Croke Park, 2pm
D Gough (Meath)
Nemo 10/11, Corofin 6/5, Draw 15/2
No hurling or football club can match this haul.
Nemo’s most recent success was 2003, this current dry spell of 15 years being the longest the club has gone without toasting the Andy Merrigan Cup at their Trabeg base.
Just as this group of players didn’t take kindly to being the second Nemo team to lose a Munster final in 2015, they’ve no desire to become the fifth team from the club to come up short on All-Ireland final day.
Manager Larry Kavanagh says all these facts and figures have been thrown at the players since the semi-final win over Slaughtneil.
There is nothing to be gained by ignoring the club’s silverware-laden history.
“We wouldn’t shy away from it, that’s the worst thing you can do,” says Kavanagh.
“It was the same before the semi-final. We put it on them. We told them if we don’t win this it would be 10 years since we had been in an All-Ireland club final and how it might be another five years before we manage to get back there.
“Knowing you have to bring back the cup brings its own pressures. But they’re intelligent men. You put it up to them and give them the challenge.
If we don’t win Saturday and the next couple of years are barren, then it’ll soon be 20 years since the club won an All-Ireland. That’s not acceptable around here.
“Fifteen years, as it is, is seen as too long. We have seven titles, you have to keep it ticking over. Now is the time to do it. How this team is remembered will be dictated, in part, by Saturday.”
And a team’s legacy is important in this club. The Nemo manager played in four All-Ireland club finals, winning two (1994 and 2003) and losing two (2001 and 2002). His fourth and last trip to GAA HQ is, to no surprise, the one he recalls most vividly.
“We had lost in 2001 and 2002. We didn’t want to be remembered as the team who lost three finals. We didn’t want that to be our legacy. In 2003, it was total relief. You’re saying to yourself, ‘thanks be to Jesus we didn’t lose three in a row’. Na Piarsaigh beat us in the county championship later that year. We were spent. But it didn’t matter. We had that All-Ireland. It is the history, the record.
The club’s younger generation need to see we are still winning All-Irelands. If you start going 20 years without winning one, does the confidence wane, does the club begin to question itself, ‘can we do this anymore, what are we doing wrong’?
“If you keep ticking it off every couple of years, that gives confidence to the team coming behind the team who are just after winning. They’ll say to themselves, ‘we can win that, sure didn’t we win it in 2018’.”
Barring a draw against Corofin, Saturday will be the last outing for this Nemo management. They won’t be on the sideline for the 2018 county championship campaign. Kavanagh is extremely grateful to the coaches who developed his charges at underage, a job he’s not sure he’d be able for.
“I’d much prefer to be bringing the senior team up to Croke Park than the U12s and losing three players when the bus stops at a garage in Leixlip. At senior, you are getting the finished product. Eddie O’Leary, for example, is looking after an U11 team and they are being coached properly.
“There are so many club fellas who have bought into it. They are getting no praise for it, yet they are bringing teams through. I hope the underage managers are taking pride at how the players they had at underage turned out.”
Critical to their senior success has been the approach adopted in the younger age-groups.
“We’ve lost titles at U14, U16, and minor. If we really wanted to win them, you’d be splitting a team at U14 where you’d have an A team and the leftovers. We compromise, we don’t put all our eggs in the one basket.”
Not everyone can be a Paul Kerrigan or Luke Connolly at 13 or 14. This policy ensures no late bloomers are lost, the very tag Kavanagh puts on midfielder Jack Horgan.
“He wasn’t on his own minor team. He kept tipping away. We threw him on for a Kelleher Shield game and he stood out.
“We have young fellas in with us like James O’Donovan and Barry Cripps. They might run into a tackle with Tomás Ó Sé and come out with the ball. No one says anything, but they’re sitting in the car going home and they’re thinking they went past Ó Sé.
“They are gaining experience for when their time comes and I hope I am looking down at them on the big stage in five years time.”