It always takes something special to see off Nemo in a final

It always takes something special to see off Nemo in a final
Nemo Rangers' Alan O'Donovan wins the ball from Duhallow's Kevin Crowley. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

AS the crowd drifted out the gates of the county football semi-finals a fortnight ago a loud call went up from a Barrs voice with a message: 32 years and now the time has come to be winners again. 

It’s remarkable certainly to look back now at the picture of that county-winning team from 1985, to see the list of names togged out that day – John Kerins, John Meyler, Mick Slocum, Paddy Hayes, Christy Ryan, Dave Barry, JBM (seriously like) – and then imagine how the years of lost finals and heartbreaks and barren years have rolled into such an extensive period of time. 

Castlehaven hadn’t won a senior title at the time and now have five; Nemo were on seven titles and have won twelve senior counties since. 

This might be a different Nemo team but they’re still the established standard-setters around now, the team everyone knows they’ll have to beat at some stage on their way to becoming a serious senior football group and there’s nothing complicated or unpredictable about what Nemo will bring to a big game. 

They will do the basics and perform and the opposition will need to match that and in truth be a lot better to win and come up with something special, like Brian Hurley’s extraordinary performance a few years back for the Haven. 

That’s the story here, the Barrs' ability to wrestle history and answer the questions asked of them by the force of Nemo Rangers.

The evidence so far suggests they’ve got the tools at least. 

Individually there are core areas of importance. 

The redeployment of Michael Shields has the look of the sort of move that was out of left field and yet works so well it seems rather obvious now. 

St Finbarr's Michael Shields shoots past CIT's Conor Madden. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
St Finbarr's Michael Shields shoots past CIT's Conor Madden. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

In the same way that say Brian Corcoran couldn’t get excited about coming back for Cork hurlers as a defender, Shields probably needed the freshness of a new challenge, a break from the demands of man-marking the opposition’s dangermen and a way to enjoy playing football while becoming perhaps more fundamental to the Barr’s system. 

The freedom to roam at centre-forward has allowed him to go wherever necessary to get possession (and he was noticeably excellent against Ross the last game at drifting into pockets of room to receive a pass, especially coming from a defensive background) and dictate the tempo of the Barr’s attacking plays with his composure on the ball. 

Ian Maguire is entering that phase of athleticism where he’s able to dominate opponents and games through that combination of energy, ball-winning and now the skills to make the most of the raw power. 

His run right through the middle of the field to open up the third goal for his team in the county semi-final had that nice mix of legs and strong running at pace and then the nous to spot the opening and move the ball where it needed to go to finish the goal and the match. 

And the emergence of Stephen Sherlock has been impossible to overstate as a factor, his scoring rates hitting that level of marquee forward on a team that’s looking to win a county title. 

Last year against Nemo he hit 0-8 on a losing team. 

In the last two matches he’s had 0-6 and then 0-9 and his performance in the semi-final had a proper bite to it, where you felt his first thought on the ball was always: How can I score from here? 

In the opening quarter of the game Sherlock missed a free within his general range and passed up a chance at a point by slightly forcing a shot at goal that was blocked and you felt the next time he got the ball was vital for his performance. 

Sherlock picked up a loose ball way out on the right sideline, did a little shimmy to make space, cut past a defender and swerved the most beautiful shot with the outside of his right foot, a play that was over in the space of a couple of seconds but that had the characteristics of a natural instinctive forward who probably doesn’t overthink the percentages but just does what comes naturally in forward positions. 

Sherlock’s got that deadly combination of fast feet to get out of tight spots, a desire to get into the scoring zone as quickly as possible and then the real accuracy to get decent shots away. 

The Barr’s will possibly need to hit upwards of sixteen points to win (assuming a dry day and all that) which means Sherlock has to chip in with a fair chunk of scores. 

Reports from the club mention Sherlock as the real deal, with the hunger and willingness to do the work necessary. 

Nemo will have plans to halt the supply if possible. 

If not, they’ll need to limit the areas Sherlock can get possession in and seriously curtail the idea of him running at the Nemo full-back line.

Nemo’s scoring rate has been sensational: 2-18, 0-15, 2-20, 3-18, 5-13. 

The Barr’s defensive figures have been reasonable: take out the Ballincollig game as an anomaly and the rate has been averaging around 13 points conceded. 

They were aggressive in their one-v-one marking in the semi-final where they really never allowed the talent of the Carbery Rangers attack find its rhythm yet it’d be interesting to see the outcome if one of the Nemo attack (say Connolly or Kerrigan especially) manage to beat/ dominate his opponent. 

Nemo will look for game-changing goals if the chances appear and their ability to conjure up these moments and the Barr’s ability to stop them might well be the winning and losing of it in the end.

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