Carbery Rangers fumed afterwards about a penalty shout in the final minutes when John O’Rourke hit the deck as they powered forward in search of salvation. But the winning and losing of this Cork SFC semi-final was less about the climax and more about the respective tactics in the first half.
The Rosscarbery men gave everything they had to overturn a 1-7 to 0-3 interval deficit — John O’Rourke even returning to the field after having a dislocated shoulder popped back — but there will be a lot of looking in the mirror today after a very disjointed first period by last year’s beaten finalists.
From the stands in Páirc Uí Rinn it looked like Carbery Rangers management was inexplicably deploying two of their primary score-getters, John O’Rourke and Seamus Hayes, in deeper roles, leaving John Hayes isolated close to goal with two, or sometimes, three Nemo Rangers defenders for company.
Not so, insisted Carbery manager Michael ‘Haulie’ O’Sullivan. He maintained the players’ first-half lethargy around the middle third necessitated extra bodies in that sector, and their general workrate and tackling was “very poor”.
He explained: “The way we started, with our workrate so low and tackling so poor, we had no choice but to drop players because we were being opened around the middle. It could have been game over at half-time if we didn’t shut it up.
“I know it was frustrating looking at it, but the other side of it was the terrible ball we put into the forwards.
“We could have held it a big longer, and we got no runners off the shoulder.”
All very unlike Carbery Rangers, who, with five county semi-finals in a row under their belts, would not have been expected to look at dysfunctional and leaden-legged as they did in the first half.
Their problems started early — 28 seconds in, to be precise, when a raking delivery from Luke Connolly was caught over the head of the full-back Brian Shanahan by Paul Kerrigan, who capitalised with the game’s only goal.
Carbery Rangers looked ponderous in possession, but credit for that has to go to Nemo’s voracious appetite for work around the middle and their water-tight full-back line.
Their defence — bolstered by the returning Kevin Fulignati — mopped up huge amounts of breaking ball, and man of the match Luke Connolly, as well as Barry O’Driscoll, were willing outlets up front. The net result after 11 minutes was a 1-3 to 0-1 lead, and the clinical efficiency of James Masters and Connolly kept them at arm’s length for long periods.
Veteran midfielder David Niblock was an effective link between the lines, and though John Hayes pointed a free in the 17th minute to make it 1-4 to 0-3 to Nemo, the city men were clearly the superior outfit. Their keeper Micheal Martin did have to make a smart block from John Hayes, but two further points from Connolly and a Masters effort, when he intercepted a poor kick-out, had then seven in front at the break.
Unsurprisingly, Carbery Rangers reverted to their tried and trusted formation after the break, with John Hayes augmented inside by his brother Seamus and O’Rourke. The Cork forward claimed the first two points after the break, and though Masters drilled a superb free over at the other end, the Hayes brothers, along with O’Rourke, were chiseling away at the first-half damage. All three added points and six minutes into the second half, the gap was down to 1-8 to 0-8.
Crucially at this juncture, O’Rourke went down with what was evidently a repeat of a shoulder problem, and though temporarily replaced to have the shoulder “reduced”, he was back into battle within minutes. How limiting his problem was is a moot point, but Carbery Rangers were making use of the elements in their favour to drive Nemo backwards with each passing play.
Steven O’Brien’s side have a few old heads on board and while they worked assidiously to steady the ship, it was evident Nemo legs were giving way as the game entered its final quarter.
Luke Connolly pointed a 45 to cancel out a similar score from Carbery’s Brian Shanahan, but Nemo’s raids beyond halfway were more sporadic. They introduced Cork U21 Conor Horgan to give the attack some impetus, but bringing on Michael Dorgan and Peter Morgan was more about stemming the tide at midfield.
With 10 minutes remaining, Seamus Hayes made it a one-score game, 1-10 to 0-10, and after Connolly and McMahon swapped points, Seamus Hayes made it 1-11 to 0-12 on 56 minutes.
The sense that these sides would need another 60 minutes grew. Nemo looked like a boxer desperate for the final bell and before John Hayes claimed his side’s 13th point, Carbery Rangers had what their manager labelled a “stonewall” penalty shout ignored by referee Conor Lane.
To complete their misery, O’Rourke’s shoulder popped again in added time, and Declan Hayes was off target with their final shot at salvation.
Nemo’s passage to the final has been stuttering, but they are there again. Who’d bet against them now?
L. Connolly (0-6, 2 frees, 1 45), P. Kerrigan (1-1), J Masters (0-3, 1 free), A O’Donovan (0-1).
J Hayes (0-5, 3 frees), S Hayes (0-3), B Shanahan (0-2, 45’s), J. O’Rourke (0-2), K McMahon (0-1)
M Martin; A Cronin, A O’Reilly, C O’Shea; K Fulignati,T O Se, J Donovan; D Niblock, A O’Donovan (0-1); C O’Brien, B O’Driscoll, L Connolly; J Masters, P Kerrigan, C Dalton.
M Dorgan for Dalton (40 mins), C Horgan for Masters (49), P Morgan for O’Brien (51); O’Brien for O’Donovan (55)
P Shanahan; R Kiely, B Shanahan, A Roche; T O’Rourke, P Hodnett, S Murray; M Mennis, J Fitzpatrick; A Jennings, D Hayes, K McMahon; J O’Rourke, J Hayes, S Hayes.
G O’Brien for Roche, M Kelly for T O’Rourke (half-time); K Fitzpatrick for Mennis (36); S O’Neill for J O’Rourke (Blood sub, 37); S O’Neill for J O’Rourke (59).
C Lane (Cork)