A COUPLE of years back Stephen Cronin did one of those My Club features for GAA.ie on his football education at Nemo Rangers.
It was an interesting and informative read that made several references to a ‘Nemo way’, from the idea of giving everybody game time growing up with underage teams to the attacking style of open kick-passing football in preference to sweepers or bodies back behind the ball. Only this week Paul Kerrigan and Barry O’Driscoll have spoken about the long time it took for the club to get back into All-Ireland semis and finals again and the opportunity for a new group of players to get to and win an All-Ireland final at a club where that’s the sort of level of expectation.
There’s quite a lot of reconciliation to be done between the club who prioritises the development of young players at underage and the club who’s more obsessed with winning senior titles and Munsters and All-Irelands than anyone else in these parts. And if creating a certain culture in groups and clubs seems to be the new necessity, the thought strikes that very few have managed the balance Nemo Rangers have managed.
Some clubs have a mentality to do anything to win. Some clubs want to play a particular way or with a certain style or to always do the right thing. It’s rare enough to find a club willing to do both and rarer again to find a club able to do both successfully - Nemo are like a mix of Real Madrid and Barcelona and it really is the worst possible world for rivals in Cork when it all comes together.
There’s nothing overly complex about what Nemo try and do and yet it’s almost impossible to replicate the exact conditions in which their culture has become their culture. In one way Nemo win partly because they’ve always won, the generation that’s coming always being prepped in the history and the right levels of preparation and attitude that are needed. Stephen Cronin mentions coming into the squad and marking a legend like James Masters in training.
Barry O’Driscoll references the current management with All-Ireland medals as proof of authenticity. In the same way that Kerry football has the recent history as a guide, Nemo footballers have the last 30 to 40 years as a standard performance to keep up. It’s not that they never fall short but there’s rarely a complete underperformance and teams that beat Nemo in championship almost always have to play exceptionally well to do so.
And still it’s more than mentality too and there aren’t too many other teams you could watch in the county or country even where you’d have a reasonably decent idea within ten minutes of the game who you’re watching.
Nemo have good footballers around the field, they move the ball quickly from defence to the scoring areas and I can’t remember watching a Nemo team over the last 20 years who weren’t able to kick-pass through every line on the field and who didn’t know exactly what places on the pitch they needed to move ball and players in order to create scoring chances.
There was a scenario on the field in the county final win over Castlehaven a few years ago towards the end of the game where Nemo were caught in the corner-back position in possession and really needed an out-ball.
Kevin Fulignati showed for it, had the ball control to break a tackle, keep possession and move the ball on up the wing and if it wasn’t the showiest of plays it sort of summed up the ability and mentality of all Nemo’s players to be able for responsibility when necessary on the ball.
In the drawn county final last year Nemo were completely rattled by Barrs comeback from nowhere and yet had the discipline to not allow a shot or give away a free for two or three minutes of total opposition possession and pressure at the end.
In the replay, they were able to work the ball from defence to attack to get a clinching score at the end at a time the game looked to be slipping away, a striking sense of composure at the perfect time.
Mostly there’s a sense of a plan and of a natural progress with players that ought to be watched and enjoyed and if not looked upon exactly fondly by the rest of Cork (though Barry O’Driscoll touched on an interesting side to the Nemo/rest of Cork debate this week as well), then certainly as a preferred method of player development.
There might be a train of thought of a conveyor belt of talent but this Nemo group has been several years in the making, containing plenty from the sides that lost to Castlehaven in 2013 and Ballincollig in 2014 and who maybe were written off as not being good enough to dominate senior level here.
Individual players were given their chance and given room to improve and it’s genuinely difficult to recall many (or even any) players in the club in the last decade or more who’ve burst through only to not fulfil potential.
I remember questions about someone like James Masters’ ability to take the scoring mantle from Colin Corkery; he top scored in seven years for Nemo from 2005-14; thanks to Nemo archives for that. Same doubts about Luke Connolly; similar response with three top scoring seasons and the leap last summer to key player.
Jack Horgan has been around for a few years and again made that step with performance and goal in the county final and this kind of progression sums up just how Nemo are able to make individual players better technically from year to year.
In a way Slaughtneil are the most appropriate opponents this weekend, the most Nemo-like team in possibly the rest of the country in the strength of their culture, both on and off the field, and how they play the game. If there’s been a tendency at times to downscale Nemo’s wins in Cork and Munster (arguments including Cork football being weak, Barrs being inexperienced, Crokes being tired, etc), there’s something of a proper challenge about this one, that sense that only some form of an epic performance from Nemo would win this, maybe their best in a fair few years at this elite national level.
Nemo may win or lose but chances are they’ll do it in the right way.