A NEMO management group embracing on the final whistle followed by a player in green and black lifting Andy Scannell and it felt a very familiar ending to another county final.
It might have been an unnecessary grind in a frantic last quarter and not particularly pretty or inspiring for long spells but that hardly matters now. Nemo are county champions again after one whole year of hurt.
Again they’ve found a way to outlast everybody and they did enough here overall, taking control of the game with a powerful first half of intent and composure to show they’re still the top dogs in the county when they feel like turning it on and again they had enough players with game-changing moments to win on the biggest day.
Again they’ve responded with a county title after the questions of that non-performance in Dunmanway last summer and again they’ve left little doubt about the essentials of turning up game after game with the necessary mentality and ballskills under pressure to face down every challenge.
That first half was the winning of it for Nemo, a lesson in economy of football and doing the basics right. They aggressively targeted Duhallow’s kick-outs as expected and got an awful of joy, winning good possession from over half of them in the first half and grabbing both goals as a result.
For the first goal, Nemo won possession around the middle, Stephen Cronin ran right down the middle to open the Duhallow defence and handpassed across to Luke Connolly one-v-one inside the Duhallow area – only one result there, Connolly shot across the keeper to the net. Right away Colin O’Brien attacked the kick-out to win a hard ball, passed to Luke Connolly, who caught two Duhallow defenders with a sharp turn to get running in on goal – it took two chances but he finished really calmly with the second one.
Some points of note for the winners here.
Nemo’s ruthlessness to go for the goals when they were there is typical of any champion team, who can recognise the damage two goals can do to a game in such a short spell. Luke Connolly’s skills with the clever soccer turn on the ground to get possession and then the soccer finish as well from the rebound were class.
A point of note on the defensive side of things? Letting Nemo run right down the middle to work a position firstly where Nemo’s most dangerous goalscorer is left isolated inside the scoring zone was careless and deservedly punished; letting a three-v-one develop a moment later from their own kickout was heading towards unforgivable.
But it was in keeping with Duhallow’s first half where they just seemed oddly flat. Nemo turned over Duhallow runners again and again around the middle third – at one stage Aidan Walsh ran right into a wall of Nemo tacklers, got capsized, Nemo broke quickly and Paul Kerrigan ran down the middle, kickpassed across to Luke Connolly for a point.
Jack Horgan intercepted another sloppy pass and ran down the wing to get fouled for a pointed free. For two points in a row in the first half Nemo worked the ball into shooting positions for Colin O’Brien and then Mark Cronin and I wrote the words “too easy” in the notebook as Duhallow never got a hand or a tackle in to disrupt Nemo’s flow of movement. Nemo’s ability to find free players and move the ball through the middle third and into the scoring areas was the difference (they actually snatched oddly at some other really decent chances as well), just that composure in possession to move the ball.
That the second half got so untidy and lacking fluency from either side (partly Duhallow making every possession difficult by upping the physical contact, partly an unusual sloppiness in Nemo’s skills and composure) did allow some others to shine away from the usual focus.
Micheal Aodh Martin has been solid for Nemo for some time now when needed. The 2015 county title wouldn’t have been won only for a wonderstop from Michael Hurley. Here again he stood tall as probably one of the best shotstoppers around, flicking a strike over the bar and then making himself a bigger target than the goal late on when a Duhallow goal might have really made things interesting.
Nemo have conceded two goals in the whole championship and none in the final three games.
Stephen Cronin deserves a real mention too here. In the first half he was purposeful and positive on the ball, always looking to drive forward and his run made the first goal. At one stage of the second half Kevin Crowley drove down the middle to take a shot at goal and Cronin showed great defensive timing and immense bravery to get an important block.
It was that sort of day in the end, little contributions rather than extended brilliance. Kevin and Alan O’Donovan carried a lot of ball in that first half, Colin O’Brien got through his usual amount of running and linking play. Duhallow almost made something from the chaos of the second half in the end through sheer refusal to stop going but didn’t quite have enough quality to win the game they’d lost control of with that first-half performance. Regrets will linger on the absence of intensity in that opening 40 minutes or so.
The bigger questions will come up again, as they always do with Nemo’s history. The vulnerabilities of the second half will get analysed.
We don’t know yet where this team might go on the Munster and All-Ireland challenge and the depth of quality in Cork football will get brought up after the lack of show provided here. For those watching for the future, Mark Cronin got experience of a county final and nabbed two handy points.
Nemo will care less.
Again they’re winners because nobody’s been able to beat them.