Nemo’s Alan Cronin is sent off by referee Michael Collins.
One of the Ballincollig supporters leaving Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday summed it up best: “They won’t be calling us Ballincollig anymore, they’ll call us the bookie-busters.”
Already this year, St Finbarr’s, Carbery and Muskerry have gone in as favourites against Ballincollig, only to come off a poor second best. Nemo Rangers in a county semi-final is arguably the most daunting task in Cork football, but the Trabeg side were added to the list of scalps as Ballincollig reached their first final.
And it was no fluke, either. Most of Ballincollig’s collective performance could be marked as excellent and only some wayward shooting meant the game was a contest for so long. Set on their way by early goals from Cian Kiely and John Kelly, they could afford to score just one point in 26 minutes of football.
Once the scoreboard was jump-started again, though, they grew stronger as the line neared. Ballincollig manager Michael O’Brien was keen to stress caution, however.
“It’s brilliant, but we’ve a long way to go yet,” he said. “There are bigger days to come and we have to settle for two weeks’ time. We knew the game was going to be hard in the conditions, so it was going to be the team that made the fewest mistakes would win.
“The goals were key, they were the difference at the end. We knew that we were going to have to defend to the death and put everything into it. That’s what we had prepared for, we were going to give them nothing.”
Liam Jennings and Noel Galvin led the way in a massive defensive effort. Nemo were denied clear goalscoring opportunities and found themselves having to work very hard to find any joy up front.
It was courtesy of a wonderful start that Ballincollig had so much to hang onto. Leading 0-2 to 0-1 after seven minutes, wing-back John Paul Murphy then took a pass from Patrick Kelly and went for goal. While his effort was half-blocked, the ball fell perfectly for Kiely to knock the ball in from close range.
Two minutes later, John Miskella — who played a roving role to great effect — found John Kelly on the right. After cutting in, he might have pointed but, perhaps high on life after getting married on Friday, he drilled a low shot beyond the dive of Micheál Aodh Martin.
When Dorgan pointed a free in the 12th minute, it was 2-3 to 0-2.
Ballincollig have flattered to deceive in the past and, if you were cynical, you might have said they’d never have a better opportunity to collapse. It never happened, though. While Nemo did get going slightly, Ballincollig were still well on top. Seán Kiely and Ciarán O’Sullivan may be young but their midfield play was of the highest order and Pa Kelly was his usual at centre-forward, directing the flow of play and ensuring possession was retained. His point on 26 minutes had a settling effect, as they had gone 14 minutes without a score.
A wides tally which had crept up to six by half-time was the only blemish but they still turned with a 2-4 to 0-4 advantage, leaving the field to a massive ovation. Even when chances were wasted at the outset of the second half and Paul Kerrigan and sub Aidan O’Reilly pointed for Nemo, there was never any sign of panic.
Cian Kiely profited from a good George Durrant pass to make it 2-5 to 0-7 and though James Masters converted a free from the 45m line, Ballincollig responded through Seán Kiely and a wonderful Kelly free from the left.
Even then, with seven minutes left they couldn’t think the job was done. James Masters and then Barry O’Driscoll with a super long-range effort brought Nemo to within four points. All we had seen in the past prevented us from thinking they were dead.
They lost Alan Cronin though as he was black-carded for a foul on Patrick Kelly, having already been booked.
Dorgan scored the resultant free and O’Sullivan and sub Ian Coughlan made sure of the win, seven points in it at the end. A first-ever final, but no fear of getting carried away.
“No, all the lads are level-headed,” O’Brien said. “We’ve a lot of guys who have been around the block. They know what it’s about and we’ll settle things down again before the final.”
Scorers for Ballincollig: C Dorgan 1-3 (2f), J Kelly 1-0, P Kelly (1f), C O’Sullivan 0-2 each, S Kiely, C Kiely, I Coughlan (free) 0-1.
Scorers for Nemo Rangers: J Masters 0-4 (3f), P Kerrigan (free), J Horgan, B O’Driscoll, A O’Reilly, W Morgan 0-1.
BALLINCOLLIG: D Lordan; L Prendergast, L Jennings, N Galvin; C Kiely, S O’Donoghue, JP Murphy; S Kiely, C O’Sullivan; N Allen, P Kelly, G Durrant; J Kelly, C Dorgan, J Miskella.
Subs: I Coughlan for J Kelly (44), A O’Donovan for N Allen (48), D Kerstein for Murphy (60, injured).
NEMO RANGERS: MA Martin; D O’Donovan, K Fulignati, S McKeown; C O’Brien, A Cronin, A O’Donovan; P Kerrigan, P Morgan; D Mehigan, W Morgan, J Horgan; B O’Driscoll, L Connolly, J Masters.
Subs: C O’Shea for O’Donovan (13), A O’Reilly for O’Brien (33), D Niblock for P Morgan (37), C Horgan for W Morgan (40), O’Brien for O’Reilly (53, black card).
Referee: M Collins (Clonakilty).