Nemos first half display was just about as good as it gets
STAND up the real Nemo Rangers. Is it the team that put the fright of God into every team in the county with their first-half performance against Crokes on Sunday last, or the team that collapsed in the second half and looked very mortal indeed.
That first half was, undoubtedly, the best display of running, supporting football we have seen at club level, absolute perfection. It was non-stop motion with the player in possession driving forward and another player coming through at full pace on his shoulder. There are days when the ball goes over the bar and days when it won't. Some of the points Nemo scored were simply amazing and the goal by Masters was a wonder strike. When was the last time we saw a forward utilising the drop kick to such perfection?
This display was a throw-back to Nemo teams of old, only faster and more perfect. Over the past few seasons Nemo, despite winning counties, had gone away from that type of attacking play and were concentrating more on defence, a style that I always thought was alien to their ethos as a team. Now the new management seem to be getting back to their traditional style, and it was frightening how good they looked in that first half. On that form all teams in the county championship for 2011 could just stop training now and take up another sport for the summer.
When was the last time we saw Masters so sharp and focused or Niblock so dominant around the middle? Alan Cronin looked like a young fellow and they seem to have weathered the transition from the Martin Cronin era very well. On this form they are unstoppable.
But what about the second half? Of course the game was won at half-time and the players knew no matter what transpired after the break that, bar a huge catastrophe, they were going to win. They switched off and there lies the vulnerable side of this present Nemo side. Nemo of old never switched off. They scored a goal and then put you to the sword little by little, right to the final whistle. Has this team got that killer instinct? I don't think they have yet but if they develop it, then goodnight Irene for the rest of the senior teams in the county.
For now they have left a grain of hope for the other contenders but the remainder of the club championship will tell a lot. Should they go on to win it and it won't be easy, then, like all club winners they will be vulnerable in the county championship. If they fail to win, then they will be hungrier than ever to get back there again.We all know about the huge ABU lobby all over the soccer world, now here in Cork we will have the ABN for 2011. Roll on the championship, we're looking forward to it already.
How much of an indicator is early season form when it comes to predicting a winner in October? Last season Carbery Rangers blitzed all before them in early season senior football, even beating Nemo in a final into the bargain. They were being looked on as serious contenders for the Andy Scannell Cup but it went all wrong in the championship when they lost the first two rounds. Luckily, there was another chance and they regrouped to reach the semi-final, losing to the Barr's. Their confidence was definitely dented and they failed to recapture the sparkle of February.
Who are the teams that are now showing that early-season form? Top of the list must be a young O'Donovan Rossa side, with 'veteran' Conor McCarthy in a real vein of form. In the Tadhg Crowley Cup they kicked 2-20 against Na Piarsaigh in the first round and on Sunday last beat Carbery Rangers by six points, kicking 1-13. It's impressive form from a rebuilt, young side and they must already be relishing the prospect of Clonakilty in the first round. But they should learn from Ross last season.
Ilen Rovers seem intent on winning back their prime place in senior football after a couple of shaky seasons during which they skirted with relegation. They were bound to suffer post-Fachtna Collins syndrome but now have the young players arriving on the scene to launch a new era. Winning the SW U21 title in 2009 was a huge boost and the O'Driscoll brothers are backboning a new team. With Dan MacEoin looking like a great prospect in attack to shift the burden off Kevin O'Sullivan, they may cause a few upsets in the championship.
Looking at Nemo on Sunday makes Ballincollig's feat in beating them the previous weekend all the better, and they could definitely be dark horses in the championship if they can avoid the summer migration that destroyed their team last season.
Who would have predicted Newcestown beating the Barr's in the Tadhg Crowley Plate last weekend? This was a trial run before their championship clash and I suppose it is forewarned, forearmed now for the city side as they will know they won't get anything soft from the West Cork side.
What exactly is Denis Walsh achieving by sending out all these different young Cork sides in recent games? He might call it blooding players and giving them experience but to what purpose? He has already admitted that no more than three or four could break through to the panel in 2011 as he seems determined to hang on to the players he had in 2010.
What message has he given the young players? What is the immediate future for them? Granted some will play U21 and intermediate for Cork but surely the solution now is for Cork to get together a development squad which would train together and play tournament games etc. Right now I would prefer Walsh to be fielding his championship panel in order to get them properly primed. Not that the 2010 panel was good enough to win an All-Ireland and that is why I find it strange that Walsh has already written off so many good young lads.
That highlights another major problem with intercounty GAA teams. It is a pyramid structure which caters only for the elite. Hundreds of young club players have ideas of wearing the county jersey but only sixty make it onto the U14 development squad. That number is cut down each year at U15, U16 and U17, until you are confined to one team and subs from minor level upwards. Only the cream survives but what of the lads that have been dropped along the way? They are then dependent on their club for games and competition but have tasted something more for a while. Many drop out of the game altogether.
I suppose you could say the same about the club scene where dozens of enthusiastic twelve-year olds are involved. Some clubs have as many as four U12 squads but by the time they get to minor, there is only one team, one panel. What happens to all the young lads who don't make that panel?
What exactly is happening with the new strategic plan as we enter the month of February? A master fixtures plan has been drawn up from U13 to minor, and the first games, at U13, are fixed for next week. The problem is that the gradings haven't been done yet and teams are in the dark as to what grades they will play for the season, what regions they will operate in or what fixtures they must fulfil. In short, the whole thing is a mess.Most alarming are the new leagues being set up by the Central Committee which provide for only three league games for U14 and U16 teams in hurling and football. Are we serious? The whole aim of the association at underage level is to provide games for our young players. Is somebody at the top seriously saying that three league games in the season will keep our players and mentors satisfied? Hard to believe the reasoning behind that decision. If I were a soccer or rugby official at underage, I'd be rubbing my hands in glee.
One of the main reasons the old divisions were demolished and the new regions set up was because, it was unfairly said, that the old divisions were not providing enough games for the young players. Now we are told that they will have to be happy with just three games for the season. Talk about a recipe for disaster.
Likewise the decision of the Central Committee to wash their hands of the U12 grade and let the regions look after it isn't exactly very promising but, maybe, it is safer in those hands if the U14 and U16 is anything to go on.
Another problem that is rearing its head right now is the refusal of the County Senior Board to let outside teams play in the city junior leagues, as has been the custom for many years. The Board officers are claiming that the junior leagues will now be run along the same lines as the new underage regions and that teams would have to play in their own regions. Who decided that and were the clubs ever consulted? No, they weren't and it seems the Board is walking right into the same mistaken way of thinking that caused the clubs to revolt two years ago. The GAA is a democracy, not a dictatorship, but that lesson seems to have been lost again.
This junior plan that was never discussed with the clubs, seems to have hit troubled waters already as the city division has decided to do its own thing and not fall in with the plans.
The whole underage scene is in a mess because of lack of proper planning and proper consultation and now we seem to be falling into exactly the very same trap with our junior teams. I have the greatest of respect for the people running the County Senior Board as individuals and admire them for the huge voluntary effort they put in, but do they ever learn from mistakes and why do they continue to ignore those who put in the work at club level? Club players and mentors deserve better than the fine mess we are in now. It's enough to have our politicians doing it to us without it happening in the GAA as well.
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