Nemo Rangers were a notable absentee from the pageantry of county final day and that has been a source of irritation to the fraternity in Trabeg over the past 12 months. Yesterday afternoon in Páirc Uí Chaoimh they sought redress before a crowd of 6,017 in the 2010 instalment of the Cork SFC final.
At the finish there was the familiar sight of black and green jerseys alighting the victory podium, with Briain Morgan hoisting the Andy Scannell trophy into the air on this occasion.
It was a day when experience won out. St Finbarr’s aspiration was that the memories of last year’s defeat would fuel their drive to success. Nemo’s Southside rivals proved stubborn opponents who refused to yield until the very end. Yet the experience that this group of Nemo Rangers players have stockpiled over the past decade served them well as they chiselled a win out of tight circumstances.
When dissecting the game, the timing of Nemo Rangers two goals had a seismic influence on proceedings.
They had endured a listless opening to the game which paled in comparison to St Finbarr’s bright and vibrant beginning.
Trailing 0-4 to 0-1, Nemo’schallenge was ignited in the 13th minute. A William Morgan sideline from the left wing was not adequately dealt with by the StFinbarr’s defence, and when it fell to Paul Kerrigan at the back post, he bundled a shot to the net.
Two minutes later Glen O’Connor coughed up possession under pressure and David Kearney swept a precise shot between the posts.
A deficit had suddenly morphed into an advantage for Nemo Rangers and they were back in the hunt.
Their second goal was a critical strike as it served as a perfect riposte to a St Finbarr’s surge.
In the 40th minute Robert O’Mahony ghosted in along the left flank and uncorked a fizzing drive to the net.
That gave St Finbarr’s renewed impetus and two minutes later they nearly carved open the Nemo Rangers backline again to raise another green flag.
Jason Sexton popped a pass to send Jim O’Donoghue careering clear but he was foiled by goalkeeper Briain Morgan who sprung to his right to palm the shot around the post.
Roy Leahy did swing over theresultant ‘45 but as the match descended into its final quarter, Nemo Rangers raised their second green flag. The score was the product of a team move that featured David Niblock, Alan Cronin, Colin O’Brien and Sean O’Brien, with Barry O’Driscoll capping off that sequence of passes with a decisive finish to the net.
That sent Nemo racing 2-9 to 1-7 clear and that is not the type of advantage that they are in the habit of relinquishing.
St Finbarr’s persistence meant the game stayed interesting until the end.
But two factors frustrated their attempts at a revival. First Nemo Rangers’ defending was of the top-drawer variety.
After a nervous phase in the opening-half when Jason Sexton wreaked havoc with stylish points off left and right, Nemo’s rearguard tightened up.
County men Derek Kavanagh and Brian O’Regan offered great assurance, while youngster Aidan O’Reilly stymied the threat ofSexton when handed that task before half-time and kept him scoreless in the second-half. The man-of-the-match bauble went to half-back Colin O’Brien and it was merited as he produced another brilliant display.
Secondly St Finbarr’s tried to force goals too early in the finale. They punted several high balls in the direction of substitute Ian Leahy hoping to profit from breaks but he lacked support around him. When Fionán Murray curled over a free in the 52nd minute, there was just four points between the sides. Yet on a couple of occasions after that when St Finbarr’s could have popped the ball over the bar from out the field, they eschewed the chance and tried to manoeuvre opportunities closer to goal.
Terrific St Finbarr’s defending in the final quarter ensured that the scent of victory was always there. Glen O’Connor, substitute Michael Ryan and Neal Horgan drove them on, while Michael Shields gained a foothold when shifted to midfield.
However, their areas of profit in attack dried up as Nemo Rangers came to terms with Colin O’Sullivan’s creativity and denied Roy Leahy opportunities to split the posts from dead ball situations.
Nemo Rangers were sloppy in front of goal in the final quarter as they squandered chances to increase their lead. But Alan Cronin was accurate when swinging over a shot in the 62nd minute and that point copper-fastened their 18th crown.
Scorers for Nemo Rangers: P Kerrigan 1-3 (two frees); B O’Driscoll 1-1; D Kearney, D Niblock, A Cronin 0-2 each.
St Finbarr’s: J Sexton (one sideline), R Leahy (two frees, one ‘45) 0-3 each; R O’Mahony 1-0; F Murray (one free), C O’Sullivan 0-1 each.
Substitutes for Nemo Rangers: M Cronin for Breen (44), J Masters for Kearney (46), D Mehigan for W Morgan (50), A Morgan for O’Brien (53), B Twomey for Niblock (62).
St Finbarr’s: F Murray for O’Donoghue (48), M Ryan for O’Shea (48), I Leahy for O’Sullivan (52), G Leahy for McCarthy (60).
Referee: Michael Collins (Clonakilty).