County title is always the Nemo benchmark

County title is always the Nemo benchmark
Castlehaven's Mark Collins and Nemo Rangers'  Aidan O'Reilly and Barry O'Driscoll tussle for the ball. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Denis Hurley

GAA

WITH 19 Cork SFC titles from 1972-2015, Nemo Rangers are the gold standard in Cork footballing circles.

Even when they go seven years without a title, as they did following the win of 1993, the response is emphatic, as they achieved a three in a row from 2000-02 inclusive and then an unprecedented four in a row from 2005-08.

Understandably, the rate of success has slowed since but, while a return of two titles from then until the present day – 2010 and 2015 – is matched only by Castlehaven in that period.

Regularly brining silverware back to Capwell, as it used to be, and Trabeg as it is now, means that standards are high, though. The expectations are fairly similar to how they are in Kerry – teams are never in transition and championships can be put into two categories, those that you win and those that you don’t win.

It’s demanding, but it has led to the highest of standards. Next after Nemo on the roll of honour on 12 titles come Lees – now defunct, last champions in 1955 and 1923 before that – with Macroom and UCC on ten titles each. The next ‘proper’ current senior club are Clonakilty, with nine championship wins. Nemo are unmatched in terms of consistency.

They quest for a 20th title begins in Bandon tomorrow evening, with O’Donovan Rossa the opponents. Nemo’s captain this year is defender Aidan O’Reilly, who acknowledges that there is a strong desire within the camp to learn from the mistakes of 2016.

“Definitely,” he says, “every year if you don’t win a county it’s seen as a failure, so we’re gunning for it again now this year.

“It’s all about the first round, fingers crossed we can get over Skibb. They’ll be chomping at the bit too, they had a short enough championship last year, so they’ll want to put that right.”

Nemo reached the semi-finals last year – they have done so in each of the past four campaigns – but as in 2014 they found themselves beaten by Ballincollig.

“Luke Connolly got a goal there in the second half and we never kicked on, which was disappointing,” O’Reilly says.

“Ballincollig are a tenacious side as well, they never lie down for anyone. We’ve lost to them twice now in semi-finals over the last two or three years and they beat us as well in the league as well.

“We don’t dwell on that either, when a new championship starts you’re just focused on the first game because if you do anything else then you’ll be in trouble.”

That’s certainly the case against the side from Skibbereen, now under the management of Ned English. In 1992, Rossas became the first West Cork club to beat Nemo in a final but of more insight into their considerable talents is the fact that they have been semi-finalists in 2012 and 2015, building on the U21 win of 2011. O’Reilly knows not to expect anything easy.

“The two of us were both in the semi-finals two years ago, so we know their capabilities,” he says.

“They’re a formidable team, there’s never more than a few points in it when we play them in the championship so there’s no reason to think that this will be any different.”

O’Reilly, who works in IT with Laya Healthcare in Little Island, was delighted to be asked to skipper the side by Larry Kavanagh.

“It’s an honour, really,” he says.

“It’s not something I ever expected when I first joined Nemo, but I was delighted to accept. Hopefully now we can do the business this year. There a few younger lads coming through, Kevin O’Donovan and Colm Kiely, it’s good to see lads step up like that, it’s a breath of fresh air and it creates good competition for places.

“The more bodies we have, the better it is, that’s what it’s all about.”

Cork U21 commitments meant that O’Reilly never really considered taking a year to go travelling, but he can certainly see the attraction to do so, given the way the county championship continues to be unwieldy.

“I’ve seen it with lads who are 19 or 20, they think that there’s no point in hanging around and they might go away to America, it’s much more common now,” he says.

“There’s no structure to it, so there’s not as much of an incentive to stick around.

“You’re still waiting three months between championship games. It’s very difficult to build momentum. This year, they’re trying to get two round played early, hopefully that’s the case but you just never know.”

What to do in terms of a long-term fix? There’s no magic cure for everything, sadly, and everybody proposing a solution is likely to have some kind of vested interest.

One area O’Reilly would start would be at intercounty level, with the drawn-out nature of the championship certainly a possibility for overhaul, with a knock-on effect then in terms of running club championships.

“I don’t see any real need for the provincial championships at intercounty level, it seems a bit too old-fashioned,” he says.

“You could split into two lots of 16 and it’d be more competitive for teams, bring on the weaker counties as well.” 

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