I’M delighted that Tomás Ó Sé is getting a farewell trip to Croke Park.
That’s certainly not something I ever expected to be writing in a Cork paper. But Ó Sé – and Nemo Rangers – fully deserve their St Patrick’s Day outing.
It’s been 10 years since the bluebloods of Cork football were on Jones Road for the biggest day in the club calendar but they’ve got there the hard way. They saw off an exciting young St Finbarr’s in the county final, then All-Ireland champions Dr Croke’s and favourites Slaughtneil. Each one of those games was a battle.
Next up are Corofin and you couldn’t bet against Nemo now. They were immense in O’Moore Park.
Ó Sé was a worthy MVP but Barry O’Driscoll pushed him all the way. Stephen Cronin ran the game when it mattered from centre-back, Michael Dorgan gave them a platform at midfield on his introduction, Alan O’Donovan and Alan Cronin never stopped tackling or supporting the runner.
Luke Connolly and Paul Kerrigan struck for 2-5 from play between them, as well as three vital Connolly frees.
In a pulsating and gruelling clash in Portlaoise, they needed every ounce of their experience, class and hunger to prevail: Ó Sé and Nemo. The third quarter was where that was most evident, Ó Sé raiding forward for his second point from play, getting fouled for a Barry O’Driscoll free and driving for the move that ended with Luke Connolly’s goal.
Though they were pegged back before full-time the eight-point swing, from 0-8 to 0-4 in arrears early in the second half to 1-9 to 0-8 ahead – which began with a Conor Horgan gem of a point – was the key period of the game for the Cork champions.
They struggled for long spells in the first half, spurning decent chances which handed the initiative to Slaughtneil. It was a far cry from their dynamic brilliance which left Dr Croke’s reeling and could have been fatal against an Ulster team specialising in ball retention.
Yet when Nemo gathered momentum in the third quarter, even if they needed extra time to get over the line, they were by far the better team from there until the final whistle. They ate their Derry opponents alive in the first 10 minutes of extra time
Bar the odd diehard from Douglas, St Finbarr’s or West Cork, must Leesiders row in behind Nemo when they progress outside the county bounds. Given Cork football’s history is loaded with underachievement it’s the natural thing to do.
The Barrs did bag three All-Ireland football crowns and Skibb one, but other Cork have relied on Nemo to deliver on the biggest stage. At times their dominance here has become monotonous but they always offer an attractive blend of support play and kick-passing, with a knack for nurturing scoring forwards.
Every club team in the country would love to have Kerrigan or Connolly at their disposal. Neither dominated completely last Saturday, and given the stakes and intensity it was impossible, but they performed like inter-county players should for their club making plays when they needed to.
Nemo have a tradition of unsung heroes as much as flair players which is exactly why they’ve won so much. For Alan Cronin senior, Dylan Meighan and Seán O’Brien in the noughties read Barry O’Driscoll, Jack Horgan and Colin O’Brien now. O’Driscoll was everywhere in this game, hoovering up possession and tackling ferociously.
Before Saturday, Nemo’s All-Ireland semi-final record stood at 15 played and 11 won, with those victories converted into seven trophies. Astonishing stuff by any measure.
Now the Trabeg outfit’s modern record in the All-Ireland series isn’t as impressive. They were ousted by St Brigid’s in 2011 when they didn’t really show up on the day, while Michael Quinlivan and Clonmel caught them with a late sucker punch in the 2015 Munster decider.
Six of the titles were collected between their first in 1973 and 1994, 2003 was the only triumph since.
That was a special one of course. Colin Corkery bombed over one of the greatest points ever scored in Croker to secure a late win, after Billy Morgan’s charges had suffered two heartbreaking defeats in the years before.
Nemo came closest since to the Holy Grail in 2008 – pipped by St Vincent’s. The ref didn’t do them any favours and the great pity was the group coached by Ephie Fitzgerald and spearheaded by James Masters didn’t secure the All-Ireland during their county championship four-in-a-row.
Is it any wonder Nemo excel though given their experience and their ability to recycle their former greats into underage coaching? Morgan, Ephie, Steven O’Brien, Jimmy Kerrigan, Colin Corkery, Tony Nation, Dinny Allen and more give their time willingly.
Larry Kavanagh now steps down after March 17 as Paul O’Donovan – whose sons Kevin, Alan and Conor all play – comes in for the 2018 county championship.
No doubt Kavanagh will still be there on the training field with his son’s U12s. If Nemo’s form holds, he’ll be bringing the Andy Merrigan Cup along with him.