CONSISTENCY in a world gone mad. Nemo Rangers put Ballinacourty of Waterford to the sword yesterday in Killarney, picking up a 14th Munster SFC club title in the process.
The Cork city side played with the wind in the first half, though wind is hardly an adequate description for the scouring gale that howled down the pitch towards the dressing room end. A windmill in the middle of the field would have generated enough power to solve the energy crisis for most of western Europe, though it posed more problems than solutions for the two teams who had to deal with it.
Ballinacourty adapted well to the hurricane early on, and tried to work the ball upfield with punchy low kicking and patient handpasses, but Nemo took out a patent on that approach decades ago. Quick hands from James Masters and David Kearney got the first score, Masters scoring four minutes in. Just afterwards Paul Kerrigan scorched in along the end line and brought a good save from Stephen Enright, but Kearney, alert again, finished well for a crucial goal.
The Waterford champions’ basics were good, particularly their fielding, but they still found progress hard to make. Nemo tackled cleverly and held Ballinacourty up in the middle of the field. When the west Waterford men got into the red zone, a sight of goal was still rare, and their sole point of the first half came from a Declan Fives free.
Stung by the Ballinacourty score, Nemo went back to basics: feed James Masters. The Cork star is a Garda in real life, but perhaps he should consider a career in meteorology: he was the one player yesterday who gauged the gale exactly, bringing some fine points in the first half on the breeze. At the break it was 1-7 to 0-1.
Clearly expecting a bombardment, Nemo made an adroit switch at half-time, pulling centre-forward Dylan Mehigan back to sweep up behind centre-back Martin Cronin. The move worked out well, as it meant that Nemo had an extra pair of hands when Ballinacourty tried to use the long ball with the wind.
With Paul Kerrigan’s speed being used well on the left wing, Nemo were cruising to an expected win when the game took a twist. Gary Hurney swung in a high ball that dropped under the Nemo crossbar, and though goalie Briain Morgan gathered and cleared, the green flag was raised. There was no television match official in Fitzgerald Stadium, but the umpires were swift and decisive. When Richie Foley charged up the wing and popped over a point, there were five points in it.
It might have narrowed further; Gary Hurney looked to be fouled near the Nemo goal soon afterwards but the Cork side surged upfield instead, with Masters putting Kerrigan through with a peach of a pass. The wing-forward lifted the ball over the bar — the goal wasn’t yawning so much as showing its tonsils – but it meant a six-point gap rather than the four it might have been had Hurney won a free.
And Nemo closed it out. With time running out they gave a mini-exhibition of possession play, working the ball across the field and back, each handpass a nail in the Ballinacourty coffin. At the final whistle, there were still three points between them.
After the game Nemo manager Ephie Fitzgerald was frank: he’d been disappointed with his side’s performance in the first half but felt they’d improved after the break.
"We won more primary possession in the second half, but they’re big, strong lads," said Fitzgerald, "It’s hard to win the ball off them. We had a couple of chances to kill it off, but that’s football. Ballinacourty gave it their best shot, like The Nire last year, and while I didn’t see us losing the match, if they’d got another goal, you never know."
The Waterford men stayed out in the gale for the presentation of the cup. The disappointment was evident. So was the pride.
"We battled hard, in fairness, but Nemo’s experience told," said ‘Courty chairman Tony Mansfield. "That goal they got was vital, it gave them a bit of breathing space. It was a pity, because it was a good save from Stephen Enright for the original shot."
Then Ballinacourty departed. A fair number of their panel play next weekend in a county U-21 hurling semi-final, so they have a focus for the near future.
Nemo are more concerned with the medium term.
"In three years, we have three counties and two Munster titles, so that’s something to be proud of," said Fitzgerald. "Obviously we’ll take a break now and come back in January, but it’s great to be in the All-Ireland series."
Nemo in the All-Ireland club series? Consistency, just like we said.