IN 2007, St Nicholas reached the semi-finals of what was then the Evening Echo Cork SFC.
They lost by 1-13 to 0-7 against Nemo Rangers, and there was no disgrace in that – Nemo were about to complete the third leg of a four in a row and it would be their sixth title in eight years.
Since then, the northsiders have played 38 games in the football championship, including relegation play-off matches, winning 11, losing 25 (one after extra time, against St Finbarr’s in 2014) and drawing two (coincidentally both against Dohenys). In that period, they have not won any first-round games – until the start of 2016, the easiest way to alleviate relegation fears.
They have been relegated from Division 4 of the county league, winning one game and losing nine, and so will begin 2018 playing in Division 5, the lowest rung of that restructured ladder. And yet, they will also start next year still as a senior club, proudly holding on to a senior status secured when they won the intermediate title in 1937, making an immediate impact as Bantry were beaten in the 1938 senior decider.
While the introduction of automatic relegation brought an element of danger, every year – no matter how intrusive Glen Rovers hurling commitments were – Nick’s did enough to win one game, no matter how much they had been written off. In 2015, they won two, against Clonakilty and Dohenys, to reach the quarter-finals, where it was their misfortune to come against Nemo.
The change in the system at the beginning of last year, whereby a team was only automatically relegation if they failed to win a game in two years out of three, theoretically eased pressure, and so it was that in 2016 they exited the championship with defeats to Carrigaline and Clonakilty and then lost to Dohenys after a replay in the relegation play-offs.
One notable change to the system however was that teams risked the drop if they were in the bottom two in two years of three rather than in the bottom one, as had been the case in the past.
When one team went down each year, you could be in the bottom two every year and still survive, once you won that last game to preserve your status.
The way the 2016 season went, it meant that Nick’s began this year knowing that a win was essential if they were to avoid slipping down to premier intermediate. The first round paired them with city divisional side Seandún, where they lost by 3-11 to 2-11, and then they lost by 0-17 to 0-10 against Ilen Rovers in round 2B.
It meant another relegation clash with Dohenys, though this time with the knowledge that victory was essential. When the need was greatest, Nick’s delivered, with Mark Dooley getting both goals as a 2-10 to 1-5 win was earned.
Nick’s live to fight another day and fight they will, carried by history, heritage and no little collective effort to carry the tradition which has been handed down.
We can’t mention Nemo without referencing Sunday’s impressive Munster senior club final win over Dr Crokes at Páirc Uí Rinn.
Going into a game as 3/1 outsiders must have been a very strange experience for Nemo but they made light of those odds as they dethroned the All-Ireland champions on a 0-16 to 0-11 scoreline.
Ten points from Luke Connolly – as well as going close to a goal twice, denied by brilliant Shane Murphy saves – showcased his talent and one hopes that he will be central to the new-look Cork in 2018.
In an era when too many players opt for the safe option of an easy pass rather going for a score, he has a refreshing lack of fear and, if the first one doesn’t go over – as on Sunday – he’s not cowed and will have a go again the next time. What’s that saying about missing 100 percent of the shots you don’t take?
Hopefully, Connolly and the rest of the Nemo team will be successful when they take on Slaughtneil in the All-Ireland semi-final in February, as it has been too long since we’ve had a Cork presence in Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day.