It’s Wednesday evening at the home of Cork’s most decorated football club and despite there being just three days to the club’s first All-Ireland semi-final appearance in seven years, senior manager Larry Kavanagh has given us the green light to pop in after training.
As we chat, the majority of players file into the function room where their dinner is plated up to them. Kavanagh had said it would be no issue to grab one of the players for a quick natter, but he’s wary now to pull any of them from their grub.
One of the last up from the dressing-room is goalkeeper Micheál Aodh Martin. “Just the man,” quips Kavanagh, “Micheál sit down here and speak with this man before you eat”.
The goalkeeper, cradling a bag of ice, isn’t given any choice in the matter, nor does he seem to mind having an interview thrown upon him so close to his first All-Ireland club semi-final.
It was a similar story the Tuesday evening before the drawn county final against St Finbarr’s. Where most clubs have shut up shop the week of a county final, a number of Nemo players, experienced and otherwise, were made available to the press.
There’s no player wrapped in cotton wool or hidden away around these parts, they don’t see any downside to opening up their doors so close to such important fixtures.
Maybe, it has something to do with the volume of important fixtures this club has been involved in down through the years. This is the 16th spring where Nemo has contested an All-Ireland semi-final. There’s not a club in the land who boast such a record.
Of their previous 15 All-Ireland semi-final engagements, 11 ended in victory. They’re out on their own in that regard too.
Given Nemo’s storied past, Martin says there is a healthy expectation on the current crop.
“We expect of ourselves, and that’s not arrogance,” the goalkeeper begins.
“Even though I haven’t played in an All-Ireland semi-final, I know what is expected of us. We are all well aware of the roll of honour and we know we have to live up to that when we take to the field. It never weighs us down, though. It is a healthy pressure.
“Billy Morgan has trained us, Dinny Allen has trained us in junior hurling, Tony Nation coached me at U21 and you’ll often spot Jimmy Kerrigan around the clubhouse; all these guys have done it. There are reminders everywhere of what this club has done. We want to live up to that.”
Martin, put simply, doesn’t fancy being part of the fifth Nemo team across a 42-year period to come up short at the penultimate hurdle.
“Before the Clonmel Munster final in 2015, Nemo had won 15 Munster titles out of 19 Cork championships. For us to be one of the groups who didn’t do it didn’t sit right with me for two years. We were the exception rather than the rule. That didn’t sit well with the younger lads coming through.
"Similarly, Paul Kerrigan was saying the other day they were still upset that they didn’t turn up on the day of the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final against St Brigid’s.
“We look at what Billy, Jimmy, Dinny, Tony and Larry [Kavanagh] did for the club, what they gave back, and we want to put our own stamp on it now. We are a young team. From Stephen Cronin, 22, to Luke Connolly, 25, there is probably eight or nine of us who came up together, winning two U21 county championships in 2012 and 2014.
"When Dylan Meighan and Willie Morgan moved on, it was up to us to step up and there was a year where we didn’t perform, we lost the county semi-final to Ballincollig. Paul [Kerrigan] would say to us we have to push this on. we have kicked on.”
Victory over Slaughtneil would secure them a first St Patrick’s Day appearance at GAA HQ in 10 years. But when Croke Park, the prize on offer today, is mentioned towards the end of our conversation with Larry Kavanagh, the manager wears a puzzled expression.
The Nemo mindset doesn’t view a run out at Croke Park as any sort of a prize. “To these lads, appearing in Croke Park is no good. There is nothing for getting there. Winning is what it is all about,” Kavanagh insists.
“Maybe Slaughtneil are discussing Croke Park this week because they got there last year and feel the need to get back there. Our crowd are not.”
Bar Kerrigan, captain Aidan O’Reilly, Colin O’Brien, Barry O’Driscoll and Tomás O Sé, no one else has prior experience of club championship football in February. Rest assured that won’t inhibit the collective belief that they can get the job done.
“We did [see the performance against Crokes coming] and that is without trying to sound in any way arrogant,” continues Martin, the son of the Fianna Fáil leader.
“We felt training had been going well before that. It was all about getting it right on the day. I would have always said before that game that you have to have a belief in yourself. We knew absolutely how good Dr Crokes were, but you can’t be overawed by that going into a game.
"It is the same this weekend. Slaughtneil are a brilliant team who are chasing a third All-Ireland final appearance in four years. If you focus on that kind of stuff, you are wasting energy.”
And with that, we leave Martin to his dinner.