By Peter McNamara
First of all, football was secondary in terms of significance as the teams huddled before the replay of the Cork SFC final on Sunday.
I did not have the fortune of knowing St Finbarr’s stalwart Kevin McTernan, but I know a hell of a lot of people that knew him well, really well in fact, from his own club and those within Nemo Rangers.
That made for an unusual weekend in itself because everybody involved in both clubs appreciated that the replay meant so little, if nothing at all, in contrast to the loss McTernan is to his family and friends in Togher and Trabeg.
Whether the game should have gone ahead or not is up for debate. For the record, I did not think it right that it did.
Yet, everybody that contributed to a wonderful footballing spectacle regardless deserves untold credit.
There is, obviously, no secret of where my club allegiances lie. I have played with (well, poorly attempted to anyway) and followed Nemo ever since people from the club went around Scoil Chríost Rí on Evergreen Road to round up the troops for Street Leagues.
And hailing from an area essentially halfway between both clubhouses, you would be aware of the importance of a day such as Sunday was, and the Sunday before it.
I would suggest the majority of the populations of Togher, Ballyphehane, Turner’s Cross and Douglas were present at Páirc Uí Chaoimh for both instalments of what were two gripping county finals.
Cork football gets a lot of flak. Sometimes, it is warranted.
However, both the Barr’s and Nemo, and the people of those clubs, generated memorable occasions at the new ground.
Of course, none more so than the players themselves and the management teams.
If the drawn encounter was a low-scoring chess match, the replay was much more freely electrifying, despite the tragic circumstances that surrounded the fixture.
Obviously, it was not Total Football by any stretch of the imagination. However, it was enjoyable football, laced with moments of sheer brilliance, illustrated best by the goals executed by Stephen Sherlock and Luke Connolly, two men I have written about at length recently, two men with great things to offer Ronan McCarthy in 2018 and beyond.
It’s funny, when you watch Sherlock, the developmental stage of his career seems to be at the point Connolly was at around a year-and-a-half to two years ago with the Barr’s youngster still honing his undeniable skills. A personal tally in a county senior final of 2-7 is simply outrageous and things can only get better and better for him.
Connolly, however, is now the real deal. The complete package. He is finding the consistency that was so frustratingly lacking earlier on and has also added a work-ethic that is wonderfully married with an intelligence that few players possess.
He was dispossessing Barr’s men to beat the band on Sunday. Who knew? The man was not noted for displaying that level of selflessness up until the last number of months.
Yet, the relentless shifts he puts in away from match-days have translated to within the white lines, on the grandest stages.
There is a velvet manner to which he plays the game that you have to appreciate.
Could he go on to become one of the greats of Leeside football?
Ditto Ian Maguire. Those calling for the Barr’s man to be named captain of Cork next year had further reason to shout from the rooftops as the midfielder drove the Blues on again and again for the second Sunday running at Leeside headquarters.
If you were McCarthy looking on you would have to be pleased with what you would have witnessed across the two matches. When you think about the tools he has to work with over the coming months, promotion back to the top-tier of the league structure should be realised while a provincial final against Kerry in Páirc Uí Chaoimh should hold absolutely no fears for Cork, either, assuming both teams reach the Munster final.
Then there was Jack Horgan. Has he ever produced a more accomplished, and influential Nemo performance?
Furthermore, the goal the midfielder plundered was one of the very best seen for some time at club level. In fact, it would have graced any occasion at Croke Park.
Horgan’s drive defined Nemo’s victory. Not alone did he contribute 1-1 to the team’s total of 4-12, Horgan also created Paul Kerrigan’s first point of the day.
It was among a host of other massive plays the midfielder made during the 54 minutes he contested before being replaced by Michael Dorgan.
And that moment had a substantial bearing on the outcome because that score off his left ignited Kerrigan. The shackles came off.
Thereafter, Nemo’s primary talisman was immense, even denying the Barr’s a potential goalscoring opportunity midway through the second half as the Blues began to claw their way back into a contest they had no right to, given Nemo’s previous dominance in the tie.
It was clever that Kerrigan began to raid from deeper areas of the pitch after half-time as well, especially due to the obvious susceptibility of the Barr’s to runners directly at their half-back line.
Where Jack Horgan led in the first-half, Kerrigan followed in the second and it was, ultimately, the darting raids of both those players that hurt the Barr’s the most.
Yet, the valiant nature of the Barr’s heart was extremely impressive again.
Kevin McTernan would have been proud.