It’s been a tough year for Bertie O’Brien. Health, as he says himself, was not good. But no more than in his ornate playing days with St Finbarr, he was never one to shy away from battle.
When we called him last Monday afternoon for a chat about the club’s latest double attempt, Bertie politely told us he was in the hospital. We immediately apologized for the inconvenience and were about to leave it at that when he announced over the phone that he would be very happy to speak.
If there’s one tonic he finds particularly useful these days, it’s the lovable Barrs and their sightselers walking through Cork’s hurling and soccer tournaments.
Sunday’s penultimate round of throwing match against Newtownchandrum marks the first of two provincial semi-finals that Tougers will play over the next weekend. And if they win both, a gap of 29 years will be filled to the last time the club reached the finals in Cork in one year.
The 1993 season—in which they won the toss title but lost the football—marked the sixth time in a 14-year period that the Barrs had played both Finals in the same season. The double was achieved twice, in 1980 and again in ’82, with O’Brien appearing in all four finals. He also had the unique privilege of leading the Bombers to county glory in 1980 and then repeating the trick with the footballers two years later.
But before we open up memory lane for business, first take a look at the 2022 chapters and the lift they provide to see the blue wave rise again.
“It’s been a bad year for me from a health point of view, but as often as I can, I go out to Touger to watch training. It gives you the chance to meet club members and the players of course. It definitely makes you happy when you see them win,” O’Brien begins.
“This club is a great club, even if we falter for a little while. It’s great to think we are here again, the only club in the county that can come up with the possibility of having two great county champions.”
Aside from small wins and a U21 boycott in recent years, throwing director Jair Cunningham has injected a heavy dose of youth into his starting lineup. A third of the team is 20 years old or younger. The footballers are easily the more established of the duo, chasing them for becoming a third boycott in five years. There are about a dozen players common to both teams, five of whom – Jimmy Burns, Ben O’Connor, Billy Hennessy, Ethan Twoome, and Brian Hayes – are junior players on both teams.
“We’ve got a really good top-tier squad, capable of winning both counties,” O’Brien declared. “Of course, we don’t want to jump the gun and we have to remember that the boys were very young on the throwing side. Footballers, if you like, have carried the club over the last couple of years. If the throwing side can match that, it would be something. It would be doing the doubling down. A great way for the club to get back to normal and for sure it would give me a new lease on life anyway.
“GAA, there is absolutely nothing to compare it to. When the footballers won last year, to make the team go Bandon’s way behind the squad, ah it was like old times, and I hope we can do it again this year – in double” .
Talking about the multiplier opens the bridging of memories. The best blue times were the late 70’s and early 80’s. A club team that comes once in a lifetime. Cork, Munster and All-Ireland success with the big and small ball.
His trophy was already overflowing, to then have the honor of leading such ridiculously talented teams, as O’Brien did in the 1980 final victory over Glen Rovers and the 1982 football victory over Duhalo, making him feel the pride he still carries. today.
At that time, the annual general meeting chose the captain. You can have 200 people vote on it. It’s something I will always cherish and be grateful to the club,” the soccer goalkeeper said as he tossed the half-back.
Then as now, the two symbols coexisted seamlessly. The cooperation and mutual respect between the club’s throwing and football committees were as strong as friendships in the locker room.
“Ah, the madness we had, we were laughing in preparation for the championship matches. There was a great camaraderie that helped a lot.
“You had a mix of older guys like Tony Maher, Gerald McCarthy, Charlie McCarthy and a couple of others who were about to go up the hill, but they lasted for another year or two, and they brought us up with younger boys like John Kremen and Niall Kennevick and others.
“Eamonn Fitzpatrick was going through the wall for you; the late Kristi Ryan was probably the greatest doubles player of all time; Thomas Maher, who came from Waterford, was just a simple kid but he put his heart and soul into it. These kinds of people made our team. And I couldn’t. Left out Pat Lougheed, one of our best coaches.”
There is so much more he could mention. New legends he hopes to see in the coming weeks.
He says, “I was at Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the Douglas quarter-finals, my son dropped me off. We went up to the club afterwards, chatted a bit there and went again. There was a great atmosphere around.
“I don’t know if I’ll be out of here or not by Sunday, but if I’m out, I’ll be in the match. Nothing is for sure.”