‘NEEDS must’, they say, and for Nemo Rangers in the county senior final last Sunday, that was clearly a case of preventing Brian Hurley from destroying them again as he had done two years ago with 12 points in the final.
The means of doing it was simple, put a double marker on Hurley or play a sweeper in front of the full-back line, cutting off the supply of ball.
They opted for the sweeper and it worked to perfection in limiting Hurley, who failed to score from play, but it not only spoiled the game as a spectacle but it also affected their own forward line, who were well under the thumb of the Haven defenders with an extra man.
Some people might enjoy watching teams trying to break down the sweeper system but I certainly am not counted in their group. Give me scores galore any day and may the best team win.
With sweepers at both ends of the pitch, it’s a matter of which team concedes the least. Not an attractive game to watch and this final was in direct contrast to the thrilling final we watched between the clubs two years ago.
The surprising thing was that it took the Haven almost 20 minutes to come to grips with Nemo’s sweeper system; Nemo’s number ten, Colin O’Brien, doing a superb job for the city side.
Surely they knew that Nemo would bring back an extra defender to help contain Hurley and surely they must have planned for it in training. It didn’t look like it for 20 minutes as they persisted in trying to find Hurley with kicked passes that were invariably cut out by O’Brien.
It was only when they started running at the Nemo defence that the gaps started to appear and the scores started to come. Damien Cahalane’s point before half time was probably the pick of the lot.
The real highlight of the first half was the high fielding of Sean Dineen at midfield as he dominated the skies. One particular catch sideways, over two players, was extraordinary and he was shaping up to be man-of-the match. The general consensus at half time was that, having found a way round the sweeper system, the Haven would go on to win well in the second half.
So, what happened to Castlehaven on the restart? They looked very sluggish in that third quarter and we recalled their semi-final fade-out against Rossas. Was it happening again?
Main reason was Nemo’s improvement at midfield where David Niblock in particular, with great help from Alan O’Donovan and Dylan Mehigan, took control as Dineen faded badly and Mark Collins moved to wing forward.
Lucky for the Haven, the defence continued to play well, thanks to the extra man, and Nemo never once threatened a goal. Barry O’Driscoll was by far their best forward on the day but they were unlucky to lose Luke Connolly so early in the game through injury.
The Haven were fortunate to be only a point in arrears when Dermot Hurley was sent on to change midfield. He achieved that with a fine display and, without doubt the two most important happenings in the game were the two great saves by Nemo goalkeeper Mícheál Aodh Ó Máirtín.
The first, when he tipped a Mark Collins’ piledriver over the crossbar was one of the best we have ever seen and the second, when he dived at Brian Hurley’s feet showed great courage. There is little doubt that Ó Máirtín will be Cork’s goalkeeper soon but maybe he needs to work harder on his kicking out first.
Those two saves, when a goal would have decided the match, didn’t deter improving Haven and when they went two points in front with only ten minutes remaining, we thought they had it.
Fair play to Nemo who battled back to draw level and it was strange to see Dylan Mehigan being substituted seconds after scoring a fine levelling point.
It could have gone either way in the closing minutes, with the final whistle being blown 30 seconds short of the announced three minutes of injury time, but a draw was a fair result, giving both sides a chance to show their wares again this Sunday.
Wouldn’t it be something special if Nemo decided to drop the sweeper system for the replay and go 15 on 15? It could easily be another classic, like two years ago.
We presume new Cork manager, Peadar Healy – who we wish all the best in his new position – was in attendance and I wonder whose names he wrote in his new diary afterwards. Definitely Nemo’s goalkeeper Ó Máirtín, and possibly Colin O’Brien, Kevin Fulignati, Alan O’Donovan, Barry O’Driscoll and Luke Connolly.
And who from the Haven? All the Haven backs played well and Chris Hayes played a fine wandering role as usual. Damien Cahalane is still the best centre back in Cork football but which code will he choose in 2016? Sean Dineen’s fielding was spectacular, something badly needed on recent Cork teams, and Mark Collins is the best footballing brain in the county by a long mile.
Three of the Haven forwards were replaced during the hour but Brian Hurley, still far from the dashing forward of 2013, and his brother Michael, who needs to work harder on his ball control, will probably get a call-up for the national league.
The one message to be got loud and clear from last Sunday’s final is that when even Nemo Rangers, whose reputation was founded on brilliant attacking football, have to resort to the sweeper system in football, then the old 15 on 15 is truly dead and buried. Any team still persevering with it is living in the age of the dinosaurs and needs to change. Love it or hate it, we will just have to learn to accept it.
As regards Sunday, it was great to see Carrigaline winning senior status, especially for great veteran servant Nicholas Murphy, but also for the sake of football in our large urban areas. With some fine big players on the team and loads of young talent coming through, they could yet be a force in the top grade. Is the old order about to change, I wonder, in senior football in Cork?
The replay of the Haven v Nemo game is down for Sunday with the intermediate final now on Saturday afternoon. At least we will have a chance to see Bandon in action now in the junior A final against Iveleary in the curtain-raiser.
Will the Bandon men adopt the sweeper system to keep the ball away from Iveleary dangerman Cathal Vaughan? Would they be foolish not to?
There’s a grand sense of history about this final as the sides last met in the 1929 county final, won by Bandon. The Lilywhites will be hoping history does repeat itself for this clash.
Castlehaven will be taking part in their third senior final replay, having beaten Rossa’s in 1994 and lost to Beara in 1997. To win this one they must get more from their marquee forwards on the scoreboard this time. Slán go Fóill