Whichever defence gets on top holds the key to Sunday’s city (v country clash, says Tom Lyons
IT’S always been part and parcel of the Cork senior football championship, the rivalry between the country boys and the city boys.
Right back in 1888, in the second-ever county championship and the first for West Cork teams, the West Cork champions, Kilmacabea, fought a battle with existing county champions, Lees from the city, in the semi-final in Bandon, a game that was abandoned at half time. The great country v city rivalry was born and has, if anything, intensified ever since.
It may all be a bit more civilised now but the country v city element has always dominated the championship.
In those early years city teams like Lees, Nils and O’Brien’s, now all gone out of existence, dominated the title race until country sides, Fermoy and Macroom, came to the fore in the opening 20 years of the 20th century.
The thirties and forties belonged to the country, with Clonakilty, Beara and Fermoy dominating but the pendulum swung towards the city in the fifties when Nick’s and Barr’s came to prominence.
A strong UCC side dominated the sixties with divisional sides, Carbery and Avondhu, also doing well. The seventies saw the arrival of a new city force, Nemo Rangers, and they, with a rejuvenated Barr’s, were to hold sway right through the seventies and eighties.
In those days the country teams often took severe hidings in county finals but a new force in country football, Castlehaven, were to change all that after winning their first title in 1989, the first country club team to win it since Macroom in 1962.
The nineties really belonged to the country boys, West Cork in particular, with the Haven, O’Donovan Rossa, Bantry, Clonakilty and Beara all winning the title. There was great rejoicing among the country fans in 1992 when Rossas became the first country club team to beat the mighty Nemo Rangers in the final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, a venue that was becoming a graveyard for country hopes.
The noughties firmly belonged to Nemo, winning eight titles in ten years, with the Haven and Carbery taking the other two. As the second decade of the 21st century arrived it was again Castlehaven who came to the country’s rescue, now playing their fourth final in five years having won two, with Ballincollig also winning a title.
It can be truly said that it has been Nemo v the country for many decades now, with little assistance from the other city teams. It is to the credit of the Capwell side that they have proved more than a match for various country teams during the past 45 years but they were beaten by the Haven in the final two years ago.
So, once again this Sunday it’s the eternal battle of country v city in the county final and for a change it’s the country boys who are the favourites against the city boys in their own backyard. Who will win this latest country v city battle?
Castlehaven will start favourites because of their record over the past four years, winning the title in 2012, against Duhallow, and 2013, against Nemo, after losing in 2011 to UCC.
In contrast, Nemo haven’t won the title since 2010. In this season’s championship both have won direct access to the final, although Nemo were held to a draw by Douglas in the fourth round. While Ballincollig and Carbery Rangers might dispute it, Castlehaven and Nemo Rangers have proved themselves the two best teams in Cork this season and if the final is half as good as their clash in 2013, then it will be well worth a visit.
In contrast to much of the football being played at present, both sides are much better attacking than defending. If needs be, both can adopt a defensive set-up but look much better going forward than being defensively negative. Hopefully that will mean a great game of attacking football or will both go for extra players in defence to nullify the opposing attackers?
If this game develops into a shootout who should finish on top? The three Hurley brothers, Brian, Michael and Stephen, are the main scorers on the Haven side, with most of the responsibility resting on Brian’s shoulders. Although he had a poor season in the Cork shirt, he has shown definite signs of returning to form with the Haven in recent games.
Brian Hurley on song, as he was the last time the sides met, kicking 0-12, would almost guarantee a Haven success. If he is held, then they will struggle. Michael is capable of scoring great goals and the Haven may need one or two on Sunday.
Shane Nolan is also a poacher but his scoring is erratic, while Seanie Cahalane and Stephen Collins are workers more than prolific scorers. Mark Collins may also chip in with a couple of points but tends to concentrate more on midfield defence rather than attack, which used to be his strong point.
At the other end of the pitch Nemo will look to Paul Kerrigan, Luke Connolly and James Masters to provide winning scores. Kerrigan scores some cracking goals but not consistently enough and his expected duel with Damien Cahalane could decide this game.
Luke Connolly’s free-taking and strong play will cause problems and he was mainly responsible for beating Ross, so he must be watched carefully. Masters is still a superb ball player and now creates more scores than he takes.
The other Nemo forwards, including Colin O’Brien, Ciarán Dalton and Barry O’Driscoll would appear to have a little more scoring power than their equivalents for the Haven, which may be decisive on the day. If Dylan Mehigan is fit, he would be a big plus for the city side.
The midfield battle between the Haven’s Mark Collins and Sean Dineen and Nemo’s David Niblock and Alan O’Donovan will have a big bearing as whichever duo comes out on top will be able to supply enough ball to their attackers to win the game. More than likely we will see both pairings dominating at different stages of the game but there is no denying that Collins is by far the most creative of the four.
Ultimately, this game will be decided by whichever defence gets the better of the opposing attack. The Haven half-back line of Roland Whelton, Damien Cahalane and Chris Hayes has been the main anchor of the side for a long time now and much will be expected of them again on Sunday. If they dominate, the Haven will win, if not, then they will struggle.
Paudie Hurley in goal may be worth a couple of points from frees but the full back line of John O’Regan, David Limrick and Thomas O’Leary will really need to be on their toes against the lively Nemo forwards.
The Haven have conceded a goal in each of their four games bar the first round against Clyda, while Nemo have conceded only a single goal in five games, in the drawn game against Douglas. This would suggest that the Nemo defence is tighter than the Haven’s and that the Haven will struggle to break them down. Tomás Ó Sé is a central figure for Nemo, but not as mobile as of yore, while Alan Cronin, Kevin Fulgnati, Ciarán O’Shea and goalkeeper Mícheál Aodh Martin are very efficient defenders.
While the Haven have scored five goals in four games, Nemo have kicked eight in five outings, but five of those came in one game against St Nick’s. The averages show the Haven scoring 1-14 per game while conceding 1-10, while Nemo have averaged 1-16 for and 0-10 against, giving a decided advantage to Nemo.
While the stats suggest Nemo as winners, they do not take into account the most important factor on the day, experience. This Haven side has lost only two championship games in five seasons, the 2011 final and the fourth round against Ross last season. That is a marvellous record of consistency and, in short, this Haven team doesn’t do losing.
Nemo are usually the team with the experience in these finals but in this case they play a poor second fiddle to the Haven. As Nemo themselves have proved so often in finals against country opponents, there is no substitute for experience on the big day.
Because of their experience over the past five years and the manner in which they relieved champions Ballincollig of their title, I predict a narrow win for the Haven in a game that should go to the wire.
Again we repeat, while we hope for a thrilling, high-scoring encounter, the Andy Scannell Cup will probably go to the team whose defence can master the opposing attack on the day.