Nemo proved they are more like top dogs than underdogs but when will the county teams bare their teeth?

Nemo proved they are more like top dogs than underdogs but when will the county teams bare their teeth?
Jack Horgan of Nemo Rangers. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

NEMO RANGERS, the plucky underdogs.

It just doesn’t sound right. And it isn’t, really.

Any team with Paul Kerrigan and Luke Connolly in attack, the immortal Tomás Ó Sé wearing number five, and a support cast of super-fit, highly skilled players in every line is capable of beating anyone.

Yet, Nemo weren’t really factored into the equation as potential All-Ireland champions this winter. Sure, they won the title again on Leeside, but only after a replay against St Finbarr’s, when they mixed the sublime with the ridiculous. They coughed up serious leads in both games with the Barrs, in a Liverpool-esque manner. The bottom line, though, was they grabbed a 20th county and had a point to prove after being stunned by Clonmel in the 2015 provincial final.

In Munster, the holders Dr Croke’s were the hot fancy and Slaughtneil and Corofin the leading contenders even after Nemo blitzed the Kerry side at Páirc Uí Rinn. It is Nemo, though, who will head to Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day to face Corofin, having excelled last weekend.

Ciarán Dalton gives it his all. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Ciarán Dalton gives it his all. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

They did everything wrong in the first half at O’Moore Park against Slaughtneil, turning over possession repeatedly, missing chances and, just after the break, handing a counter- attacking outfit a four-point lead. By the end of extra-time, they were cruising into another All-Ireland final, finishing 1-5 clear, as Maurice Deegan’s whistle sounded for the last time.

Ó Sé hogged the headlines and rightly so. He’ll turn 40 this year, but he was a leader from the off, grabbed a couple of points, was fouled for a converted free and helped set up the first goal for Connolly. Barry O’Driscoll must have been close to getting the official TG4 man-of-the-match bauble, too, though.

The first time O’Driscoll came across my radar was as a Cork minor in 2007. Against Derry in the All-Ireland quarter-final at Croker, he buried an outrageous goal, on the run, into the top corner from 20 metres.

That was a decent Rebel squad too. Current Nemo captain Aidan O’Reilly, then a Carrigtwohill player, was involved, as were Aidan Walsh, Ciarán Sheehan, Mark Collins and Lorcán McLoughlin. Chris O’Donovan went on to capture an U21 All-Ireland in 2009, Denis O’Sullivan featured in the championship in the Conor Counihan era, and Ian Jones eventually left Bishopstown to take up a role in strength-and-conditioning in the NFL with the Houston Texans.

This being Cork football, they were beaten by Derry, turning a 1-3 to no score advantage into a 1-8 to 1-7 loss. O’Driscoll looked a class act then and has been a vital cog for Nemo since.

Padraig Cassidy with Alan O'Donovan and Barry O'Driscoll of Nemo. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer
Padraig Cassidy with Alan O'Donovan and Barry O'Driscoll of Nemo. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer

Injuries are perhaps the primary reason Cork have rarely seen the best of him. He was redeployed as an attacking wing-back by Brian Cuthbert in 2015 and hit the net in the Munster final draw in Killarney. He’d surely be a major addition to the Cork panel after the All-Ireland club final. His power, tackling, free-taking, and intelligence on the ball were decisive against Slaughtneil.

The Rebels are struggling without the Nemo crew. Kerrigan, Connolly, O’Driscoll and Stephen Cronin were in the squad last year and you could make a strong case for Aidan O’Reilly coming in, too, as he’s a natural in the full-back line. Cork are highly unlikely to get promoted from Division 2 — with away trips to Meath and Roscommon, as well as a home tie against Clare — but you couldn’t expect them to with the Nemo lads out, as well as Aidan Walsh, Seán Powter and James Loughrey. That’s the spine of a decent team.

Mark Collins against Cavan. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Mark Collins against Cavan. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

Cork probably wouldn’t benefit from promotion to Division 1 at this juncture, because they’re in a midst of a period of transition and confidence is low. Getting shredded by Dublin or Kerry next spring would hardly help Ronan McCarthy and his selectors, as they rebuild the panel.

What about the hurlers then?

Their self-belief has to have been dented by recent weeks. Some of their performances have been as patchy as the Páirc Uí Chaoimh surface.

Even allowing for the fact the Páirc was overhauled, it was worrying to see how rough a previously outstanding pitch looked last Sunday. Running across sand dunes would have been easier than a nifty pick-up in some parts.

It’s still in the ‘winter hurling’ phase of the season, so rough pitches and erratic displays are par for the course.

Yet, watching League Sunday, Nowlan Park was immaculate and it facilitated a Kilkenny-Tipp thriller. The Cats, who lost to Cork and Clare early on, now have a bit of momentum.

Cork had a disappointing league in 2013, were relegated, and went on to reach the Munster and All-Ireland finals; they escaped the drop by beating Galway in 2016, but ended up short-wiring come summer, against Tipp and Wexford. They’re heading for a relegation play-off in a couple of weeks and you can’t predict what the knock-on effect will be.

On the plus side, John Meyler and his selectors have looked at a number of new faces, with Seán O’Donoghue and Tim O’Mahony the most impressive. Eoin Cadogan has been decent at full-back on his return.

Alan Cadogan of Cork attempts to block the shot of Tadhg de Burca. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Alan Cadogan of Cork attempts to block the shot of Tadhg de Burca. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

What’s worrying is the disjointed feel to the attack. Seamus Harnedy’s red card on Sunday was a disaster, but Cork haven’t been fluid in front of goal.

Sticking Shane Kingston back in from the start is a must against Tipp.

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