Nemo Rangers 0-16 Dr Croke’s 0-11
BRILLIANT Nemo Rangers defied bookies’ 5/2 odds to end Dr Croke’s reign as Munster and All-Ireland club champions with a masterly display.
Any other outcome would have been a total travesty because the Cork standard-bearers wouldn’t have been flattered by a five-goal winning margin never mind a five-point triumph.
A Luke Connolly-inspired performance secured a 16th Munster title, their first since 2010, when Croke’s were their victims again, and now Nemo can look forward to a crack off a possible eighth All-Ireland title in the New Year.
It was a magnificent team performance, full of energy and purpose, with all 15 starters making important contributions and even late substitute, Conor Horgan, introduced in the 58th minute, managed to round off the scoring.
Few, if anyone, in the attendance of 2,851, on a bright, crisp afternoon, could have envisaged the manner in which Nemo carved open the Croke’s defence, in the first-half especially.
Clearly, the Nemo management identified a weakness and a vulnerability in the All-Ireland champions’ rearguard with instructions to run at them at every opportunity.
Even now, over 24 hours after the event, we’re still scratching our heads at how Nemo didn’t score a goal because they created a litany of chances.
In fairness, Croke’s deserve credit, notably corner-back, John Payne, who, three times, managed to get in the way to prevent Barry O’Driscoll, Paul Kerrigan and Alan O’Donovan from finding the net.
And then goalkeeper Shane Murphy, twice, frustrated Connolly with a couple of brilliant saves coming up to half-time.
The Killarney net-minder dived acrobatically to his left to turn away a stunning Connolly volley after 20 minutes with Nemo 0-8 to 0-3 in front.
And Murphy repeated his heroics five minutes later, standing tall to stop another powerfully hit shot from the Nemo marksman. How were Croke’s still in the game at half-time, trailing by 0-9 to 0-5?
They had started promisingly enough, edging in front on three occasions in the opening 10 minutes only to be pegged back almost immediately every time.
Nemo found a purple patch in a devastating eight-minute spell, when they outscored their opponents 0-6 to 0-0 with Connolly starting and finishing the sequence with ‘45s.
We suggested the break came at the right time for Croke’s to re-group and emerge a different entity for the second-half, but Nemo were having none of it.
Inside 10 seconds they had grabbed the first score following the recess with Paddy Gumley obliging for his third point in all.
And when Connolly won a free following another terrific burst a couple of minutes later, Nemo’s advantaged stretched to six points.
Yet, we were mindful of what happened in 2010 and the two county finals against St Finbarr’s, especially, when Johnny Buckley, at last, began to win aerial ball around midfield.
In a seven-minute spell, Croke’s cut Nemo’s lead to two points as Brian Looney began the set with a super point on the left and captain Daithi Casey chipped in with a couple as well, either side of a Colm Cooper free.
Entering the final quarter, questions were asked of Nemo’s resolve, but they supplied the answers in the most telling manner, cutting down Croke’s challenge in the process.
Three points in 90 seconds left no one in any doubt about where the cup was heading as Kerrigan and Connolly, between them, helped pull Nemo clear once again.
Kerrigan’s speed led to a Connolly pointed free. The scorer won the kick-out, linked with O’Donovan, before popping over his ninth point and Kerrigan was inches away from a goal.
Kieran O’Leary’s 53rd minute dismissal didn’t help Croke’s, who knew they were handing back the cup when Michael Aodh Martin denied Eoin Brosnan on the hour.
Scorers for Nemo Rangers: L Connolly 0-10 (0-4 f, 0-2 45), P Gumley 0-3, A O’Reilly, P Kerrigan, C Horgan 0-1 each.
Dr Croke’s: D Casey 0-3 (0-1 f), C Cooper 0-3 f, B Looney 0-2, G White, J Buckley, J Kiely 0-1 each.