Christy O'Connor on Nemo's remarkable county final record and insatiable hunger for success

'Having never beaten Nemo in a final, and with the Barrs chasing the double, that pressure possibly told on the favourites'
Christy O'Connor on Nemo's remarkable county final record and insatiable hunger for success

Nemo Rangers forward Conor Horgan chips John Kerins keeper to score a goal. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

IN his co-commentary on the Irish Examiner live stream just before the start of Sunday’s Cork football final, Tony Davis outlined the dominant theme which had, for him, defined the build-up to the match.

It was the first occasion Davis could ever remember Nemo Rangers being underdogs in a county final. But it was also the first time Davis could recall the St Finbarr’s supporters being so confident of beating Nemo, something they had never managed in a county final before.

In discussing the psychology attached to that mood, Davis reaffirmed how it had the potential to turn Nemo into a more dangerous animal than they always perceive themselves to be at this stage of the championship. “This is Nemo we’re talking about,” said Davis.

Luke Connolly said in his acceptance speech afterwards that St Finbarr’s “bring the best out of us”. Yet the prevailing mood around the city beforehand undoubtedly ensured that Nemo would be more primed and pumped for this final than ever before.

 Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Nemo started the game like they had a chip on their shoulder, that they had a point to prove to anyone and everyone who dared to doubt them. Nemo borrowed from every ounce of tradition and history in the pits of their souls to produce their biggest performance of the season – and in years – when the situation demanded it most.

They were superb from the first minute when converting eight of their first 10 shots. Their movement up front was brilliant. Aware that the Barrs would look to carry the ball forward primarily through the hands of Ian Maguire and Brian Hayes, with Steven Sherlock coming on the loop, Nemo erected a cordon across the middle third and just turned the Barrs back at every turn in the first half. 

In that period, Nemo forced five turnovers from Barrs players in possession.

Nemo also got their match-ups right, especially in defence. In the first half, Kevin O’Donovan ran the show even though he was man-marking Sherlock. Yet he was the one doing most of the attacking, which forced Sherlock to chase O’Donovan back the pitch, using up energy that the Barr’s didn’t need their best forward expending.

From the first ball, Nemo were more confident, fluid and slicker than the Barrs who were laboured in their build-up play. In that opening half, the Barrs only had nine shots at the target, and converted just four. Two of those shots were brilliant saves from Micheál Aodh Martin but Nemo also had a goal chance saved by John Kerins, while their conversion rate was 69% in that period.

Nemo Rangers goalkeeper Micheál Aodh Martin saves brilliantly from St Finbarr's Steven Sherlock on Sunday. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Nemo Rangers goalkeeper Micheál Aodh Martin saves brilliantly from St Finbarr's Steven Sherlock on Sunday. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The game looked over after Conor Horgan’s goal but it could have got even uglier for the Barrs shortly afterwards when Connolly had another goal chance (his second of the half, the first of which was saved by Kerins) that went wide. Yet when Connolly kicked an outrageous point in the 40th minute to put Nemo 11 points ahead, the Barrs looked set to ship the kind of unmerciful hiding that nobody could have predicted.

The Barrs finally got some traction and hunted the game down, as you’d expect from the Munster champions. Time eventually ran out but it still always had the sense of being a lost chase, irrespective of there only being one score in the match for much of the last few minutes. Nemo were never going to lose the match.

Both teams had equal numbers on kick-outs (66% each) but the real devil was in the shooting detail. 

Nemo had seven more shots (24-17) while they had nine more shots from play (19-10). Nemo’s conversion rate from play was 63% but Connolly’s accuracy from placed balls bumped their overall conversion rate up to an impressive 70% overall.

Connolly was a deserving Man of the Match. As well as converting his five placed balls, Connolly made 23 plays, from which he scored three points and had one assist. Connolly did kick three wides but he could have had two goals and had another shot at goal blocked.

EXPERIENCE

Nemo had all the best performers. Even when they were under pressure late on, they could call on Paul Kerrigan and his experience; Kerrigan made eight plays before crowning his afternoon with the assist for their last score.

Nemo will be disappointed to have surrendered such a commanding position late on and being forced to sweat down the home straight, but it was always going to be hard to keep their foot pressed so hard on St Finbarr’s throats.

After being physically bullied for so long, the Barrs eventually started to get on top around the middle in the last quarter but the Barrs still turned the ball over more often than Nemo (17-14). Yet the tone was set in the first half by the high number of Barrs turnovers forced by Nemo in the tackle.

Ian Maguire under pressure from Barry Cripps. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Ian Maguire under pressure from Barry Cripps. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

The Barrs had been excellent all year but they will be disappointed by the manner of this performance, or underperformance, irrespective of the late impressive charge. Paul O’Keeffe said afterwards that “maybe the occasion got to us”.

That’s always hard to say but, in such a huge game, especially having never beaten Nemo in a final, and with the Barrs chasing the double, that pressure possibly told. Conversely, Nemo embraced it, ate it all up, as they fully expected to within their camp. Because it’s what they do. It’s what Nemo have always done.

“How does anyone doubt Nemo in a county final?” asked Davis after Horgan’s goal. “Form goes out the window when it comes to Nemo in a final. They just know how to win.”

Fact. Absolute fact.

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