No dramatic denouement in Dungarvan on Sunday. A brisk assertion of the verities instead.
Nemo Rangers collected their 17th Munster senior club title with a clinical dismissal of Clonmel Commercials. Clinical is the operative term here: not a lop-sided victory or a bloodless coup, but a precise dismantling, a win forged in the application of a club’s approach.
Nemo’s defence will get the plaudits today, and rightly so. Conceding six scores in a provincial final is an achievement any back division would be proud of, and Clonmel will wince at the recollection: they managed three points in each half, which averages out at a score every ten minutes. Not a recipe for success.
So much of the narrative around Nemo’s success over the years has focused on quicksilver attackers weaving pretty patterns up front; this was the turn of determined, clever defenders squeezing the life out of a dangerous forward line, thus giving their forwards the platform to attack.
Incidentally, this game took place in the shadow of a couple of events - one recent, one slightly more distant.
The latter was the dramatic win enjoyed by Clonmel at the same stage of the competition four years ago, the proverbial goal on the final whistle: during the week we were told that this was variously a daily torment to those Nemo players on the field that day and also something that wasn’t a factor.
Based on Nemo’s display could it be both? The Cork side were efficient and industrious, almost always retaining the ball until a player had sight of a scoring chance. On one hand this less news, more universal coaching aspiration. But on the other Nemo brought an early edge
In the opening quarter they came sniffing for goal and might have had three: one point, from a Luke Connolly flick which scraped the crossbar, was the return, though credit should go to Clonmel ‘keeper Michael O’Reilly also for a diving save from Connolly just beforehand. A little more efficiency and Nemo could have been out of sight at the break, when they led 0-7 to 0-3.
The other shadow over the game was Jim Gavin. In the discussions swirling behind the Fraher Field stand before the game, the Dublin manager’s departure was at least in the top three topics for debate, fighting its corner with the Cork County Board being in the red, and the Waterford County Board being in the black, to get to the top of the charts.
To the casual viewer in Dungarvan trace elements of the Gavin approach were certainly on show, though Nemo could claim with some validity to have been holding the ball calmly in the middle third of the field for several generations.
Was Clonmel’s deployment of Michael Quinlivan out around the middle reminiscent of Gavin’s use of a ball-playing creator, though? Quinlivan, after all, is the platonic ideal of a strike forward, big enough to win the ball inside and classy enough to score there, but he spent much of the afternoon labouring in the engine room (to the slight surprise of the Nemo management, it must be said).
Significantly, perhaps, Nemo withdrew Connolly and Barry O’Driscoll to supplement Paul Kerrigan in the same area, and their nous in the middle was a distinct advantage.
The difference between a team conditioned to play with patience until opportunity arose was sketched clearly in Dungarvan. Clonmel were game, with the likes of Seamus Kennedy unflagging in the cause, but their build-up in the middle was ponderous, and they often lacked the patience to make those crucial extra passes that tease defenders out of position.
Before half-time, the Tipperary side had also collected three yellow cards for tired arms flung around opponents’ necks, and with the curious phenomenon whereby the team chasing possession tires quicker than the men with the ball asserting itself, Clonmel were drifting in Nemo’s wake long before the final whistle.
By then Nemo were nine up, 0-15 to 0-6, and it might have been more. While manager Paul O’Donovan conceded they could have left 1-6 behind them, a look at the match video might persuade him to revise that upwards: “We didn’t think we’d have nine points to spare, I thought it would be a very tight game.
“We missed a good few chances but at least we kept creating them and we took our scores.
“Six points over an hour against a very good side - we’d rate Clonmel very highly- is testimony to our backs. they’ve been outstanding all year and they were outstanding again today.
“We were (wasteful) and Paul (Kerrigan) was probably the most wasteful of them all but he’s carried us in so many games that he deserves one where he doesn’t get the scores.
“But even his influence today - in the game, in the dressing-room, before the game - was outstanding. The shooting was a bit wayward today but Munster champions 2019 has a nice ring to it, we’ll take that any day.”
Bigger challenges lie ahead for Nemo. Western powerhouse Corofin ransacked the Cork club in the 2018 All-Ireland club final and will be favourites for their upcoming semi-final.
Clonmel could give Corofin a warning about the dangers in a rematch like that.