The enforced delay of the culmination of the 2020 Bons Secours Hospital Premier SFC meant that Nemo Rangers’ achievement of retaining their title perhaps wasn’t properly recognised.
Approximately 22 months separated the 2019 final win over Duhallow in Páirc Uí Rinn and the 2020 decider victory against Castlehaven last month but there was a familiar link in the fact that Luke Connolly scored two goals for Nemo on each occasion.
It meant they brought an 11-game unbeaten championship run into the 2021 campaign, but with the drawback that their opening game was just six days after the county final. A 1-9 to 0-11 loss to Valley Rovers in Liam MacCarthy Park in Ballygarvan was understandable, but at the same time it shouldn’t detract from the Innishannon side’s achievement.
They lost to Nemo in the 2019 SFC opening round by 3-14 to 1-6 in Páirc Uí Rinn and the first game under the new system in 2020 resulted in a 3-8 to 1-9 reversal in Cloughduv, though Valleys did still make it through to the knockout stages in second place in Group 3.
Quarter-finalists twice in the recent past, they will now look to build on the momentum that the victory has given them. It’s worth noting the weight of what they have done – since the beginning of 2013, only Castlehaven (2013 first round and final, 2018 quarter-final) and Ballincollig (2014 and 2016 semi-finals) had beaten Nemo in the championship. Obviously, it needed a combination of the Haven’s hoops and Ballincollig’s green and white for the Trabeg side to be beaten again.
What the result has done is make the battle for qualification from Group 1 – which was already stiff – even tougher. As with last year, Nemo and Valleys are joined by Douglas, who finished third in 2020, and Carrigaline.
Three weeks ago, Douglas started off with a 1-15 to 0-9 win over Carrigaline in Páirc Uí Rinn, meaning that their clash with Valleys today – in Carrigaline at 2pm – will be a great chance for either side to take a massive step towards the quarter-finals.
At 5.30pm, Nemo and Carrigaline meet in Páirc Uí Rinn, with the mission for both clubs being to get back on track. Nemo are strong favourites, but that is no guarantee that they will take the points.
While it’s an unusual position for Nemo to be in, it’s not totally unknown – having won the 2005 county title, they were defeated by Ballincollig in the 2006 first round and came back to retain the Andy Scannell Cup, going on to complete a four-in-a-row with subsequent wins in 2007 and 2008.
When it comes down to it, they usually know how to win – as evidenced by their final three games in the 2020 championship. In both the quarter-final against Ballincollig and the final, they managed only seven points but hauls of five and three goals respectively ensured they came out on top; by contrast, they didn’t have a green flag in the semi-final against Duhallow but their 14 white ones outweighed the north-western division’s tally of 2-7.
They can also take heart from the fact that 100 percent records were rare in last year’s football championships – in fact, Nemo were the only club to win all of their matches en route to silverware.
Compared to the five hurling competitions, where only Blarney in the PIHC won a title after an earlier loss (they avenged their group-stage loss to Castlelyons in the final), imperfection was more common in the football grades.
The senior A final between Éire Óg and Mallow featured two teams who had lost a game while contesting the same group (Kiskeam finished third after the three sides finished with two wins and a loss), while PIFC champions Knocknagree had a group record of one win, one draw and one loss – a 7-11 to 0-13 reversal against Cill na Martra. While Rockchapel did remain unbeaten on their way to winning the intermediate A championship, they did begin their campaign with a draw against Duhallow rivals Dromtarriffe in their first game.
Ultimately, it's about getting out of the group, by whatever means; it's the knockout stages that count.