SOMETHING new for Nemo Rangers, the most successful team in the history of the Cork senior football championship and the kingpins at All-Ireland level with seven title wins to their credit.
In the words of manager, Ephie Fitzgerald, in charge for the sixth season, “they had a bad day at the office” when they lost unexpectedly to Drom Broadford in the Munster semi-final last November.
The bad news for the small number of teams who might be capable of halting them in their bid to make it five-in-a-row is that they are refreshed after the enforced break which prevented them from getting back to another AIB All-Ireland final. And, they are as ambitious as ever.
Certainly, Fitzgerald is looking forward to the new season, starting with the game against Ballincollig at Páirc Uí Rinn, tonight at 8pm
“The lads seem really keen. I’m hopeful that once the hunger is there we have every chance of retaining the county,” he said.
In his own playing days, Nemo were never able to retain the county championship in a year in which they were successful in the All-Ireland club championship. Interestingly, however, they did manage to do it last year after having been beaten in Croke Park on St. Patrick’s Day, by St. Vincent’s (their opponents when they won the first of seven titles in 1973).
“It’s a credit to the players I am working with that they re-focused very quickly. We beat Aghada in the first round and while it wasn’t a great performance, we were happy to get over it. We had a break again and we were able to push on from there. We could have been beaten by Castlehaven in the first match. That defined our season really. We decided we needed ‘to buck up our ideas’ — all of us. We did and we just took off from there.”
In the end, the final wasn’t a contest as Douglas played so poorly on the day. The irony is that, in Fitzgerald’s view, they played their best football in the Munster club championship game against Kerins O’Rahillys before flopping against the Limerick champions.
It prompted a “re-assessment,” which has seen them introduce a “top-class” weights programme and a “slightly different” approach to training.
Preparations have been interrupted by the involvement of five of their players with the Cork squad and another four with the U-21’s, but the manager says that fitness won’t be a problem.
And, they don’t need reminding that Ballincollig are the last team to beat them in the Cork championship, four years ago.
“We know it’s going to be a battle. But we’ll be up for it — and hopefully do ourselves justice.”
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