A Luke Connolly moment of magic to propel Nemo across the finish line — sure, that’s anything but a new normal.
On an evening where so much of what took place bore zero resemblance to your typical match experience, a welcome familiarity was Connolly’s class with ball in hand.
From e-tickets, to those e-tickets being scanned by men whose faces were clouded behind perspex visors, the clubhouse and dressing rooms under lock and key, the water breaks, the Nemo management congregating at the fence enclosure at half-time, half the management stood inside the fence, the other half stood outside it given the restrictions on numbers permitted onto the field — there was plenty going on to keep you engaged, even if the fare itself, as expected, was not quite up to scratch.
Nemo were two in front — 2-4 to 1-5 — when Connolly set off on a solo run 13 minutes into the second half that ended with a screamer of a shot to the top right corner of the goal. Had this Group C fixture been streamed live, you can be certain Connolly’s flash of individual brilliance would be doing the rounds on social media all weekend.
Connolly’s second goal of the evening — his first wasn’t quite as spectacular but no less important given it put a large dent in a productive first-half Valley Rovers spell — sent the city men five clear and from there they would not be caught.
Luke subsequently swelled his personal tally with a lovely razored point, with the hardworking Barry O’Driscoll also increasing his own contribution.
As for their opponents, while they toiled gamely, their limitations were captured by the fact that Fiachra Lynch kicked all bar one of their second-half points.
The first half could best be described as rusty. Very rusty. That, however, is intended more as an observation than a criticism given the collective inactivity that went hand and hand with three months of lockdown.
Nemo, minus three regulars because of injury, kicked four first-half scores and seven wides. Two more efforts were dropped into the opposition goalkeeper's hands, while O’Driscoll had a goal effort smothered by Valley Rovers' David Lynch.
It was real up and down stuff from the reigning champions. Hardly surprising, says you.
Unphased by the concession of a third-minute goal, Paul O’Donovan’s men had the green flag cancelled out 40 seconds later, Conor O’Donovan scrambling to the net a Paul Kerrigan pass.
The opening stages trundled along, error after error, until Kerrigan and O’Driscoll threw over successive points on 12 and 13 minutes to move the champions two clear. That was to be their lot, however, until the 27th minute when Connolly placed the ball into the bottom left corner of Cormac Desmond’s goal.
This second Nemo major was a hammer blow to Valley Rovers for while the Innishannon men had gone without a single score in the 19 minutes after Jack Walsh's early goal, they subsequently kicked three points in a row to hold a narrow 1-3 to 1-2 lead at the time of Connolly’s cool finish — the final score of the half.
It was to be the last time Valley Rovers would hold the lead.
A familiar outcome, so, on an evening of new and old normals.
L Connolly (2-3, 0-1 free); B O’Driscoll (0-3, 0-1 free); C O’Donovan (1-0); P Kerrigan (0-2).
F Lynch (0-7, 0-4 frees, 0-1 ‘45); J Walsh (1-0); K Canty, E O’Reilly (0-1 each).
MA Martin; A Cronin, K Histon, B Cripps; K O'Donovan, S Cronin, J Horgan; P Morgan, J McDermott; C Horgan, L Connolly, C O'Brien; C O'Donovan, B O'Driscoll, P Kerrigan.
B Murphy for Histon (55 mins, inj).
C Desmond; D Muckian, D Lynch, A Lyons; J Kiely, I Crowley, T O Brien; K Canty, C O'Leary; J Walsh, E Delaney, R O'Sullivan; J Cottrell, F Lynch, D O'Shea.
E O’Reilly for Cottrell (19 mins): W Hurley for O’Leary (39); T O’Brien for O’Shea (48).