Kerrigan seeking to create new Nemo legacy
THERE were times when Nemo Rangers wouldn't have done much celebrating at the end of a semi-final, but this has been a famine for a club of their stature.
Paul Kerrigan is the only remaining starter from their last final against St Vincent's in 2008, when a young Diarmuid Connolly netted the goal that helped separate the sides by the minimum.
The end result probably flattered the Nemo performance that day as they searched for an eighth All-Ireland title, but they couldn't have imagined it would be a full 10 years before they'd win the Munster title again.
And having waited that long, they sat in the Portlaoise changing room at half-time on Saturday looking themselves in the mirror and knowing they were letting a big chance pass them by.
Slaughtneil had been the better side by a distance but were only three points ahead. The door was ajar.
“It was something we probably were talking about since Crokes, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get to Croke Park and try to win an All-Ireland club,” said Kerrigan.
“In our club there's serious history there and we're looking at it, we really admire it and you want to make your own legacy. We said beforehand we want to be the team to win one for Nemo. We're there now in the final, we're not done yet.
“Slaughtneil are a magnificent club. They played keep ball in the first half and we probably sat off them, I thought we probably showed them too much respect. Once we pushed up on them, we started to get to grips with them.”
“We said at half-time, all over the field we were a yard off them. They were dinking 30 yard, 30 yard, getting runners off and they were killing us. They could have had a goal.
“We said we'd push right up on them, we thought we'd done well enough on their kickout. Once we got a bit of a run at their kickout, we got a goal and a couple of points. I thought we had good legs for extra-time, I was fairly confident we'd come out of it.”
Having been a major doubt after suffering minor ligament damage at the end of November's Munster final win over Dr Crokes, Kerrigan battled back to serve up three points from play in a fine performance in O'Moore Park.
“I worked my bollix off for December when I got alright news. I've played in one All-Ireland club and we didn't play well and we lost. Now we've another chance to rectify that,” he said.
The long-serving Cork forward hit the equaliser that brought Nemo level at 0-8 apiece early in the second half.
That was followed soon after by their opening goal from Luke Connolly, which was only the second major Slaughtneil had conceded in their last 11 Ulster and All-Ireland outings, the other being Colm Cooper's goal in last year's final.
It had been billed as a battle between Nemo's blistering attacking performances and the Emmet's normally watertight defence, and Connolly's goal was a huge moment.
“I was reading during the week they hadn't conceded a goal in a long time. [One in ten games] That's phenomenal. We're a fairly high scoring team coming up and we need that.
“Actually the goals have been a conscious effort that the management really wanted to bring from the start of the club championship. We scored 16 in Cork. They were the hardest team to break down this year but once we did, we got the legs on them.”
They head to Croke Park in just under three weeks to face a Corofin side that beat Slaughtneil in the 2015 decider. It seemed all set up for a repeat and while Kerrigan was delighted to spoil the party, he revealed his respect for the Ulster champions.
“They're coming in both codes so you can double it up. I've been thinking of this game since the end of November and they're thinking of two games every year, and it's an emotional build-up.
“We've nothing but respect for them but once we got to grips we played quite well. Hopefully it's not the end of them, they're a great side and they represent the GAA really well.”