WATCHING Nemo Rangers always has something of déjà vu about it, with the lovely fluent kicking style and you know, the winning.
There was a moment in their semi-final win over Douglas though, where Paul Kerrigan pounced on a loose turnover, spotted the opening and sprinted into the spaces to get on the end of a pass for the opening goal, that could have come from any time in this last 14 years or so — Kerrigan running at speed, Kerrigan creator and finisher, Kerrigan making important plays.
If it’s become routine, we ought not take it for granted either and there’s a sense as Paul Kerrigan looks for his eighth county title this weekend (to go ahead of dad Jimmy by the way) that we may not see this kind of sustained performance/medal-winning repeated very often again.
The pure numbers are worth a mention. In 96 championship games for Nemo, Kerrigan has scored 23-224, fourth on the list of all-time Nemo scorers (thanks Nemo archive). But Kerrigan’s scoring and performance records in winning county finals have been particularly phenomenal really.
After easing into things with a point as substitute in both his first two county finals in 2005/2006, things exploded. 2007: he scored 0-7 from 0-12 to see off Ilen Rovers. 2008: scored 0-5 from 0-13 in a low-scoring win over Douglas. 2010: 1-3 from 2-10 against the Barr’s. 2015: 0-4 from 1-10 v Haven. 2017: 1-2 from 4-12, Barrs again.
Even in the only final he lost, against Castlehaven in 2013, Kerrigan contributed 0-4 from 1-11. That’s top scorer for Nemo in every starting county final in that time-frame, the sort of consistent delivering of goals and points when the need has been greatest from a player who probably wasn’t even always going into games expected to be the main go-to scorer.
Big moments at big times as well.
In that county final with Ilen in 2007 it was Kerrigan who pulled though with responsibility to take scores when the game was there for the taking in the last quarter. In the win over Castlehaven in 2015, again it was Kerrigan involved in opening up the defence for the game-changing goal. A couple of years back he’d been quiet and ineffectual in the drawn game against the Barrs and it was tempting to wonder about a waning power on the club scene.
In the replay, Kerrigan repeatedly carried ball through the middle third for Nemo, committed to getting on the end of a flowing move to hit the net (just like that Douglas goal a fortnight back), kicked two crucial points and right at the end, it was Kerrigan who took a vital ball from defence with the type of responsibility that comes with experience.
There’s a sort of curiosity to the lack of fanfare as well, the feeling that Kerrigan’s displays are sometimes a little under the radar in terms of reality against perception. I’ve been guilty of this and can recall coming away from Cork games especially over the years feeling he hadn’t fully contributed and then totted up his scores for three or four points from play — he just seems to be one of those players who chips away with seemingly straight-forward scores and moments that add up over the course of the game without being completely obvious.
You wouldn’t necessarily have picked him out as the key man in any one particular Nemo team of the last decade and a bit — when we mentioned this scoring record in county finals to one ex-teammate at Nemo he hadn’t realised it’d been so impressive — and yet he’s been the one player who’s linked it all.
In those early years, there was definitely an element of simplicity in how Kerrigan could just get the ball out on the wing, slip past a chasing defender and clip a point over at full speed on the run, where the score seemed so naturally easy to come by that it somehow didn’t warrant full credit.
Kerrigan has spoken about that speed with the ball being so important, how he’d focussed on developing that ability to run faster than anyone else while hopping and soloing by doing just that on the training pitch, practicing running up and down the field with the ball more than say, typical speed work. I’m still not sure I’ve seen a Gaelic football player live as thrillingly fast as Kerrigan at peak pace, where quick defenders who appeared to be running at full tilt just found themselves being left for dead without being able to do anything about it.
Kerrigan’s probably not able for those killer speeds now but his actions in the scoring areas are more efficient too and his longevity in influence has been remarkable when you think that his first county final experience was coming on for Joe Kavanagh, he played through the Alan Cronin-James Masters era and is now overlapping with another gifted attacker like Mark Cronin.
When Patrice Evra spoke this week about the culture he picked up at Man Utd from players like Giggs and Scholes, it’s impossible to quantity just the level of experience someone like Cronin and other young players coming through at Nemo can learn about what’s considered the right way to do things at Nemo in application and on the ball in matches.
It’s just an awful lot of games and seasons with Nemo and Cork worked up at the top end of championships year after year without falling off on impact and it’s hard to think of any contemporary player who’s been as influential (what John Hayes has done with Carbery Rangers maybe the closest) over such a long period.
If there was a feeling at the beginning of his time that end product wasn’t always what it might have been (we recall frustrations of managers and club people at him trying to do everything too quickly), the calmness on the ball and ability to slow the game has been one of his strengths for some time. He’s added playmaking and kickpassing to a repertoire that used to be about rushing past defenders.
He’s been a leader in the team for an age and is generally considered as decent a club man as there is even in a club that pushed that sort of thinking as much as Nemo.
Don’t be surprised by anything he does this weekend — someone like Luke Connolly and Mark Cronin might bring the wonder and the ball skills but Kerrigan has everything in his locker and a history of delivering. It may be that the most important player in Cork club football this past decade will get more rewards if not all the plaudits.