NEW Páirc, new faces, same old result.
Again we finish a Cork senior football championship with Nemo Rangers left standing and again it’s for the same reasons as ever.
They were hanging on. A little crazily so — my how they’d have kicked themselves if they’d let a 12-point lead slip away after basically winning the game in the third quarter at the end of a ridiculously entertaining hour of football here where we had seven goals, many of them top quality strikes, 32 scores overall and a game that swung back and forth through periods of dominance from both teams.
And still there was just something about Nemo’s fluency that made them worthy champions, just in the way they moved the ball into scoring areas, how they were able to put together stunning scores at just the right times. Barrs lacked nothing in ambition or belief but just came up slightly short of quality and composure in front of goal. Again, 10 wides in the first half killed their momentum.
The teams had 16 scores each but as suspected beforehand Nemo’s slick crafting and ruthless finishing of goals was a standout, offering moments of real conviction and changing the tone of the game. The Barrs had already shown the power of sniffing out a goal in the opening minutes when Michael Shields spotted the space available and gave up the easy point to make a statement instead — Stephen Sherlock recognised the chance and had the talent to stick it away.
If Nemo were rattled they hid it well, regained composure on the ball but again it was a goal that tilted the rhythm of the match.
Jack Horgan soloed right down the middle of the Barr’s defence, threw a couple of dummies and when the space opened up, smashed the ball into the bottom corner — Nemo had responded to the challenge and the scores started to flow more easily for them.
If we’ve been rambling on about Luke Connolly’s leap from potential to proper championship-winning delivery in the last few weeks, we got another item of evidence here just before half-time, an outrageously put together goal to add to the list marked ‘goals nobody else in Cork could score’.
With Barry O’Driscoll in possession around the Barrs’ 45, Connolly spotted the space nearer goal, made a dummy run behind his marker and pointed to the right hand-side of goal, where O’Driscoll clipped a perfect pass.
Connolly one-v-one in space near to goals is pretty much red siren territory and yet it’s hard to find fault with the Barrs defender. Connolly didn’t even try to go past his man, he opened space on the outside with a little feint and absolutely fizzed the ball low across goal into the bottom corner from a tight angle.
It was a breathtaking sort of strike and it took the wind out of the Barrs for a long spell, almost as if they got a proper look at the challenge facing them. The third goal was again a moment of quality and simple decision-making, a long free landed loose, Luke Connolly, Paddy Gumley and Paul Kerrigan saw they had an overload and clinically found the net.
Those little details added up, with Nemo’s ability to necklace moves together as a group offering that extra bit of scoring power.
One score in the first half had a kick-pass from Stephen Cronin across the pitch to Ciaran Dalton, who kicked on to Paddy Gumley, a kick-pass to Barry O’Driscoll, a short kick to an overlapping Kevin Fulignati, who kicked a lovely score. They worked a lovely point for Tomás Ó Sé on the run down the right wing.
Players stepped up too. Kerrigan was more influential here than last week, his speed on the ball from deep opened holes at important times and he kicked a huge point.
Jack Horgan took responsibility on the ball at an important time. Connolly was again quality in everything he did. Their kick-outs were a little more creative too — where last week pretty much everything was banged past the 45, here Micheal Martin looked short, took returns, made possession more a priority.
They did reasonably more on restricting Ian Maguire’s running game, clogging up the middle third with bodies as often as possible. They just had more control of the ball when the game slowed down from helter-skelter of the opening five minutes and the final mad last ten minutes.
It says a lot for what the Barrs brought to this occasion that for all this and even after giving up a sloppy fourth goal where it looked like it might turn really ugly, they kept going.
They worked a goal and then another and as they poured forward in waves you could almost believe they’d find a winner.
Stephen Sherlock was electric at times, all jinks and natural ability to make space for a shot and 2-7 is fairly serious county final scoring (even if it does hint at the overreliance).
They went toe-to-toe with Nemo for spells of the first half especially where they ran hard and kept the tempo high and felt they had enough 15-v-15 to be more than equals. In the end those little pockets of quality told.
We end another year listing the ways Nemo Rangers do things that little bit better.