Barkey buzzing for SFC again


Championship season is here at last. While the weather hasn’t played ball in recent days, there is certainly a sense of anticipation in the air as the Senior, Intermediate and Junior Championships are set to throw in.

After all of the shadow boxing in the All-County Football League and on the challenge game circuit, the bell will ring to signal the main event. In the heavyweight division, champions, out of Virginia, are, of course, Ramor United and, says full-back Damien Barkey, they are up for the challenge of retaining the Oliver Plunkett Cup.

“It's exciting. There’s a bit of camaraderie with the lads in the group, in the dressing room and at training before the game, and the adrenaline of playing in a championship game,” Barkey told the Anglo-Celt this week.

“Sometimes I wonder how else do people get their buzz in life? They’re the days you look forward to.”

When Ramor broke through in 2016, they were ahead of the curve. Their team was littered with U21s along with a few experienced heads. Barkey was joint-captain with Jack Brady; six years on, they remain among the load-bearing pillars of the team, Barkey’s steel in the full-back line augmented by Brady’s ball-playing at number six.

Ramor are a mature bunch and have stuck together for the most part since that breakthrough success, through ups and downs. They made a final in 2019, losing to neighbours Castlerahan, before the wheels came off in the quarter-final against Cavan Gaels a year later.

Then, last year, they got over the line again, beating the Gaels by a point in the semi-final and Gowna in a replayed final. Now, they are the ones being hunted. In 2017, they went to the semi-final, losing by a point to Castlerahan, as they sought to retain the crown. This year, Barkey says, there can be no resting on the laurels.

“We were champions last year, top of the tree, and everyone wants to peg you down a level or two now. You can’t go in there with complacency or thinking you’re going to breeze through anything because it’s not going to happen. We have to be on top of our game and hopefully get off to a good start in our first game.

“It’s okay winning a championship but to win two is not an easy task, so you have to rule out complacency, put your shoulder to the wheel and put in the work. Everyone is going to be there to try and knock you off the perch.

“You think when you win in 2016 that it’s going to go on and on but that’s not how it happens. We’ll have to be on our A game come the first round against Kingscourt.”

Clubman John Brady, who has vast experience at club and county level on the sideline, returned to the helm this year after Ray Cole stepped aside. Brady, father of Jack and James, played on the 1992 winning team and the family lineage in this competition goes all the way back over a century. The team began on the front foot, going 12 games unbeaten, but a second-half collapse in the semi-final against Cavan Gaels saw them crash out.

Barkey missed that game due to a hamstring strain picked up against Ballyhaise (he has since recovered). While it was disappointing, he feels a loss like that on the eve of championship could be a blessing in disguise.

“I think we had a good enough league campaign, we went through unbeaten and in a few tight games where we were maybe missing a few players, we sort of came through with a couple of kicks at the end by a few individuals.

“We played the Gaels, we were cruising, at half-time we were winning by eight points but maybe it was the sort of wake-up call that we needed to get our eyes on the prize again and get back to the job in hand.

“You need a wake-up call, it might have highlighted a few things that we needed to work on. We’ve worked on a few things since. Yeah, disappointed that we weren’t in the league final. A league medal is nice to win but it gives us something to concentrate on for the championship.”

Ramor are unlikely to start the championship with the same side which finished it last October. Injuries intervened in the league, with the likes of Conor Bradley, Simon Cadden and Brían O’Connell struggling for fitness all year, and Sean McEvoy will be absent as he heads to America on a soccer scholarship.

“We’ll have a couple of injuries but we have lads to step up to the plate, it’s their time to shine. Lads that are doing well in training will get their opportunity on the big stage in the first game of the championship and we’ll see how they get on.

“As everyone knows, Sean is an exceptional talent, he’s a once-in-a-generation sort of player who can turn his hand to any sport. To have the likes of him leaving, it’s a big loss but as I said, someone else is going to have to step up to the plate and try to up their game to match it and play more as a unit. We’ll see how that goes.”

In corporate lingo, it could be said that Kingscourt Stars and Ramor United are two of the leading sporting brands in the county. One or the other of them have been in the county final in eight of the 12 renewals since 2010. They clash in the first round, the Stars buoyed by the arrival of the outstanding Jordan Morris, Ramor the holders.

“We played them in the league and they were fairly defensive, I’d say it will probably be something similar. There will be plenty of hard hitting, Kingscourt and Ramor have a good tradition, we get on fairly well but when the ball is thrown in, there will be plenty of skites and plenty of lads getting stuck in.

“Ah, I’m looking forward, it will be enjoyable to get out. You can’t beat the championship buzz.”

Never a truer word.