And while the challenge is huge, and the Barrs are favourites, Clon’s class of 2021 won’t need to look too far for inspiration at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Clon’s 1996-county winning team will be paraded before the crowd on Sunday, a team that came from nowhere to win the biggest club football title in the county.
‘I suppose we’re underdogs but we’ve been underdogs in four of our five games and I don’t think that will have any impact on our mind-set,’ Sean White says.
‘Where it might impact is with the supporters but from what Haulie is telling us that shouldn’t have any effect on us. It’s brilliant to have the 1996 team being honoured on the day. They’re a great example to us of what can be achieved with the right mind-set. They were more underdogs than us against UCC and turned them over. It’s brilliant to have the club so involved on Sunday.’
Even though this Clonakilty team has surpassed all expectations to reach this year’s county football final, now they they are here, why not complete the shock season and win it?
As Paddy Barrett says, give it a lash, give it everything.