BY TOM LYONS
OVER the past ten years since their graduation to senior ranks, Carbery Rangers have become one of the most consistent teams in the grade, in championship and league.
A county final last year, following three semi-finals appearances, and two Kelleher Shield titles has made them a team to be reckoned with and they are back in the semi-final on Sunday after a campaign, so far, that was marked with great football and forgettable moments.
They took the long route to this semi-final when they unexpectedly lost to Valley Rovers in the first round by 2-10 to 0-14. But they have bounced back with wins against Clyda Rovers (1-7 to 0-8), Ilen Rovers (4-10 to 1-4) and Duhallow (1-16 to 1-7).
Their strength down the centre has proved crucial for Rangers in all their games so far. Brian Shanahan is very strong and mobile at full back, Padraig Hodnett mans the centre back position, James Fitzpatrick and Mike Mennis form a formidable midfield pairing, while John O’Rourke on the forty is an all-action footballer. Full forward Seamus Hayes has been in sparkling form all season.
Time was when doubts hung over the quality of the Rangers’ defence but those days are long gone and with Paul Shanahan alert between the posts and Anthony Roche and Thomas O’Rourke in the corners, Nemo certainly won’t score goals for fun like they did against Nick’s.
Stephen Murray and Tipp player Robbie Kiely will probably fill the wings positions and they complete a defence that has been most impressive all season.
It is the strength of the forward division that frightens most of Rangers’ opponents. County man John Hayes is a scoring machine, while Declan Hayes completes the most lethal full-forward line in club football in Cork.
Add in a much improved Alan Jennings and the classy Kevin McMahon, who could line out at midfield, and you have an attacking sextet with flair and imagination, whose work rate in closing down the opposition defence is one of its strongest assets.
While Rangers’ consistency has been admirable it pales in comparison to that of Nemo Rangers during the past 45 years. A record 18 county senior titles have been won and while their air of invincibility has been somewhat dented in recent years, they are still the automatic choice of many to win the Andy Scannell Cup every season.
This season they beat Ilen Rovers in the first round, 1-18 to 0-10, after struggling for form in the first half, and needed a replay to see off near-neighbours Douglas in the fourth round, winning the replay 1-15 to 0-11.
Nemo’s quarter final opponents were fellow-city side St Nick’s, and a lethal display of finishing by Cork player Paul Kerrigan gave the Capwell men a runaway victory, 5-11 to 0-3.
Time was when names of the Nemo players were on the tip of every Cork football fan’s tongue as most wore the Cork senior jersey but that is no longer the case, although many of their players have worn the red jersey at U21 level.
Paul Kerrigan is now their most renowned player, a class act in attack when in the mood and he has fellow Cork players, Stephen Cronin, Barry O’Driscoll and Luke Connolly to support him.
Definitely a Nemo forward line containing Kerrigan, Connolly, O’Driscoll, Dylan Mehigan, James Masters and William Morgan will take a lot of watching while David Niblock will be a force in the middle of the pitch.
If there is a weakness in this Nemo side it is in defence. The presence of Kerry legend Tomás Ó Sé at centre back is a huge plus this season and Mícheál Aodh Ó Máirtín is a top-class keeper.
Aidan O’Reilly, Ciarán O’Shea, Stephen Cronin and Alan Cronin should all figure in a defence that has yet to meet a forward line as lethal as Carbery Rangers this season. It could be the Achilles heel of the side.
Prediction: This game could boil down to how the respective defences cope with two very effective forward divisions. If either forward line gets on top, then that could spell victory.
There is a growing sense that some of this Ross side, who have been involved since the glory days a dozen years ago, are reaching the twilight of their illustrious careers and that the chance to win the elusive county senior title is slipping away. That should give Rangers an extra incentive on Sunday, to see these great servants off in style this season.
If the Ross forwards can pressure the Nemo backs as they did against Ilen and if they can, to coin a modern concept, hammer the Nemo hammers of Tomás Ó Sé, David Niblock and Paul Kerrigan, then we could be looking forward to an all-West Cork final in a few weeks’ time.