In the end, it was something of a canter for Nemo Rangers as they claimed a 12th Cork County U21AFC title against Bantry Blues at Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday night.
While they trailed 0-2 to 0-1 after 11 minutes, once Luke Connolly’s goal put them 1-2 to 0-2 ahead on 16 they began to dominate and, bar a brief suggestion of a Bantry revival at the start of the second half, the outcome was never in doubt.
Central to the victory was the excellent display of captain David Nation, included as a late change despite suffering from a cruciate injury. His aerial ability was key, especially in turning the momentum in the middle period of the first half, and manager Larry Kavanagh admitted it had been a gamble to play him.
“We targeted their midfield,” he said.
“We took a risk with Nation, we didn’t know if he’d last five minutes. We brought Conor O’Donovan out as well to leave space inside and that made a difference.”
Connolly took full advantage of that space, and the creativity of centre-forward Alan Cronin was also evident, the pair finishing with 2-5 between them, while Cronin’s brother Stephen excelled at centre-back.
Nemo had nine scorers in all, contrasting sharply with the fact that Bantry pair Joe Murphy and Ruairí Deane were the only two to register for their side. Far too often, the delivery to the Bantry attack was not up to par, with Deane’s strong running often their only means of advancing the ball up the field.
Their starting configuration did not look as balanced as Nemo’s, with the relocation of Nation from his starting spot of full-forward to midfield resulting in Bantry’s Donagh O’Sullivan – who returned from his summer trip the US for the game – being drawn away from his optimum position in the full-back line, something that was not rectified until midway through the first half.
And yet, with Mark Delaney beginning brightly in midfield, Bantry got off to a good start, two Murphy frees giving them that lead. After Alan O’Donovan equalised for Nemo, Connolly gave notice of his prowess, however, with a shot which fizzed across the fact of goal.
By this stage, Nation had come to the fore, winning four kickouts in a row and after the last of these the ball was worked to Connolly via Conor O’Donovan, with a lovely finish giving Donal Casey no chance.
Further points from Connolly and Nation resulted in a five-point lead by the half-time break, Darragh Kerins extending the advantage before Deane gave Bantry some hope with two in quick succession.
That was as good as it would get for them, as by the time Murphy would get their next score with another free in the 52nd minute, Nemo had put the game firmly beyond them.
The impressive Conor Horgan (two), Connolly and Conor O’Donovan all got scores as a nine-point lead was opened up and then Connolly showed great skill before opening up the defence with a perfect pass for Alan Cronin, who fired home to make it 2-10 to 0-4 in the 49th minute.
Though Murphy did interrupt the one-way flow, an outstanding Connolly free from the right sideline, Jack Horgan and sub James Garvan ensured Nemo had 14 points to spare at the end.
Scorers for Nemo Rangers: L Connolly 1-4 (0-3fs), A Cronin 1-1, C Horgan 0-2, D Nation, D Kerins, J Horgan, A O’Donovan, C O’Donovan, J Garvan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Bantry Blues: J Murphy 0-3fs, R Deane 0-2.
NEMO RANGERS: MA Martin; D O’Donovan, C McWhinney, D Barrett; D Kerins, S Cronin, K Fulignati; J Horgan, A O’Donovan; C Dalton, A Cronin, C O’Donovan; L Connolly, D Nation, C Horgan.
Subs: D Buckley for Dalton (54), G Irwin for Nation (57), T Forde for C O’Donovan, J Garvan for Kerins (both 59), S Creedon for Connolly (60).
BANTRY BLUES: D Casey; C Power, D O’Sullivan, C O’Leary; D Daly, T Downey, T O’Brien; M Delaney, A Keane; G O’Shea, R Deane, C O’Sullivan; J Murphy, K Casey, D Power.
Subs: D Casey for Keane (ht), S Delaney for O’Sullivan (41), G Hurley for O’Shea (51), H Deane for K Casey (55).
Referee: M Moynihan (Grenagh).
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