SO, the plan had been a lookback on important football games for Cork from 1990 onwards with half an idea of taking in a couple of club games along the way that made their mark.
Still, down a rabbit hole of old games we couldn’t help notice the 1992 county final, O’Donovan Rossa v Nemo, and well, there was no skipping past that.
This was a different era remember.
The 1980s dominance of Nemo-Barrs had been interrupted by Duhallow, but the west was on the brink of exploding — Haven had won in 1989 which obviously was an inspiration of sorts.
And this Skibb team was made up of players coming through very decent schools’ teams that’d won a Hogan Cup, serious All-Ireland winners, attitude, Mick McCarthy. This is still their only senior county title.
And the game was as manic as you’d expect on rewatch. The pace started somewhere around hectic and basically hovered around there throughout, Skibb never letting up at all in their work-rate and intensity and willingness to just go for everything.
For one spell in the first half — Skibb went 1-5 to 0-1 ahead and missed a penalty in the opening quarter — it actually felt like they had more players on the field because every time the ball dropped into midfield they outnumbered Nemo maybe three to two on breaks and even if Nemo got the ball past midfield they still had extra bodies inside as well.
Nemo, even with a midfield of Fahy and Dalton, couldn’t get any sort of possession or rhythm and Skibb just came in waves. At one point of the second half, Nemo tried to work the ball out, but the player in possession got bashed from one tackle to another until passing it on to another player who got bashed and so on — it wasn’t unlike Tyrone’s ambush on Kerry in 2003 for effect.
At another stage a Nemo player just booted the ball away out the field under savage pressure, a most un-Nemo like thing to do — they were worn down by then by the sheer energy from Skibbereen who seemed to win almost every battle for possession and loose ball that dropped.
It’s hard to judge the standard of football on a heavy pitch and the tempo of the game rarely settled down enough for spells of possession anything longer than a couple of passes before a turnover tackle or hunt.
Though by the way, the free from the hands rule that came in was such a game-changer, here the free from the ground just took so much time up and generally ended in another grapple for possession anyway.
But of course, there was quality as well. The story went that Skibb just wanted to get the ball to small Mick and he’d work from there — it wasn’t as basic as that, but it wasn’t entirely untrue either as Mick McCarthy was one of those forwards at club level who could do such complete wreckage that it’d be an awful waste if that wasn’t plan A.
If he didn’t quite influence the game as other games that year here (he had scored 1-4 in beating county champions Duhallow and 1-8 v Muskerry in the quarters) he still kicked important frees, curled a typically wonderful point on the turn from play and was classy in using the ball always. It just so happened that others were even better, more influential in attack for once.
Enter Joe O’Driscoll. He got on the end of a dropped-short shot in the first half to palm a huge goal at a massive time, the underdogs were always going to need goals to kick on mentally against giants like Nemo.
O’Driscoll kicked two really big points as well in the second half at a time when Nemo were making a comeback.
First he powered onto a dropping ball off his inside-forward line, burst around a couple of tackles and fired over a shot on the run from the right wing. Then a flowing Skibb move up the middle, a Don Davis pass and O’Driscoll, confidence up from earlier, took on an early shot that few over from way out.
And then probably the iconic score in the game late on. Don Davis won a kick-out, found Brian O’Donovan (who was immense at midfield throughout) on the run inside the Nemo defensive cover.
O’Donovan’s strike was deflected out towards the end line where O’Driscoll had again made a run in support, he just barely kept the ball in play, looped around and then dinked a delicious pass across the goal with the outside of his right foot.
O’Donovan arrived at exactly the right second, leaped spectacularly in the air and punched the ball at its highest point across the Nemo keeper and into the corner of the net. Think a Sergio Ramos soaring header for Real Madrid only with the fist, for coming up with the match-deciding moment just when it was needed.
It looks brilliant even now, O’Donovan hanging in the air and smashing the ball. Cue delirium. Mostly it was the team though, and that frantic willingness to run and work. Tony Davis was so influential carrying ball and the rest of the Skibb defence (Frank McCarthy, John Evans, Gene O’Driscoll especially) just never allowed an All-Star Nemo forward line any space to work their magic.
Joe Kavanagh got one score that hinted at their potential but that was it.
The context is important here too. This Skibb team won an All-Ireland title the next March. These two sides met again in Bandon in the 1993 championship where Nemo were absolutely electric and ripped through them for 3-18.
I remember being there and the Nemo forward movement and combinations were mesmeric, as good a forward display as I’ve seen at club level, showing how good that Skibb defence had to be the year before in ways. Nemo pushed on to win the All-Ireland titles themselves — so basically these were the two top teams in the country at the time.
Also, this inspired a sort of resurgence of belief out west — more would follow as the 90s went on.