The grains of rice that can tip the balance between Nemo and Castlehaven

GIVEN the array of shooting stars on display, it was a surprise as much as a disappointment that last Sunday’s drawn Cork county final proved such a blunt spectacle.

If the Championship is a journey, finals are the destination, and no one wants bad memories from the experience once they arrive.

Hence, even with the Hurleys of Castlehaven and Nemo Rangers’ Paul Kerrigan, Luke Connolly, Barry O’Driscoll and James Masters on show, both finalists spent periods of the first game with the handbrake on.

There won’t be a reoccurrence today. Whereas final day can be more about avoiding defeat, replays tend to liberate the free spirit in players. They focus more in winning than not losing.

Neither management teams would have reached the sanctuary of the dressing room without planning for the last seven days. How often will we meet? How often should we train? Should we get a bit of work into them Tuesday night or just stretch the legs? Do we need another team meeting?

In the case of Nemo Rangers, Luke Connolly’s hamstring injury would have been a priority. Having missed much of the summer with a wrist injury, his six points was the winning of the semi-final against Carbery Rangers. If he is absent today, it undoubtedly tilts the balance towards Castlehaven.

Jim Nolan’s squad finished the stronger last Sunday, and this is a recurring issue for a Nemo squad that has its share of thirtysomethings, and not as deep a bench as before.

Thus that makes the progress of the city side to the final all the more laudable. They’ve been allegedly vulnerable since Round 4 and they’re still standing after six championship matches. Steven O’Brien rated their performance no more than 6/10 last Sunday. Only a fool would write them off today.

Where Nemo are possessed of an assured inner belief and self-confidence, Castlehaven are more demonstrative and passionate in everything they do. It’s unavoidable, given their heritage.

Reading Brian Hurley and Tomas Ó Sé this week talking about growing up in Union Hall and Ard a Bhothair, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that rural GAA clubs have a distinct advantage over urbanised rivals when it comes to the power of the collective and the energy force that is their local village or townland.

Gelling a dressing room is not an issue - or certainly not as much of an issue - for them when football is the glue that sticks a parish together.

Paidi Ó Sé used refer to the "grains of rice" that could tip the balance in a big game, and this is one such factor. Nemo remain the standard bearers for Gaelic football in Cork city, and the hinterlands south and east of the Jack Lynch tunnel.

But there are so many distractions and alternatives for attention in cities and big towns that it’s hard to recreate the same collegiate feeling amongst players.

"Nemo usually improve for replays," I suggested to Haven’s Jim Nolan after last Sunday’s game. "They do, but I’d like to think we will too," he smiled.

If both sides improve equally, Castlehaven should finish the afternoon with a sixth Cork football title.

*The author is sports editor of the Irish Examiner


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