At half-time, the competition’s record winners, faced a 0-10 to 0-8 deficit with Ilen Rovers having pieced together a near-impeccable performance in Dunmanway.
The Baltimore side – beaten by Nemo in the 2007 county final – didn’t record a single wide in that opening spell, but incredibly they failed to add to their tally in the second period.
Where Nemo had been listless for much of the opening half, they were a transformed outfit after the break. Four points in five minutes put them into a lead upon which they continued to build, with manager Steven O’Brien relatively pleased afterwards.
“I thought we started the game okay,” he said, “but they really tuned into the game and they were playing at championship pace, which we weren’t. That happens this time of year, you’re playing league games, you’re training with half a team. It was a real eye-opener but I felt the lads responded fantastically in the second half. Once we got up to the pace, we converted a few scores.
“You could see what Ilen bring to it. They’re a proud club and we’ve always respected them, they were certainly the better team but we knew that we were off the pace. We’ll certainly learn a lot from it.”
While Ilen got off the mark with points from Conor O’Driscoll and Dan Mac Eoin, when Nemo soon forged 0-4 to 0-2 ahead the game appeared to be heading along expected lines.
Even though Kevin O’Sullivan and then Cork minor Stephen Leonard pointed for Ilen – the latter unlucky not to goal – Luke Connolly’s ‘45’ had Nemo 0-5 to 0-4 in front by the 13th minute.
But from there the men in white took over. Wing-forwards Alan Holland and Seán O’Donovan were running themselves to a standstill while the inside duo of Leonard and O’Sullivan were constant threats and Mac Eoin sent over a couple of points from distance. Leonard went close to a green flag again too, with Micheál Martin saving well, but O’Sullivan pointed from the rebound.
O’Driscoll at centre-forward was dovetailing with his brothers, Cian and Peadar, who were in midfield and the ball was being smartly worked from defence. While Tomás Ó Sé, making his championship debut for Nemo, got his hands on the ball at a few vital times, elsewhere they were struggling against the slight breeze and Connolly’s free was their only score between the 16th minute and injury time.
As the half neared its end, Ilen were 0-10 to 0-7 in front after two O’Sullivan frees – their first scores from placed balls – but David Niblock got forward just before the whistle to fist over after Dylan Mehigan and Alan O’Donovan had linked well.
After a half-time debriefing (“I can’t remember what I said, my head was spinning!” O’Brien said), Nemo began at pace, and never relented.
Midfield was a black and green dominated territory, Niblock and O’Donovan doing so much to prevent Ilen make any headway and the forwards applied huge pressure on the ball coming out of defence.
The city side pushed 0-13 to 0-10 ahead when Barry O’Driscoll won a break 30 yards from goal and then knifed through to find the top corner. That gave Ilen hopes a severe kicking and then the black-carding of Conor O’Driscoll – when the Ilen sideline felt they should have had a free immediately beforehand – extinguished thoughts of a fightback.
Nemo were in their groove by now and William Morgan sent over an excellent point from the right while Kerrigan almost goaled from O’Driscoll’s handpass. Another Ilen black card for Tim O’Regan left them more aggrieved and they opted to finish with 14 men rather than use a sub and prevent them playing in today’s Carbery JAFC clash with Diarmuid Ó Mathúnas.
That was on 56 minutes and Nemo added four more points. O’Brien discounted their importance but the job had been done.
“The last few points, you wouldn’t be worried about them,” he said. “When there’s six or seven points in it, heads may drop, but it was all about the result. We can just look forward to the rest of it now.”
B O’Driscoll (1-3), L Connolly (0-5, 4 frees, 1 45), P Kerrigan (0-4, 1 free), D Niblock (0-3), J Masters, A Cronin, W Morgan (0-1 each).
K O’Sullivan (0-4, 2 frees), D Mac Eoin (0-3), S Leonard (0-2), Conor O’Driscoll (0-1).
M Martin; A O’Reilly, C O’Shea, A Cronin; D O’Donovan, T Ó Sé, S Cronin; A O’Donovan, D Niblock; C O’Brien, P Kerrigan, D Mehigan; B O’Driscoll, L Connolly, W Morgan.
J Masters for L Connolly (51, injured).
D Hickey; C Cotter, J Pickett, A Hassett; T O’Regan, D O’Donovan, A Coughlan; Cian O’Driscoll, P O’Driscoll; A Holland, Conor O’Driscoll, S O’Donovan; S Leonard, D Mac Eoin, K O’Sullivan.
P Minihane for Conor O’Driscoll (45, black card).
J Bermingham (Bride Rovers).