Steven O’Brien reckoned the Nemo Rangers performance rated around 6/10.
His veteran midfielder David Niblock wasn’t inclined to disagree.
Any fair measurement of the quality of yesterday’s drawn Cork football final would reach the same conclusion.
County champions aren’t meant to just collapse over the line. They are showered with garlands and bouquets for generations after for acts of valour and daring that bring glory to and honour on their families and the parish.
There was a meagre scattering of those attributes at Páirc Uí Rinn yesterday.
Inhabitants of the Castlehaven dugout surrounded referee Conor Lane when he blew up on a 0-10 draw with 62 minutes and 36 seconds played.
There had been an indication of three minutes added time and the Haven had recovered possession in their own half. In truth though, the Banteer official did both sides a service by giving them a second bite at the cherry.
The West Cork men had greater purpose about them in the closing stages and after nine first-half wides, they ratcheted up another couple of costly ones in the closing quarter. Twice Nemo keeper Micheál A Martin denied them with smart saves, but Haven manager Jim Nolan is a pragmatist too and he admitted to relief at the draw in the end.
Nemo grabbed the game’s 20th and last point in the 57th minute, and it was instructive in its creation. Tomás Ó Sé may no longer have the legs to take him past challenges in the final third but he teed up another thirty-something Dylan Mehigan for a smartly taken equaliser. It’s a while too since midfielder David Niblock saw 30, but he was one of the primary reasons the Trabeg side were able to reclaim territory after half-time and eat into their 0-7 to 0-5 half-time deficit.
“There was some unforced errors on the ball from us,” Niblock conceded, “that haven’t been there up to now. But finals do that to young fellas. You see a lot of balls going astray. Some of the younger lads made mistakes but that’ll bleed them, and bring them on a pile for the replay,” he said. “We can’t be too frustrated. We are still in the championship.”
Steven O’Brien has long since accepted this isn’t a vintage Nemo collection but the nous to prevail is something that’s been handed down through various championship-winning squads and there’s been enough of it about this season to get them over close run things against Douglas and Carbery Rangers.
One could argue Nemo teams from the past wouldn’t need a replay. After they equalised, Paul Kerrigan was teed up for a potential winner, but his right-footed effort was as high and wide as it was unhandsome.
Clearly frustrated by such a poor execution, he proceeded to pick up a second yellow in the next phase of play — a captain leaving his side a man short for the last five minutes of play.
That’s harsh, maybe, on Kerrigan, but he must be judged by elevated standards.
Nemo lost Luke Connolly to a possible hamstring tear in the first half, and his absence magnified the almost total reliance on Kerrigan at the sharp end of the pitch.
How long since we saw Nemo lean so heavily on one attacker?
In the early exchanges of the second half, Nemo dominated possession, but their accuracy in the last third was really poor. Eventually after seven minutes of virtually monopolising the ball, Barry O’Driscoll brought them level at 0-7 apiece.
“Both teams can improve,” agreed Castlehaven’s Jim Nolan. “We seemed to be very flat for a while after half-time and Nemo seemed to get a grip of the game. They got a quick score and took over a bit and went ahead even.”
That they did, but with 12 minutes left, Haven were the side dictating terms and conditions at 0-10 to 0-8. A flying save from Martin denied Mark Collins what would have been a match-winning goal, but they weren’t the first side this season unable to put Nemo away while on top. Conor Horgan was introduced by Nemo to try and add a bit of juice to the attack. Close to the finish, full-back Ciaran O’Shea threw up his arms in exasperation, as he sought some sort of attacking movement from a free around midfield. In the end, it was Dylan Mehigan who claimed the replay that will, hopefully, permit both sides the breathing space to express themselves better.
Some around the Nemo clubhouse repeat the mistake of presuming that tradition will carry them to victory in the Cork championship, but Steven O’Brien and his management team deserve a nod for learning as they go.
Yesterday, they played a sweeper in Colin O’Brien — “when did you ever see Nemo doing that?”, wondered Jim Nolan afterwards — but they evidently realise too that this isn’t the old Nemo. Getting into a wild west shootout with Castlehaven wasn’t the wisest course yesterday.
“After half time, we reversed the whole midfield dominance,” said Steven O’Brien. “Niblock and Alan O’Donovan dug in deep and played a world of ball. Losing Luke (Connolly) so early was a blow, there’s no point in saying otherwise. I’d love to say we have another 10 players to come in, but the reality is we don’t. It’s a club, not an inter-county set up.”
What they’ve shown in 2015 is that they retain the champion boxer’s instinct to hang in there when the punches are raining in, and the ability to make their own blows count. Yesterday they fell short on the latter of those, but Connolly’s loss was significant.
“I’d have taken the draw going into injury-time,” smiled Jim Nolan. “We might have got a winning point, but so could Nemo.”
Their attacking options aren’t as bountiful as before. But there’s a stickability about this Nemo group that shows they can graft as well as glide. They’re not done yet.
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