Halpin hoping Barefield can end their 113-year wait
TRADITION ain't what it used to be -- at least not down in Clare where hurling stronghold St Joseph's Doora-Barefield have qualified for tomorrow's county senior football final against top guns Kilmurry-Ibrickane.
So, what's going on? After all, they haven't appeared (solo) in a Clare senior football decider since '98 -- that's 1898, a year before the Boer War began.
The simple answer is that, in time-honoured fashion, St Joseph's have taken many years of hard work to become an overnight success.
Outside observers may be surprised that the Barefield senior footballers are in a county final, and not the hurlers, but times have changed since they won their last Clare hurling title in 2001.
A concentration on underage development, the growth in the population of Ennis and an influx of football-minded people is part of the story.
And then, there's the significant factor of success breeding success, slowly but consistently at underage level in football, leading to the current crop breaking new ground by qualifying for the 2011 senior final.
The bulk of the squad have come up through the ranks, starting with landmark victories in the Clare Minor A championship of 2001 and Clare Feile na nGael wins in '01 and 2003.
Team captain Mark Hallinan is one of those players who featured on the Feile side of eight years ago.
St Joseph's have also won county titles at U-12, U-14, U-16 and U-21 level (2008).
Kilmurry-Ibrickane were the side beaten by St Joseph's in that U-21 decider three years ago, so perhaps that is an omen for tomorrow, despite the bookies odds, which make the 2009 Munster champions hot favourites.
The form book is also influenced by the fine record of the West Clare outfit, who have won the county championship in 2002, '04, '08 and '09. They have also won the Munster title in '04, and '09 and reached the All-Ireland club final in 2010.
By comparison, winning once 113 years ago as the Doora Raparees looks pretty thin in terms of a football tradition, but St Joseph's manager John Halpin is focused only on Cusack Park tomorrow.
Halpin commented: "It may be 113 years since the club was in a final, but really it's just 20 players against 20, and if we play to our ability we have a good chance.
"Kilmurry are a good team. They'll take beating, there's no doubt about that. We'll have to play to our ultimate to beat them, but we're looking forward to the match."
Patrick Murrihy, manager of Kilmurry, shies away from the favourites tag, and doesn't buy the notion that St Joseph's will be wide-eyed innocents who can't tell a sliotar from a football.
"These guys who post the pre-match odds can write them with a pen, but closer to the situation we certainly wouldn't see it like that," said Murrihy.
"Barefield are due respect. It's really up to ourselves in Kilmurry how we're mentally prepared on the day. If we're properly focused, and if we bring our 'A' game, we have a big chance.
"These Barefield guys are well tutored. Some would be dual players, but the majority are footballers and most of them have inter-county experience at various levels.
"From the mental side, they have nothing to lose as they are coming in as complete underdogs. We know they're going to be very hard to break down, so we'll have to be at our best."
Both clubs have the assistance of former Kerry All-Ireland winners.
St Joseph's have 39-year-old ex-All Star Declan O'Keeffe in goal, while John Kennedy is coach to Kilmurry-Ibrickane. The experience of these men, who have played and won at the highest level with the Kingdom, is a considerable boost to both clubs.
O'Keeffe is the oldest player on the Barefield side and 17-year-old Alan Kelly, the youngest. Kelly, a 6' 3" midfielder-cum-forward, sat his Leaving Cert exams in June and only came into the side after impressing in a challenge against Limerick's Monaleen.
The youngster went on to score two goals in the 2-7 to 0-7 semi-final win over Wolfe Tones and fully justify the confidence of the management team.
"Alan is very athletic and even though he's young, he has done very well for us in the three games he has played," said Halpin.
Murrihy wants an improvement from his men on their semi-final performance against Cratloe.
Kilmurry only beat Cratloe 1-7 to 0-9, and though it was enough to get through, Murrihy expects better.
"Looking back on the last two games against Cratloe and also against Cooraclare in the quarter-final, we found ourselves in a position where we were four or five points up and we didn't kick on in either game," he said.
"If we find ourselves in that position on Sunday, we need to push on because we are creating the chances, so we need to be a bit more clinical when we get teams on the back foot."
There is also an emotional backdrop to this final, as St Joseph's Doora-Barefield lost one of its best players, Niall White (23), last June.
The passing of the Clare and St Joseph's senior footballer was a huge blow to his family, friends and clubmates who are still struggling to come to terms with his death.
No doubt Halpin's men would love to win the championship to honour White's memory, but they face a difficult task against a well-schooled Kilmurry-Ibrickane outfit.