Before anyone latches onto the fact that, for a second week running, Nemo Rangers almost frittered away a substantial county final lead, consider this: they were second best in most departments in the first half, and St Finbarr’s frustration was palpable at 1-5 each with five minutes left to the break. Imagine so how the Barr’s felt trudging to the dressing rooms 2-6 to 1-5 in arrears, having held the whip hand with the breeze, and shooting 10 wides to boot?
That, in essence, is the Nemo calling card, not unlike that other footballing force across the county bounds, Dr Crokes — a precious ability to manufacture and convert goal chances that, even on the underwhelming days, always give them a sniff. Four more saw them over the line yesterday — just — in a thoroughly entertaining Cork SFC final that sprinkled drama and memorable moments all over Páirc Ui Chaoimh’s formal unveiling.
However, it was the two stunning first-half goals from Jack Horgan and Luke Connolly which shaped the narrative of the game and importantly, kept the surging Barr’s at arm’s length.
Horgan might have been whistled for overcarrying and/or fouling the ball as he rampaged from midfield in the 19th minute, but his finish from 15m was unerring. But for artistic and technical merit, Luke Connolly’s goal five minutes before the break was the nonpareil moment. It was also a stinger blow in terms of psychological damage to the Barr’s, who kicked 10 first-half wides, many from ill-advised angles. How they must have feared what was coming when Connolly picked up a pass at a tight angle from Barry O’Driscoll and fizzed an exocet across the keeper and into the far corner.
The early momentum given to St Finbarr’s by Stephen Sherlock’s third-minute goal had already been checked by a 10-minute stoppage for the unfortunate Nemo defender Cian McWhinny, who was hospitalised after suffering a freak neck injury (he was recovering well last night, his colleagues reported), but unquestionably by the Horgan and Connolly goals. Nemo certainly didn’t deserve to be 2-6 to 1-5 in front at half-time, but having blown a seven-point second-half lead in the drawn game, they weren’t liable to repeat the mistake yesterday.
And a goal four minutes after the break franked that. From the moment two Barr’s players challenged Luke Connolly in the air, the smell of an overlap on the right flank was in the offing for Nemo. Few are better at capitalising on such moments and once Paddy Gumley placed a resurgent Paul Kerrigan, the outcome was almost inevitable.
Now Nemo had their foot on the Barr’s throat, 3-7 to 1-6. If they hadn’t quite tamed Ian Maguire at midfield, they were getting plenty of joy from pressurising Declan Murphy’s short kick-outs. Gumley profited with a point and at the three-quarter mark, Adrian Greaney, the Nemo substitute, sauntered through a static defence to apply the coup de grace with a fourth goal.
4-11 to 1-8 said everything it needed to. Nemo manager Larry Kavanagh chastised himself afterwards for ringing the changes at that point — perhaps, he offered, it indicated to his players that this was done and dusted — but the truth of it is this group of St Finbarr’s players are stubborn so-and-so’s.
“The last quarter of an hour was a bit of blur,” Kavanagh smiled afterwards.
The introduction of Eoin Finn, who wasn’t even on the match programme, on 41 minutes, had an immediate impact, a one-two with Rob O’Mahony giving him a goal and the Barr’s a lifeline. So prolific has Stephen Sherlock been for the Blues this campaign, that his 2-7 yesterday is somehow reduced to a footnote. He scored 1-3 from play and his placed balls in the second half chipped away at Nemo. Nevertheless, the Barr’s were still seven points down in the 56th minute when he went for broke and goaled from a 20 metre free.
Points from Enda Dennehy and Dylan Quinn reduced the leeway to a mere two points before time ran out, Nemo veterans Kerrigan, Dorgan, and Tomás Ó Sé retaining possession to run down the clock.
Barr’s regrets? There’ll be a few. They should have changed ends in front, not four points down, and they didn’t get enough from their half-forward line. The Nemo half-back line scored two points, the same as the Barr’s half-forwards. However, context is relevant. The average age of the Barr’s team is 24.
‘Experience’ was a word referenced more than once by Nemo management afterwards. They were laced with ‘been-there’ players, and it showed when they were under the cosh at different junctures in both halves. Paul Kerrigan’s guiding hand (quite literally at one point, when he dispossessed a Barr’s player closing in on a goal attempt) was all over Nemo’s second-half display, and it’s an incredible achievement too for Tomas Ó Sé to be picking up a second Cork SFC medal in his 40th year. That’s a level of football nous you can’t buy.
P Kerrigan (1-2), L Connolly (1-1), J Horgan (1-1), A Greaney (1-0), C Dalton and P Gumley (0-2 each), T Ó Sé, K Fulignati, A O’Donovan and B O’Driscoll (0-1 each).
S Sherlock (2-7, 1-3 frees), E Finn (1-0), R O’Mahony (0-2), D O’Brien, C Lyons, D Quinn and E Dennehy (0-1 each).
M A Martin; A O’Reilly (capt), A Cronin, C McWhinney, T Ó Sé, S Cronin, K Fulignati; A O’Donovan, J Horgan; B O’Driscoll, P Kerrigan, C O’Brien; L Connolly, P Gumley, C Dalton.
K O’Donovan for C McWhinny (8, inj), J O’Donovan for K Fulignati (36), A Greaney for C O’Brien (37, inj), M Dorgan for J Horgan (54), K Fulignati for A Cronin (54), C Horgan for P Gumley (57).
D Murphy; D Quinn, A McCarthy, J Burns; A O’Connor, S Ryan, G O’Connor; I Maguire (capt), C Lyons; D O’Brien, M Shields, E Dennehy; R Leahy, R O’Mahony, S Sherlock.
E Finn for D O’Brien (42), C Myers-Murray for R Leahy (46), C Keane for C Lyons (46), I O’Callaghan for R O’Mahony (52), R O’Dwyer for S Ryan (57), P Kennedy for G O’Connor (59).
J Bermingham (Bride Rovers)