Paul Kerrigan had been having the sort of day where the game was passing him by, he hadn’t scored, his marker John McLoughlin had been on a mission to take him away from the action and he’d been looking distracted and frustrated by the time he got the call from the sideline to take his rest for the last quarter.
Nemo were maybe four goals up at the time and in a county final but Kerrigan was livid walking off. There wasn’t quite flinging of jerseys (a water bottle may have gotten the brunt of things) but it looked like there were words and he made a point of walking past the dugout to stand on the sideline, visibly seething at the lack of impact.
It was striking and it came back into my head last Sunday evening as Kerrigan picked his moment to be an influence.
He hadn’t quite been able to grab the drawn final either and if it’d been easy enough to wonder if a few long years were taking a toll, there he was in the second half of the replay, all running and pace and ball-carrying and just general composure in situations where it was needed.
He burst onto a pass at speed to kick a point with his left foot late in the first half. When a ball dropped loose behind the Barrs defence early in the second half and Paddy Gumley slipped into a decent position on the right of goal, it was Kerrigan who made the hard run to make the goal chance happen and booted to the net.
He got back in defence to make tackles and at least three times in the second half Kerrigan tore down the middle of the field to carry the ball 50/60 yards from Nemo’s danger zone to the Barrs goal. He kicked another lovely point on the run from the right foot.
And it was Kerrigan taking a kick-out from Micheál Martin to work ball out right at the end when Nemo were having desperate trouble getting hands on long restarts.
It says something about Nemo and why they find themselves consistently here winning finals, the sheer competitiveness and instincts of someone like Paul Kerrigan, who after all the county titles and man-markers setting challenges day after day and the grim few years with Cork can still find that streak in himself to take a game in late October and make sure Nemo are going to win it.
Nemo players like winning and they’re good at winning and anything apart from winning county titles just isn’t spoken about as an option really.
There’s more to it than pure stubbornness of course.
Nemo have been as fluent and free-scoring as any team have been in Cork football for a time, part of a general trend here towards open games with attacks on top or poor defending depending on your argument.
4-12 is a remarkable score for a county final, especially all from play, and comparisons with other county final winning tallies around the country recently are revealing – 0-17 (Kerry), 2-8 (Carlow), 2-10 (Limerick), 0-15 (Mayo), 1-13 (Sligo), 1-12 (Waterford), 0-7 (Donegal).
Luke Connolly’s made that leap where he’s producing something astounding almost every week and both finals had wow moments that drew gasps from the people in the crowd around me (Barrs people both times by the way) – the scores, the general movement and first touch, the sense that he’ll do the most creative thing possible in possession. Even his tackling was technically excellent. The goal the last day was repeatable by maybe a handful of players in the country for sheer artistry.
Let’s enjoy that sort of daring and quality for now rather than forcing the shadow of intercounty step-up on it.
The ability to spot and finish a goalscoring opportunity is always a game-changer for any successful team and 16 goals in seven games suggests it’s been a target.
The first three goals in the county final were from positions where many teams might have tapped a handy point but Nemo recognised the chances to open the game.
Jack Horgan probably didn’t have goal in his head when he started running but didn’t say no when it presented; Luke Connolly most certainly had goal in mind before he even turned with the ball one-v-one; Connolly, Gumley and Kerrigan all spotted the potential when that ball dropped for goal number three.
The stars Connolly and Kerrigan delivered when needed. Others stepped up – Jack Horgan was an influence, Paddy Gumley a proper find well into his thirties.
Everyone on the field had it in them to process information to make the right decision more often than not on the ball.
Tomás Ó Sé has been a fascinating element to ponder in all this and it’s hard to know if his assimilation into the Nemo project says more about his natural abilities as a footballer or the club’s style of playing the game.
The most obvious aspect is just how normal and fitting it’s seemed, this integration of a Kerry footballer from the most Kerry of footballing families who’s looked right at home here.
Ó Sé has always looked comfortable moving the ball by kickpass and that willingness to pick out a forward would stand out as not quite natural in Cork yet it’s always tended to come comfortably to Nemo players in every position to bounce a ball onto the next green-and-black jersey from 40 metres away.
One score last weekend had five or six kick-passes in it working the entire length of the field. On another occasion a Nemo defender in front of his own goal kicked the ball way out to the wing over the heads of several players, bypassing the easier option of a handpass to the nearest teammate.
Connolly’s goal wouldn’t have been possible without Barry O’Driscoll’s vision and execution of the kick-pass into space.
In the end, it was Kerrigan and Ó Sé who were still trying to control the flow of the game, getting the ball and moving it onto the next guy.
Nemo managed the magic and the basics better than anyone again.