'NEMO TRIUMPH OVER ADVERSITY' was the Cork Examiner’s page 10 banner headline which heralded the Capwell team’s convincing 1978 County Championship final victory over St Michael’s.
“It’s a connoisseur’s delight.”
That was the headline printed boldly and appearing to leap out of a page in the official match programme; we were reminded by Michael Ellard who showed his disappointment in his report penned for the Cork Examiner.
“Never was a heading to a preview so misleading as was yesterday’s showpiece, in which Nemo triumphed over adversity to retain the title and leave St Michael’s bereft of consolation, even though it was their third successive eclipse in the final, left an unpalatable taste in the mouths of those unlucky enough to have witnessed it,” Ellard wrote.
Referee Eddie Porter who did his best, despite frequent heavy tackling, to keep 30 players on the pitch all the time was, eventually, forced to dismiss a Michael’s player in the closing minutes for an off-the-ball challenge.
In the opening sequences, the marking was close and tenacious with little room for free-flowing football. Nemo had the tonic of an early two-point lead to send them on their merry way.
However, Michael’s soon assumed control mainly through the surprising brilliance of former Cork Hibs FAI Cup winner John Brohan who lorded it at midfield. It was his cross from the right touchline which set up Danny Buckley to shoot past Billy Morgan to give Michael’s the lead.
The Blackrock team looked the more skilful combination, but as the half progressed failed to capitalise on Brohan’s midfield dominance.
They failed to press home their distinct territorial advantage, although it must be said that they lost a lot of their composure when Pat Kavanagh, their most dangerous forward, was stretchered off in the 20th minute.
Michael’s lived to regret seven first-half wides as Nemo rejuvenated by the brilliance of big Denis Linehan whose switch from full forward to midfield wrestled control back for the champions.
Michael’s defence, outstanding in the first half, were put under extreme pressure as Nemo recovered their mojo.
They managed just two points in the second half — one from Ray Cummins and the other from Kavanagh who was reintroduced with stitches in a leg wound.
Nemo skipper on the day Brian Murphy recovered from a sluggish start to dominate at centre-back while Kieran Brady came alive while partnering Linehan.
Fittingly the man, more than anyone else, who spearheaded their victory assault was Denis Allen.
Even when Nemo looked in trouble early on, Allen sparkled like a jewel. And, after the interval, despite close marking, proceeded to play with brilliance.
On this occasion Allen, a team-mate of Brohan when with Cork Hibs, was a man apart and really only for him a footballing spectacle would have been ruined completely.
He was splendour personified at centre forward, running the Michael’s defence ragged with his jinking runs and scoring the all-important goal of the match.
It came in the 48th minute when gaining possession, he soloed through and punched the ball over the head of the advancing Finbarr Delaney and watched delightedly as the ball trickled over the goal line with the Saints’ defenders desperately striving to avert calamity.
That was it. The game was as good as over, but a major controversy arose after the full-time whistle signalled Nemo’s retention of the Andy Scannell Cup.
Michael Ellard, in a front-page story, informed readers which probably included the majority of the 5,880 spectators (Michael’s fans and neutrals) who had left after the final whistle was blown that the champions left the stadium 'empty-handed'.
“After Nemo had defeated St Michael’s in an ill-tempered final by 1-9 to 1-3, the team and supporters hugged and danced in the centre of the stadium while the vice-chairman of the Cork County Board Paddy O’Driscoll waited patiently to present the Andy Scannell Cup in the front row of the VIP section of the stand.
Then in an unprecedented move, the team returned to their dressing room without accepting the trophy.
After the team had entered the dressing room, two officers of the Nemo club climbed the steps to collect their trophy where they were informed that Mr O’Driscoll had left the stadium with the cup in his custody.”
Nemo’s action was stated to be in protest against the County Board’s decision to rule their senior hurling team out of the championship, along with Bandon, following incidents that led to the abandonment of a recent match involving both teams.
Their no-show on the victory podium at Páirc Uí Chaoimh added more fuel to the fire and even the proverbial optimists feared a Cork County Board disciplinary response.
Subsequently, the board imposed a £200 fine on Nemo and suspended the president and executive officers of Nemo for a period of six months as well as disqualifying them from holding any position within the GAA for a period of two years.
Nemo’s delegate contested the penalties, saying they were merely exercising their democratic right to protest.
The recommendations were accepted after delegates voted 41-7 for acceptance. Boardroom affairs had no effect whatever on the players who were back in training in their bid to regain the Munster Club Championship, a feat duly accomplished with a hard-earned win over Kilrush which was followed by a comfortable All-Ireland semi-final victory over Killerin from Galway in Tuam.
The final against Ulster champions Scottstown was played in wintery postcard conditions at Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day, 1979.
Even though the scoreline Nemo 2-9, Scottstown 1-3 might suggest otherwise this was an endurance test for players and supporters; it was dubbed the 'Battle of the Blizzard' played on a snow-covered pitch with the ball hard to spot at times.
There was some sadness too as Nemo’s Colm Murphy fractured a leg and was removed to hospital. Two All-Ireland clubs, four provincial and five counties established Nemo as the Club Team of the '70s.