WHEN Daithi Casey kicked a point in the 41st minute of Sunday’s Munster Club final to reduce the deficit to two, Dr Crokes looked to be building momentum and charging for the front at just the right time.
It was Crokes’ fourth unanswered point in eight minutes. They had Nemo Rangers on the back-foot.
Crokes won the Nemo kick-out and launched another attack but Fionn Fitzgerald was turned over by Luke Connolly in the bottom right-hand corner. The play was held up on a couple of occasions for a free and an injury but over two minutes and 15 passes later, Paul Kerrigan was fouled by Gavin White and Connolly broke Crokes’ momentum with the resultant free.
Connolly won Shane Murphy’s kickout and, after a one-two with Alan O’Donovan, landed another excellent point. Jack Donovan secured the subsequent kick-out again and set in motion a move which ended with a Kerrigan point.
Just when the All-Ireland champions looked like they were staring Nemo down, the Cork side didn’t blink. When Crokes appeared to have put the gun to their head, Nemo turned the gun on Crokes and blew them away.
The final winning margin was five points. It could, and probably should, have been at least 10.
Nemo looked like a team that, not only expected to win but fancied themselves to dominate their opponents, which they effectively did.
Kerrigan’s point in the 47th minute scraped the crossbar.
It was obvious from Kerrigan’s reaction afterwards that he had been going for goal but Nemo had been boring holes in the Crokes defence all afternoon.
They created six goalscoring chances alone in the first half, which resulted in just three points, but the barrage underlined how much Crokes had been under the hammer for most of the afternoon.
Nemo’s first-half dominance wasn’t fully reflected on the scoreboard but it carried echoes of the teams last Munster final meeting in 2010. Crokes looked spooked early on that afternoon when they trailed by 13 points at half-time.
Crokes are too worldly and classy now to have been spooked by Nemo in the first half of Sunday’s game but they couldn’t live with Nemo’s intensity when they dialed it up. Crokes couldn’t say they weren’t expecting it because they would have fully appreciated how dangerous Nemo are in Munster finals.
Of the 17 finals the club had played in prior to Sunday, Nemo had lost just two, one of which – the 2015 decider against Clonmel Commercials – was decided with the last kick.
That was clearly a huge motivation. Kerrigan spoke during last week of that defeat being the worst ever.
The conditions that afternoon were desperate, which contributed to such a low-scoring match, and which left Clonmel hanging in the game, and with the opportunity to win it.
A recurring trend of Nemo’s Munster final successes has been the quality of performance their teams have consistently produced on the biggest provincial days.
A couple of results have skewed the figures but of the six titles Nemo won between 2000-10, they won those games by an aggregate margin of 43 points. Even back through the decades, Nemo often won big in finals.
Many of those matches were effectively won in the first half because Nemo had exploded out of the blocks to set the terms and conditions for what was to follow.
That didn’t happen against Clonmel two years ago, who matched Nemo stride for stride throughout the first three quarters. Nemo kicked on near the end but not by enough.
Nemo were intent on laying down a marker early this time, by dictating the terms of engagement. Although Crokes had a good start and led by 0-3 to 0-2 after 10 minutes, Nemo had already signaled their intent. Their first and third attacks were clear-cut goal chances, while they had more shots than Crokes in that opening 10 minutes (6-5).
The game though, was effectively won between the 10th and 21st minutes. In that period, Nemo made 55 plays to Crokes’ 17.
They had 10 shots at the target to Crokes’ solitary one. Nemo nailed six of those shots but three of those remaining scoring attempts were either saves or manic goal-line defending to prevent goals, while the fourth scoring chance was a Connolly ’45 which hit the post.
Nemo won two Shane Murphy kick-outs, who is Cluxtonesque with his restarts. They made three big turnovers in possession in that 11-minute period.
Even when Crokes finally got a foothold against that raging tide with a point, Nemo came straight down the field from the kick-out and it took another brilliant Murphy save to deny Connolly a goal.
There were still over 40 minutes to play but Nemo’s message was stark and clear. ‘Today is different. This is Nemo in a Munster final. And this is what Nemo do in Munster finals.’
Crokes knew they were dealing with a different animal to anything they had faced in Munster in seven years. The four Munster finals the Kerry side had won in the previous six seasons had been by an aggregate margin of 33 points.
Nemo were even more pumped to end Crokes unbeaten run in five provincial campaigns, not just because they had been written off, but because Crokes were being regarded as the modern club superpower in Munster, almost like the modern Nemo.
Yet there is only one Nemo. Their haul of 16 Munster titles is now one more than what Kerry clubs (15) have won in the 52-year history of the Munster club championship.
“We’re well aware of the history in the club and what we have to live up to,” said goalkeeper Micheál Aodh Martin on Red FM afterwards.
“As a player, there was no such thing as coming out today and losing to Dr Crokes in a tight game, and that being a moral victory.
"That attitude doesn’t exist in Nemo.”
It doesn’t because the wheel just keeps turning. The culture remains as strong as ever and Nemo keep winning Munster titles.
Because they don’t expect anything less of themselves.