The Christy O'Connor: Classy Connolly personifies Nemo's confidence

The Christy O'Connor: Classy Connolly personifies Nemo's confidence
Luke Connolly in full flight. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer

IN an interview last week, Nemo Rangers’ Barry O’Driscoll spoke how Luke Connolly typified the promise in this Nemo team. 

After landing 0-10 in the Munster final against Dr Crokes, O’Driscoll referred to that balance between genius and frustration at the heart of Connolly.

“I’d be close with Luke and Luke would wreck your head like the best of them,” said O’Driscoll. 

“He’s brilliant. 

"He has all the skill in the world and he has the confidence to match it. 

"It’s just kind of reining in the decision-making…‘You probably shouldn’t take that on, Luke!’ 

"Again, you say that and he could do something outrageous and pull it off.” 

That genius was at the heart of Nemo’s display on Saturday against Slaughtneil. 

Connolly provided many of those strokes of genius with a tally of 2-5, 2-2 from play, but the control to Connolly’s game underlined how he, and this team, have grown during this epic journey.

Connolly made just six plays in the first half. 

He struggled to get on the ball but he never got frustrated, especially when it would have been easy to do so after often being pulled and dragged when in possession. 

Connolly had assists for four scores in normal time while his first goal in the 43rd minute underlined his brilliance.

When Conor Horgan’s point attempt looped short, Connolly tried to punch the ball over the head of Brendan Rodgers. 

He only got half a purchase on the attempt but when goalkeeper Antoin McMullan tried to intercept the dropping ball, Connolly tipped it over him, side-footing the ball to the net before it hit the deck.

Connolly could have ended the match with four goals. 

He had a shot saved just before half-time, which was pulled back for a converted free. 

One of his points from play in extra time could have been a goal when Connolly’s rocket flew over the crossbar.

When Connolly finally scored his second goal in the 80th minute, it was fitting that it was set up by the excellent O’Driscoll. 

Luke Connolly. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Luke Connolly. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

It was the final act of a tremendous display of control and genius by a Nemo team possessing all the traditions and hallmarks of their illustrious predecessors, continuing to be inspired by that storied history and culture, and imbued with a confidence that demands nothing else but victory.

Last October, Nemo weren’t even on the shortlist of All-Ireland contenders working their way through their county championships but Nemo are always a different animal once they get out of Cork.

At the final whistle on Saturday, the Nemo supporters boomed out their Nemo chant in the stand, like a war-cry to greet another victory for their unique tribe. 

Billed beforehand as a clash between Old World and New Order, Nemo ruthlessly quelled Slaughtneil in the first half of extra-time to underline why they have always been the main rulers of this terrain.

That supreme confidence flowed throughout this performance like a river, with the current getting stronger at every demanding turn. Nemo didn’t score until the 20th minute. 

They had only four points on the board at half-time. Slaughtneil enjoyed 69% in that first half. 

The Derry men led by four points early in the second half but when Nemo finally got a foothold, they had Slaughtneil on the backfoot, swamping them beneath a deluge of five unanswered points in seven minutes.

Nemo never panic. 

Their history ensures there is no need to but the sweetness was surely added to the taste of this win considering how much control Slaughtneil had of the game early on. 

Nemo went at Slaughtneil straight from the throw-in but Slaughtneil just soaked it up and kept the chains of the machine moving steadily forward. 

Nemo had created seven scoring chances to just one for Slaughtneil in the opening seven minutes but they failed to take any of them, whereas the Derry men mined three points from seven attacks in the opening quarter.

Slaughtneil’s two main leaders – Chrissy McKaigue and Brendan Rodgers - are defenders but they always have a licence to attack and they had already set the tone in that opening quarter with a combined 16 plays, eight of which were made in the Nemo half of the field.

Nemo couldn’t get the ball in that half because Slaughtneil’s midfielders, Patsy Bradley and Paudie Cassidy, were running the game with McKaigue, Rodgers and Chrissy Bradley. 

In that opening period, those five players made an astonishing 86 plays.

And yet, the devil was in the detail for Nemo. Despite Slaughtneil appearing to have the game in a vice, Nemo could have loosened that grip if they hadn’t kicked five wides and dropped two shots short. 

They had turned the ball over 11 times while Nemo had also managed to create three more scoring chances than their opponents (13-10) in that first half, three of which were goal opportunities.

Those numbers proved Nemo had the potential to take over if they got a handle on the Slaughtneil kick-out, and on Slaughtneil’s big men, which they did in the third quarter.

The charge was led by the excellent Tomás Ó Sé, who scored one point and had two assists in that unanswered scoring burst.

Nemo had control and although Slaughtneil wrestled it back off them, Nemo’s superior fitness was bound to be a factor in extra time against a team on the road in both codes over the last two seasons.

Nemo just killed the match in the second half of extra-time by pulling numbers into their defence and retaining possession before Connolly emphatically sealed the deal with his second goal in the 80th minute.

It felt like Connolly had planted the Nemo flag in the middle of the battlefield, to announce that this tribe have always ruled this land.

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