Surprise pick Luke Connolly taking Nemo captaincy in his stride

Connolly’s experience means his credentials for taking hold of the captaincy were there in plain sight. But it is a role he never saw himself being asked to carry out
Surprise pick Luke Connolly taking Nemo captaincy in his stride

LEADER: Luke Connolly, Nemo Rangers, with possession against Carbery Rangers in the quarter-final. Pic: Larry Cummins

It was in December of last year when manager Paul O’Donovan informed Luke Connolly that he would captain Nemo Rangers for the 2022 season.

Connolly’s experience, the decade-plus he has been around the panel, and his undeniable worth to the Nemo set-up means his credentials for taking hold of the captaincy were there in plain sight.

But, if the 29-year-old is to be brutally honest, it is a role he never saw himself being asked to carry out.

News to nobody is that Connolly is a maverick inside the whitewash. He’s capable of winning Nemo a game off the most limited of possession, as he did with his two goals in the delayed 2020 county final, but he’s equally capable of leaving management and teammates pulling their hair out, as he did with a bag full of wides when Nemo went down to Valley Rovers in their opening group game of last year’s county championship.

If the captain is supposed to be a steady hand at the till, Connolly knew that wasn’t him.

“When you start your career as a young player, there are certain milestones you’d love to think you can reach; your first senior game, your first county. Certainly, captaining Nemo is something I’ve always wanted to get the opportunity to do,” he admits.

“But if I am being perfectly honest, I didn’t ever see myself doing it. That would be because of the position I play and the type of football I tend to play, for as much as they can be leaders, sometimes they can be the reason you lose a game, as well, so they tend not to be captain.” 

That the Nemo management saw enough elsewhere in his game and dressing-room presence is something he will be forever grateful for.

“I am incredibly proud to be captain of this team and this club. You look at the list of captains in this club. It is a nice group to be in.

“The other side of it, and given the year that’s in it, leaving the Cork panel and being able to come into this Nemo group and being able to show a maturity and leadership, it has been nice for me to be able to show that side that maybe some people thought I didn’t have.” 

Mention of Cork draws us to a part of Connolly’s year we couldn’t go without mentioning. He was, as expected, part of the Cork panel put together by new manager Keith Ricken last winter. It was, however, a short-lived stay.

Introduced at half-time in the McGrath Cup final defeat to Kerry on January 22, the county’s second highest scorer from the season previous was gone from the panel by the time of their League opener a week later.

When asked if he’d like to comment on his unexpectedly short inter-county year, Connolly politely declines.

“There has been a lot written and said, none of it has come from me. And none of it will come from me, until the season is over.” 

Fair enough. Moving on, or rather, moving back to matters club.

After their shock group exit last year, Nemo are back in the last four of the championship. They’ve not got their convincingly, though.

The defence-first approach of Clonakilty in Round 3 and Carbery Rangers in the quarter-finals means Nemo’s two most recent tallies have been a less than impressive 0-8 and 2-4. In the latter, they had managed just two scores by the fifth minute of the second half.

Blank defences they don’t enjoy.

“I am not going to shy away from the fact that it is very frustrating to play against when it is done well, and it has been done well by the teams we’ve met in recent weeks.

“Against Carbery, we probably didn’t help ourselves with poor decision-making. We were a bit flat and maybe felt sorry for ourselves that another team was playing defensive against us. As an inside forward, you really have to stay engaged, stay mentally strong, and not get too frustrated.

“But the other side of that coin is you kinda have to take it as a compliment that teams are having to set up in that way to shut us down or to counteract what they see us having in attack.” 

The expectation is semi-final opponents Ballincollig, unlike Clon and Rosscarbery, will come out and play ball.

“You’d love to play lavish, expansive football, and give the neutrals something to enjoy and watch, but we are under no illusions that this is a results-based business. We want to win, and if we need to win by slugging it out in a defensive-minded game or if it’s a shootout, we’ll take it either way.”

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