Wednesday 20 March 2019

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Cork Independent


Great expectations for Nemo in All-Ireland Final

Wednesday, 14th March, 2018 4:51pm

Nemo Rangers’ Luke Connolly couldn’t hold back the tears as he left the pitch.

The number 13 scored 2-5, of which 1-4 came in extra time, as the Cork champions outlasted Slaughtneil to qualify for this Saturday's crunch final against Corofin, his side’s first All-Ireland Final in a decade.

No club has won the Andy Merrigan Cup more often than Nemo, but their seventh and most recent came in 2003 when they beat Crossmolina. For a side so used to winning, it’s been something of a famine.

Connolly has been on fire this season, and explains how the recent win over the Derry champions overwhelmed him.

“It’s the most emotional I’ve ever been after a game,” Connolly says.

“I did say that I was crying after it for about 30 seconds when I was coming off, just from the release of emotion and the magnitude of it.

“Slaughtneil are one of the top teams in the country for years, so it was massive for us. We have a young panel and I’ve never experienced a crowd like that from Nemo in my playing days.

“Obviously, Nemo is used to being in these positions but for us as a group, it was huge to have that. I remember going in for extra time and we had to go straight back out, and you have club legends like Billy Morgan and fellas clapping you on the back, trying to get you to raise your game. It was a surreal experience knowing you’ve got legends like that behind you, who are just as nervous for you as they are for themselves.”

But to burst into tears, surely other matters have to be factored in?

“I think it’s the jersey, to be honest,” Connolly explains. “It is for me anyway, playing for Nemo, for one of the most highly-regarded clubs in the country. It’s an expectation when you’re growing up that you’re going up to win All-Irelands.

“You win county championships, Munster, but the Nemo teams that are remembered are All-Ireland winners. You have club legends and intercounty legends walking around the club. So for me, it’s a goal, a thing in the back of my head to achieve in that jersey.

“The last two years we’ve really honed in, and I’ve really tried to work on my game and dedicate myself to it, and to see results is where the emotion comes from.”

Paddy Gumley lasted just 22 minutes of the semi-final win before a calf issue ended his involvement. He’d heard a pop on the Wednesday beforehand in training, and when he couldn’t make use of the spaces early on, he put up his hand.

Manager Larry Kavanagh described the 35-year-old as “50-50” for the final on Paddy’s Day, but the Cavan native seems determined to make himself available at all costs.

“I’m doing a lot of work with the physio, so it’s coming along,” Gumley says. "Fingers crossed, kind of thing. Hopefully I’ll play some part.

“It’ll remain up to the lads at the end of the day. The way it’s coming along, I’ll be surprised if there’s not something in me, you know. It’s one day that you’ll sacrifice everything just to play some part.

“But then, you don’t want to just be playing for the sake of it, you don’t want to be taking from the team,” he says.

Connolly admits that the atmosphere is really beginning to build as Patrick’s Day approaches.

“It’s nice to see the young fellas in Nemo tops, it’s the biggest thing I’ve taken from it,” he says.

“We had a lot of kids out at the club on Sunday when we were training, and the kids were wishing us luck. That’s the biggest thing I get from it, to bring the club back to a level where we want it to be. Back on the pedestal that Nemo was on 15 or 20 years ago, when Nemo was the club to follow.

“You get to an All-Ireland and think you’ll get there every year the reality is not like that. You might get one but you might never be there again. This is our one chance to play there in the club colours, it’s one to embrace but not get lost in either.”

For exclusive content and behind the scenes action throughout the AIB GAA and Camogie club championships follow AIB GAA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

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