You wouldn’t be put in charge of a team in Nemo unless you knew your stuff

PEOPLE often wonder, what makes Nemo Rangers such a great club?

They have collected six All-Ireland titles, twice as many as anyone else in either hurling or football in their tenure on top. It would have been seven but for a one-point loss to Crossmolina two years ago. It could have been eight but for defeat by Ballinderry in 2002.

And now the Mayomen come into focus again on All-Ireland club football final day, standing between the Corkmen and that elusive perch in seventh heaven.

But how do they do it?

Sean O'Brien is left-corner-back on the current side, a 22-year-old final-year commerce student at UCC. A read through the list of coaches which he has had since he first began playing football with Nemo, 12 years ago, should give us some sort of clue as to their secret.

"I had Billy (Morgan) at U-14, Larry Kavanagh, Stephen O'Brien, Stephen Calnan U-16, Dinny Allen, Shay Fahy, Tony Nation at U-21, Jimmy Kerrigan you'd see up at the club here all the time.

"Then we had fellows like Dave O'Driscoll, people who wouldn't be known as well as the others, but they know their stuff just as well. You wouldn't be put in charge of a team in Nemo unless you knew your stuff, we were always in good hands".

Secret? There is no secret. Nemo Rangers are a city club, but ploughing, harrowing, sowing, reaping, the most ancient of rural rituals is what they do and do so well year in and year out.

The philosophy running through the place is so simple the club is there for the players because the players are there for the club. Big names, small names, middle names it doesn't matter a damn, all are equal in the people's republic of Capwell. All put back what they took out when they were kids themselves, teaching what they learned.

"You see all the women over there", Sean adds, indicating a group of laughing matrons in the middle of the impressively picture-lined bar of the club pavilion.

"They were working hard for us all night, making the tea and sandwiches and so on. That's the way it is here, it's some club, going fierce well. Last year, we won the senior, intermediate and U-21 county championships, a great achievement (they also won the City U-21B, and the city junior). Any club that puts in the kind of work they put in here deserves reward, and I'm just one of the lucky ones reaping that reward, the reward for all the hard work put in down the years by everyone else".

True, but it wasn't as if Sean himself was on a free ride. A background in athletics, even as he came up through the underage football ranks with Nemo, gave him an appreciation of what was needed, if he was to make it to the top.

"I ran with Leevale, 400m, relays mostly, won a lot of All-Irelands though that was down to Diarmuid McCarthy, our anchor. We'd hand over to him, 6th or 7th position, and he'd take it on from there and win it! That was good for speed and stamina, but good for the discipline as well. You see how dedicated these fellas are, and they're only amateurs too. I know I'm still only a student, but I never have any complaint about of time that goes into training. Like, I did cross-country, and that was a killer altogether. I had to do that for the stamina for the 400's, but, a hundred-and-something I came in one day, in the Munsters! It gives you good discipline, but I was delighted to see the back of the cross-country, to be honest".

Eventually, Sean gave up the running, as did most of those erstwhile Leevale team-mates. The difference was that Sean had football, and garnered a spot on the senior side while still a minor in 1998, against Duhallow.

"I wasn't expecting it at all really, but I was delighted to get on. Afterwards, I wasn't so happy. I had a shot for the point that would have made a draw of it and help get us into the county final and I missed it. It was not a great start, but it was nice to get out there anyway".

Since then he has captured three county senior titles, three Munsters and now awaits his third All-Ireland club final appearance.

And what of those last two trips to Croke Park?

"In football the ambition is to win trophies, but I suppose the next best thing is to play in the biggest games. So although we've lost two All-Ireland finals, I'd rather have been in those finals and lose, than to have been losing in the early rounds of the county championships. But it was hard, the worst is the couple of days afterwards when you're on your own.

"Immediately after the game when you're talking to the lads, discussing things, it's bad, but it's two days later when you're on your own at home, going over it in your mind, then it's brutal. You think back on the long road you've come, first round of the county championship to Croke Park, get beaten, not once but twice you play it over in your mind".

So, you owe them one in Crossmolina?

"Ah, I wouldn't say that. I suppose so, but the main thing is to win the All-Ireland, no matter who we're playing. Just win this one, that's all".

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