TWENTY-ONE months after the draw for the group stages of the 2020 Bon Secours Premier Senior Football Championship was made, we’ll finally discover the identity of the winner this Sunday evening.
In November 2019 the draw for the groups was made, then the pandemic struck in early 2020, the championship did throw-in on July 24th last summer but was suspended on October 5th because of Covid. By then, we knew it was Castlehaven and Nemo Rangers in the decider, and they’ll finally meet this Sunday in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Any momentum built last year has been well and truly lost and it’s hard to gauge where these two teams are at the moment with regard to current form.
Nemo Rangers and Castlehaven have been two of the stalwarts of Cork GAA for many years. Nemo are the 2019 county champions, having beaten Duhallow by four points, so are looking to register back-to-back titles. Tradition will play a huge part in the outcome of this game and both clubs have it in spades. Nemo have played in 25 county finals and won 21 of them, that’s a frightening statistic in itself. They won seven counties in the 2000s and four in the last decade.
Castlehaven have won five Cork SFC titles, the last being in 2013 when they completed back-to-back wins having also been victorious in 2012. Brian Hurley scored 3-47 in that 2013 championship registering a whopping 0-12 in the final win over Nemo and he still remains a central figure in their attack, albeit rated a big doubt for Sunday because of injury. Castlehaven’s last county final appearance came in 2015 when Nemo got the better of them by two points. This will be their third joust in a county final with honours even so far.
It’s worth recalling how both teams have arrived here. Castlehaven emerged undefeated from the so-called West Cork group of death which contained Ilen Rovers, Newcestown and Carbery Rangers. As the best group winner they proceeded straight into a semi-final spot where they beat the Barrs 4-3 on penalties having finished 1-13 apiece after normal time. Nemo also emerged from their group undefeated and beat Ballincollig in the quarter-final by eight and Duhallow in the semi-final by a point. Those championship runs will have little bearing on their form coming into Sunday.
Looking at recent form Castlehaven secured a Division 2 league final victory against Newmarket, but at a cost as Brian Hurley picked up a hamstring injury late in that game and his fitness for Sunday is a real concern. Nemo didn’t light it up in the league but they have dealt out a couple of wallopings in recent weeks in challenge games.
As both a player and a manager I had the pleasure and anguish of coming up against both clubs on a number of occasions since Carbery Rangers went senior in 2006. Castlehaven were the bane of our lives between ’09 and ’12, beating us on all four occasions, three of those being semi-finals in Páirc Uí Rinn.
We didn’t have the championship/big occasion knowledge that they and their backroom team had. In one of those Cork SFC semi-finals, the preceding game went to extra-time. The Haven had arranged the Barrs ground for a pre-match warm-up and delayed their arrival to Páirc Uí Rinn due to the hold-up. We ended up warming-up up and down the side-line and it definitely threw our players, leading to a slow start, the concession of goals and we were out of the game before we knew it. It was a small detail that made a big difference.
We met Castlehaven again in Round 4 of the Cork SFC in 2014 in Clonakilty. This time we were going to be ready. The dugout you get in Clon makes a big difference as one of them is central and the other is right down in the corner which makes for poor viewing. I rang Clonakilty two weeks before the game to book the central dugout. Guess what? Of course, I was too late. Castlehaven had got in before me. We re-gigged our plans, found a way to counter being confined, matched their desire and got our match-ups right. After a draw the first day we emerged with a comprehensive victory the second day. It was a big turning point for us in Ross.
That was seven years ago but Mark Collins, Damien Cahalane and the Hurley brothers were the ones to watch for us back then and they are still Castlehaven’s main men today. However, the Hurley brothers have now been joined by Jack and Conor Cahalane along with Cathal Maguire which makes for a far more potent and balanced forward line. Castlehaven manager James McCarthy will have had an interrupted preparation for this game due to the Cahalane’s prolonged involvement with the Cork senior hurlers and the big doubt over Brian Hurley’s fitness. McCarthy will be hoping the Cahalanes return injury free and re-adjust quickly to the big ball after last Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling final heartbreak.
As both a player and a manager my experience of Nemo in championship football has been far less regular. We met them in Enniskeane in 2008 and made a game of it for 40 minutes but they were too balanced for us and ran out eight-point winners. But our learnings from Kelleher Shield meetings made for a far more competitive joust in the semi-final of the 2015 championship. When playing Nemo you have to be at least 50/50 in the possession stats and you cannot afford to turn the ball over cheaply because there is no better team to punish mistakes. But for a terrible refereeing decision in the final minutes that day, that should have been a Ross penalty or free-in at worst, we would have been in the county final but instead left with a one-point defeat.
Nemo boss Paul O’Donovan will be the happier of the two managers going into this game as he has had uninterrupted preparations and from what I hear is picking from a fully-fit squad. Both teams have potent forward lines and competitive midfields so for me it will come down to who has more quality in defence. Nemo will have more balance in this area so it’s Nemo to take the inaugural Bons Secours Premier SFC crown.