In times of football depression for the county, Nemo has regularly been an outlier. Accumulating 16 Munster football titles says all that, which makes that 11/4 offering from the odds-setters on a Nemo win at Páirc Ui Rinn all the more absurd (absurd but appreciated, Paddy).
As incongruous as a betting slip might look pinned to a dressing room, doubtless the insult added spice to the intent of the Cork champions as they plotted the downfall of the All-Ireland holders yesterday. As things panned out, they didn’t even require the additional bite. The Kerry champions looked stale and ponderous for long periods, lacked a cutting edge and above all, were heavy-legged as Nemo cut them open repeatedly in the first half.
Watching from the terrace vantage point behind Crokes keeper Shane Murphy, one teased out the issues: had Crokes had got their defensive match-ups wrong (Luke Quinn couldn’t handle Luke Connolly, Mike Moloney didn’t work on Barry O’Driscoll either), or whether Nemo’s running patterns, and specifically the ability of their inside forwards to drift inside the Crokes cover, was decisive. It surely was, but it was hardly a plot of great technical complexity.
Seventeen consecutive times Crokes have gone to the well in championship, and they were unbeaten heretofore in 2017, but this was as pallid as they’ve looked in a long time. Without Jordan Kiely and Tony Brosnan, their inside line of Colm Cooper and Kieran O’Leary looked one-paced and weary throughout yesterday’s final. On paper, the Killarney side offers some sumptuous attacking options, but paper takes no account of age, gluepot surfaces, or interminable campaigns.
Nemo’s inside defenders Alan Cronin and the impressive young Kevin O’Donovan were lords and master throughout with a virtually anonymous Kieran O’Leary eventually succumbing to frustration, and a second yellow in the last 10 minutes. There was no Gooch spark either on this occasion, Johnny Buckley conspicuous in black and amber as he raged against all and sundry around midfield in the second period.
By that stage, Nemo should have been out of sight. Five times in the opening half they opened Crokes up — and didn’t have to be too imaginative to do so — but Luke Connolly twice, Paddy Gumley, Paul Kerrigan, and Barry O’Driscoll each failed to find the net for one reason or another. Three times the reason was heroic interventions from John Payne, but Nemo should be — and usually are — more clinical in those situations.
The sense such profligacy might be punished increased when Colm Cooper reduced the leeway to two points in the 41st minute (0-11 to 0- 9), but even the introduction of the fresh-legged Tony Brosnan and Paul Clarke failed to spark the Crokes forward line. For that, Nemo’s blue-collar work ethic must take some credit. The work-rate was universal, but the defensive sextet — possibly targeted by Crokes — was assertive and aggressive.
Any attacking verve and invention were created at the Crokes end of the pitch. And for that, credit must go to Nemo selector Joe Kavanagh, who plotted his way through a few defences in his time. Nemo’s offensive gameplan — too often reliant on thrusting, off-the-shoulder runs by Paul Kerrigan — looks fresh and inventive, and they will convert those goal chances in future, presumably.
Luke Connolly may need deed poll to change his ‘mercurial’ status, but he’s taking down his doubters game by game. Ten points yesterday, but good movement off the ball too suggests there are Cork positives to be taken from Nemo’s momentum into 2018. Barry O’Driscoll is surging again, the ankle problem which laid him low in 2016 now finally out of his system.
If conclusive evidence were needed that Dr Crokes’ 2017 legs had finally (and understandably) given out on them by November’s end, consider that Nemo full forward Paddy Gumley is older than most of the Crokes’ thirtysomethings, but looked fresher and sharper yesterday than Messrs Cooper, O’Leary, and Looney. A cyclical downturn so for Crokes? Not a chance. There’s plenty of nascent talent coming through the Pat O’Shea academy, and the more seasoned campaigners need to cool the jets anyway.
For Nemo, a seasonal break will be spent eyeing up another assault on Croke Park — something everyone in Cork football can get on board with.