When speaking to the respective managers after the game, it was hard to distinguish which team were late showing up and which had let slip a seven-point second-half lead such was their upbeat tone. Barr’s manager Ray Keane had told his players at half-time to have no regrets when they returned back down the tunnel and we doubt they had many, if any at all.
His counterpart, Larry Kavanagh, referenced the three minutes of injury-time, during which the Barr’s owned possession in the Nemo half of the field. One sight of goal and it would have been curtains for the men from Trabeg, their manager stressed.
We imagine, though, the Nemo management were privately fuming at having thrown away a winning hand, at having to defend their goal at the death with the sides level. How it came to that was the main talking point among bewildered Nemo supporters as they shuffled out of Páirc Uí Chaoimh early yesterday evening.
Of all the clubs in Cork to hold onto a seven-point lead in the second half of a county final, you’d imagine it would be bread and butter to Nemo Rangers. Of their starting team, just four had not featured in the final win two years ago, the same number as Barr’s players to have played in – and lost - a county final.
We expected the challengers to be tetchy with the finish line in sight. What we certainly hadn’t bargained for was a stiffening of Nemo’s play after putting considerable daylight between themselves and their opponents - only two Nemo forwards found the target in the second period.
Ahead by 0-10 to 0-4 at the break, the favourites, searching for a 20th Cork crown, extended their advantage within 14 seconds of the change of ends. Jack Horgan won the throw-in, drove at the opposition defence before offloading to Barry O’Driscoll who did the rest. Such directness had served them well in the opening period and it didn’t appear the Barr’s had located any answers during the interval to combat the movement of the Nemo front eight.
Denis O’Brien cancelled out this score, but the difference was back to seven when Ciaran Dalton became the final member of the Nemo attack to write his name onto the scoresheet from open play on 34 minutes.
They’d kick only two more points between there and the finish.
Did the Nemo players believe they had the result sewn up, did they believe they could coast through the closing 26 minutes? Moreover, were they so naïve to think there wouldn’t be a Barr’s
Perhaps, in asking these questions, we are being unfair to St Finbarr’s. That they had it within them to mount any sort of a revival after the pummelling they took in the opening 20 minutes is testament to the character of this squad.
We had expected them to park at least one bus in front of their goal early on. Instead, their half-forward line was slow to retreat when Nemo pressed and, as a result, they were punished in several one-on-one confrontations.
Luke Connolly kicked Nemo’s opening score, via the dead ball, 56 seconds in. There followed points from Paddy Gumley, Paul Kerrigan, Connolly (0-3, 0-1 free), Jack Horgan and Barry O’Driscoll. Come the 17th minute, the favourites were 0-8 to 0-0 to the good. They should have also nicked a goal, Dylan Quinn twice clearing the ball off the line to deny Gumley.
At the other end, the situation couldn’t have been bleaker. Stephen Sherlock was off target with his first shot, while his next two dropped into the goalkeeper’s hands. Robert O’Mahony also kicked wide before Sherlock had them off the mark with a 20th-minute free. They’d add two more in the next minute, Cillian Myers Murray and Ian Maguire the providers.
Still, the task appeared beyond them with 25 minutes left to run.
Sherlock (free) and half-back Colin Lyons landed two in quick succession and their confidence further rose when the latter floated over his second of the final. Comyns and Ian Maguire had, by this juncture, taken over the midfield department, with Lyons and Dylan Quinn attacking from further back.
A foul on Maguire enabled Sherlock cut the margin to three. Comyns won the subsequent restart, shifted possession to Denis O’Brien and he further narrowed the gap.
Alan O’Donovan ended a 17-minute scoring drought for the men in black and green. Their opponents, though, had long since caught scent of an upset and Sherlock had the deficit back to two, 0-13 to 0-11, with seven minutes remaining. Ciaran Dalton, cutting in from the North Stand sideline, steadied Nemo. They wouldn’t score again, through three on the bounce from Sherlock, the second of which was his first from play and the third of which brought the teams level for the first time 18 seconds past the hour mark.
In between this Sherlock flurry, Dalton was denied a goal by the heroics of Sam Ryan. It summed up their respective second halves.
We go again next Sunday.
L Connolly (0-4, 0-2 frees); C O’Brien, B O’Driscoll, P Gumley (0-2 each); A O’Donovan, J Horgan, P Kerrigan, C Dalton (0-1 each).
S Sherlock (0-8, 0-6 frees); D O’Brien, C Lyons (0-2 each); I Maguire, C Myers Murray (0-1 each).
MA Martin; A O’Reilly, C McWhinney, A Cronin; T Ó Sé, S Cronin, K Fulignati; A O’Donovan, J Horgan; B O’Driscoll, P Kerrigan, C O’Brien; C Dalton, P Gumley, L Connolly.
J O’Donovan for Fulignati, M Dorgan for Horgan (both 53); C Horgan for O’Driscoll (59)
D Murphy; A McCarthy, G O’Connor, D Quinn; C Lyons, S Ryan, J Burns; I Maguire, E Comyns; D O’Brien, M Shields, E Dennehy; C Myers-Murray, R O’Mahony, S Sherlock.
R Leahy for O’Mahony (46 mins, inj); C Keane for O’Brien (53); A O’Connor for Lyons (61).
C Lane (Banteer).