Cork's top four football teams flying high heading into semi-finals

Cork's top four football teams flying high heading into semi-finals

Valley Rovers' Rory O'Sullivan is tackled by Duhallow's Daniel O'Mahony. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

SUNDAY: Premier senior football semi-finals: Nemo Rangers v Duhallow, Páirc Uí Rinn, 2pm; Castlehaven v St Finbarr’s, Páirc Uí Rinn, 7pm.

WHEN the primary contenders for the Andy Scannell Cup were ranked before anyone even heard of Covid-19, these four teams were at the forefront.

As unique as this 2020 season has been, the champions, Nemo, defeated finalists two years running, Duhallow, 2018 winners, the Barrs, and West Cork powerhouse, Castlehaven, are the teams left standing.

Yes, Ballincollig and Carbery Rangers won counties in the noughties, while Douglas had a great run last season, but Collig and Ross aren’t as strong as they were, while the city side were shorn of dual players, like the Cadogans and Shane Kingston, in recent months.

Nemo are fancied to beat Duhallow on Sunday afternoon. On the face of it, they should.

As rusty as they were at times against Ballincollig, in last weekend’s quarter-final, they still exploited the Village’s attack-minded approach and raised five green flags. Luke Connolly was irrepressible: Not only did he grab a hat-trick, he’d a hand in the two other goals. His flair and passing range were a joy.

 Mark Cronin, Nemo, celebrates his goal for Nemo against Ballincollig last weekend. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Mark Cronin, Nemo, celebrates his goal for Nemo against Ballincollig last weekend. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Yet Duhallow will have been watching the way Ballincollig dominated primary possession in the middle third and opened gaps in the Nemo rearguard with direct running.

The division were put to the pin of their collar by Valley Rovers a week earlier. They were 0-14 to 0-11 down with nine minutes to go and while their character and experienced wore Valleys down, the underdogs paid a high price for a few poor decisions on the ball when the game was on the line.

Donncha O’Connor had a big influence, lobbing over five points, though he was quieter in the second half. Up stepped Mark Ellis and Jerry O’Connor, with 0-3 from play apiece.

Kanturk’s Paul Walsh made an impact off the bench, but he’ll be on club duty the day before. That’s the trade-off for the depth Duhallow have at their disposal.

It’s never a good idea to bet against Nemo. Playing last weekend will stand to them.

Yet Duhallow clubs have been impressive across all the grades lately. It’ll be tight.

Castlehaven haven’t been in action since obliterating Ilen Rovers four weeks ago to secure the number-one seeding and a bye to the semi-final. Glen Rovers were slow enough to start against Erin’s Own last Saturday, in the same circumstances.

The Haven were outstanding in the ‘West Cork Group of Death’, beating Carbery Rangers, Newcestown, and Ilen. Brian and Michael Hurley have been in lethal form, while Mark Collins has benefited from focusing on football only.

Castlehaven's Michael Hurley looks for a pass. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Castlehaven's Michael Hurley looks for a pass. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

There are three Cahalanes available, though minor sensation, Jack, had a minor football semi-final replay against the Barrs last night. The fact they hurl for the Blues adds an extra layer of interest here. St Finbarr’s are in the opposite position, with their quarter-final, against Newcestown, moved to last Wednesday night, because of a Covid-19 issue. That means if they are to win the county, it’ll be after three games in 15 days.

Barrs manager, Paul O’Keeffe, explained after the 0-14 to 1-8 defeat of Newcestown that he’d looked for the games to be pushed out. “We were happy to go Wednesday-Wednesday. I don’t see any reason why the county final couldn’t be played on a Wednesday night, given Covid restrictions allow for only 200 at a game. We asked the board to give us a week. We got no response,” O’Keeffe said.

 Fionn Keane, Newcestown, gets past a challenge from Sam Ryan, St Finbarr's. Picture: Larry Cummins.
Fionn Keane, Newcestown, gets past a challenge from Sam Ryan, St Finbarr's. Picture: Larry Cummins.

“It is a tough ask for us, a four-day turnaround. Everyone else gets a week. I know they want to get the fixtures done with the inter-county coming. You got to factor player welfare in as well, though. It is not just about getting fixtures over and done with, either.”

Steven Sherlock hit 0-6, three frees, against Newcestown, with Cillian Meyers Murray in sharp form, with 0-5. Ian Maguire and Michael Shields started at midfield, and there’s no shortage of fascinating match-ups that will swing Sunday’s clash with the Haven.

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