IF it’s hard to know how exactly to make any sense of this strange county final then the bizarre period of injury-time that ended the game seems as good a place as any to start.
The opening three quarters was notable only really for Nemo’s excellence but the game had fizzled in a bonkers last quarter that turned everything on its head.
The Barrs had just worked incredibly hard to pull themselves back level and spent basically the entire three minutes of extra-time playing keep-ball, working possession back and over across the Nemo 45 trying to find a gap to create a match-winning chance. Nemo, out on their feet at this stage and completely unsettled by not knowing how they’d thrown away a massive lead, were just able to hang in there, pull everyone behind the ball, keep their shape and discipline and not give up that chance.
In the end, the Barrs couldn’t find a way to win a game they hadn’t really turned up for until 40 minutes in. Nemo found a way to not lose a game it really looked like they’d won. It was that type of match.
Nemo especially will wonder how it came to that late drama because for a long spell they looked a class ahead here.
They played with the rhythm of a team that’s been on these big occasions before, turned up with their usual movement of ball at speed and clever mixture of possession football with knowing when to kick the ball into their forwards and really did whatever they wanted all over the field for the first half especially.
Again Luke Connolly looked the best footballer in the county, dazzling the Barrs with his ability to get on the ball and influence the game. From the throw-in his marker was in Connolly’s face.
By the end of the first quarter Connolly had kicked a massive free, won the four or five footpasses sent his way, done a ridiculous Ronaldo-like soccer turn with the ball on the ground to get out of traffic that nobody else would have imagined trying and kicked a monster point from play out on the left wing.
A little later Nemo were attacking on the right wing and Connolly pointed outside his man for the pass but Nemo recycled; five seconds later his second run inside was picked out and he turned and smacked a lovely curling point from the wing. A little later he broke a few tackles down the right wing again and on the run and slightly off balance picked out a wonderful crossfield ball into space for Paddy Gumley, who turned and slotted another score.
We could list all day the examples of Connolly a step ahead of everyone on the park; second-half high-point... a tough ball win from a kicked pass, a snappy turn and then leaving four Barrs players for dead with speed before moving the ball on.
It really ought to have been a match-winning performance.
Colin O’Brien kicked a couple of lovely points on the run and Barry O’Driscoll cut inside on his left for two great scores. Tomás Ó Sé used possession as well as anyone.
Nemo owned the place with lovely fluent football where they were always able to find a free man and create a chance and it looked for all the world like one of those occasions where the coming team never showed up and we all go home declaring a Nemo masterclass.
And then, slowly the pattern of the game altered.
Barrs upped the collision rate around the field, closed off those spaces so Nemo weren’t allowed pick out simple passes or move up the field without being tackled and the last 20 minutes was played largely in Nemo’s half as they just couldn’t find a free man or a way out. The Barrs started to turnover ball time and again and engaged the crowd at last.
Ian Maguire (whose runs down the centre had pretty much been Barrs only successful route for the first half) started dominating kick-outs and broken ball.
Barr’s started to find gaps around Nemo’s middle third and ran into them for scores, down the right side of the pitch especially, as Colin Lyons came forward from half-back for two points in the second half, Denis O’Brien kicked another from the same wing.
Stephen Sherlock hadn’t really found his kicking range at all from play (he dropped a few shots short in the first half) and yet he was alive and bright and courageous enough in that last 10 minutes to find the space to kick two really important points.
Barrs owned the ball, ran hard, committed everything to every challenge. Sam Ryan made a brilliant last-gasp tackle just when Nemo looked on the verge of finding that match-winning goal and Barr’s had the composure and momentum to work the levelling score. Just not enough in the end for the winning one and as always the dynamic of a draw won’t be known till the replay.
Nemo will feel they had the game won and won’t surely be as sloppy in that position again.
The Barrs will feel they can’t be as flat again as they were in the opening half and will take something from being able to grind out control of a game that looked beyond that.
Something for everyone to take in the end but we’re still missing a winner.