THE anticipated St Patrick’s Day thriller between two of the purest club football teams in the country never materialised at Croke Park.
Corofin lived up to their side of the bargain. Their blend of majestic kick-passing, relentless support running and disciplined defending was brilliant to watch.
Nemo were basically swatted aside. A rarity for a club of their class.
It was a bit like the scene in The Avengers movie when the Hulk mangled supervillain Loki – ‘puny God’ was his withering dismissal as he hammered him into the ground. Rangers are gods on Leeside but Corofin were ready for them.
They offered 60-plus minutes of complete football. Martin Farragher, who had been ridiculously sent off in the semi-final, made of the most of his reprieve and was a worthy Man of the Match.
Every one of the Galway team were superb however. They clicked from early on.
Daithí Burke was as peerless at midfield with the big ball as he’s been at full-back for the Galway hurlers. Ian Burke and Micheál Lundy were the conductors of their attacking orchestra, with veteran Gary Sice plundering 1-4 from play and setting the tone from the off.
Corofin’s half-back line of Kieran Molloy, Dylan Wall and Ciarán McGrath, ably supported by Daithí Burke and Ronan Steede’s midfield dominance, starved Nemo’s attack of meaningful ball.
Luke Connolly nabbed a couple points from play but didn’t have the space to match the 3-18 he’d tallied in the previous three rounds of the All-Ireland.
Where Tomás Ó Sé rolled back the years against Slaughtneil, this was a slog. Paul Kerrigan was typically lively but Corofin had enough bodies back to frustrate him.
Alan Cronin made some fine defensive plays and subs Jack O’Donovan and Michael Dorgan added a bit of fire in the middle third, but at no stage did Nemo look remotely like winning.
It was a difficult occasion for Colin ‘Tucker’ O’Brien as he buried his father Tommy ‘Tucker’ O’Brien earlier in the week. The late Tommy passed on his love of sport to Colin, Marissa and Jack. He had been an underage soccer star, signed by Coventry City in his youth, and was a popular character in Ballyphehane.
Tommy’s memory was honoured before throw-in but also in his son’s display. While the number 12 hit a couple of wides, his work-rate was typically immense and even when the game had long run away from Nemo, O’Brien was still covering every blade of grass.
Here on Leeside, Nemo are viewed through a prism of admiration and envy. That’s what happens to those that set the highest of standards.
Their ability to consistently deliver has seen them land 20 counties since their breakthrough in 1972. They’ve only actually lost four senior county finals, that’s an 83% conversation rate at the business end of the Cork championship.
It’s only natural to be jealous of Nemo while marvelling at their ruthless efficiency. And anyone who backs Cork football would have loved to see them get over the line at Croker.
There isn’t a direct correlation between club and county results – after Nemo won the 2003 All-Ireland, Cork endured two miserable seasons and demoralising defeats. The best club players don’t always fit in seamlessly with their county. Alan Cronin senior was probably the ultimate warrior with Nemo and hit four from play in that ’03 final against Ballina, but never took flight with Cork.
During this transitional era, the Rebels need the Nemo contingent to hit the ground running now they’re available again. Connolly and Kerrigan will obviously figure heavily in Ronan McCarthy and his selectors’ plans, but so too must Stephen Cronin, Barry O’Driscoll and Aidan O’Reilly, to bolster defensive options.
The key man will be Connolly. Can he bring his Nemo best to the Blood and Bandage?
For the all the scores, arguably the most magical of Connolly moments over this campaign was against the Barrs in the county final. Chasing a breaking ball towards midfield and about to be sandwiched by Michael Shields and Ian Maguire, instead of bending down to scoop the ball up he did the equivalent of a Cruyff to flick it into space, before collecting it with ease.
Only a player with a background in soccer would have the audacity to attempt it. However this wasn’t a trick to showboat, it was a highly practical way of securing possession. You can’t coach that.
Corofin’s Lundy has a similar swagger about him, Dub dynamo Diarmuid Connolly too, and they helped their clubs to All-Ireland glory by simply being themselves, away from the restrictions the more tactical inter-county scene imposes.
This was a galling Croke Park outing for Connolly and co, but if Cork are to return there this summer, they’ll need them all firing like they had been for Nemo.
Manager Larry Kavanagh was a fantastic servant as a corner-back and steps down now with a county and Munster landed as boss, following a county as a selector under Steven O’Brien in 2015.
Paul O’Donovan comes in as bainisteoir, and this being Nemo, they’ll simple down themselves down and come back stronger.