Fitzgerald following in great Nemo coaches’ footsteps

MAYBE it helps to explain why they have been so successful over the last three decades.

Other than producing good football teams, Nemo Rangers have the happy knack of coming up with ‘home-grown’ coaches, with current manager Ephie Fitzgerald upholding the tradition established by the likes of Billy Morgan and Denis Allen.

Both pillars of the club, they each have the distinction of captaining Sam Maguire winning teams and, of course, Morgan has already achieved legendary status as the most successful Cork manager ever in his first term.

Fitzgerald was a member of the team which shocked Kerry in the 1983 Munster final and has amassed five ‘counties,’ along with four All-Ireland club medals. In his own words, his spell with Cork seniors was made up of ‘bits and pieces here and there.’ Now in his third year at the helm, he first became involved as a selector ten years ago — having started out as a player back in 1980.

“I had a good career, but nothing beats playing,’’ he says. “This is a challenge too. You are much more involved because you are responsible for everybody really, preparation-wise. But, I have a good team with me, Eddie Kirwan, Sean Hayes, Timmy Dalton and Colm Murphy. There’s a lot of experience there (with Murphy and Dalton each captaining All-Ireland club winning teams).”

He singled out Kirwan for special praise, pointing out that while he hadn’t been involved at senior level as a player, he’s a Nemo man ‘all his life.’

“Eddie is our fitness coach and he has some fantastic drills. It was Billy who introduced him six or seven years ago and I must say he’s been a breath of fresh air. I rely on him heavily in terms of physical preparation.’’

From either perspective — playing or coaching — Fitzgerald emphasises the value of the commitment that is so readily given.

“The attitude of the players is absolutely fantastic. We are blessed with the type of guys we have. And there’s great friendships among them. That’s part of it as well. And we tend to ‘keep’ fellows afterwards — the likes of Colm, Sean Hayes and these guys. We see it as a kind of second home for us; we’re very happy out there.”

It’s notable that while the club has won the All-Ireland title on seven occasions, they have never managed to go on and retain their county title in the same year. However, on Sunday, they will be chasing their fifth double while Dohenys are still awaiting their first success.

Crashing out in the first round to Ballincollig wasn’t a consequence of their lengthy club campaign, which saw them lose to St Galls from Antrim a few weeks earlier. He puts it down to the fact that they had been without their inter-county players (for training), at a time when Cork were under pressure to avoid being relegated in the League.

In any case, he points out that training methods have changed substantially over the year, from the time when they competed regularly at All-Ireland level. “While the training would be tough, we don’t do the hard slogs any more, even pre-season,’’ he explains.

“There may have been a bit of hangover from the other match (against St. Galls). To concede 3-4 against Ballincollig was very disappointing — and then not be able to match it at the other end. But, it kind of kick-started the campaign in a sense. We were in a relegation battle (with Mallow) and that was very important to us. We stepped up to the plate and after that things took off.’’

Partly agreeing, he says that they only played ‘in patches’ against St Finbarr’s and that their best football against Clonakilty and Duhallow came in the second half.

“We probably played our best football the last day (in the replay with Duhallow). Then again, we were coming up against opposition who were quite good and every bit as committed as we were.’’

The manner in which Dohenys qualified for the final impressed him, saying that other than their game with Bantry, they won the other rounds ‘quite handily.’ “They beat Castlehaven well and they beat UCC well and did the same with Aghada at the finish.

Interestingly, the two teams met in a challenge game about five weeks. They weren’t to know that they would meet in the final, because at that stage Dohenys were already through to the semi-final, while Nemo were only preparing for the ‘Barrs game.

Fitzgerald described it as ‘tough battle,’ pointing out that in terms of family connections — with the O’Donovan and Farrs involved and brothers playing, they are not unlike Nemo.

“They have a great spirit and there’s great credit due to them. Over the last few years they have had fellows going to Australia and what not. I know their manager Gerry O’Mahony fairly well. They are there on merit.”


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