Tomás Ó Sé: the Kerry footballer at home in a Cork dressingroom

Kingdom great will be central to Nemo Rangers’ hopes against Slaughtneil

Did you hear the one about the Kerry footballer who walked into the Cork dressingroom?

They stood to attention, hung on his every word, reckoned he was great fun and told him welcome aboard. And that’s no joke.

It probably helped that his name was Tomás Ó Sé, five-time All-Ireland winner, five-time All Star, with the joint all-time record of championship appearances for Kerry (along with his brother Marc).

Besides, neighbours may be defined by distance, but sometimes distant rivals can’t be kept apart: especially when the feeling is mutual. If Nemo Rangers were to regain their position as the top football club in Cork, where was the harm in having Ó Sé on board?


And if playing with Nemo Rangers helped Ó Sé land the one honour he never won in Kerry, what harm was there in that?

It probably helped that Ó Sé had already distanced himself from his native Kerry: after retiring in 2013, and by now based in Cork, living just outside the city and teaching in Fermoy, he transferred to Nemo in 2014, and the following season helped them win their first Cork title in five years.

Now, a few months shy of turning 40, Ó Sé is still central to Nemo’s hopes of getting past Ulster champions Slaughtneil in Saturday’s AIB All-Ireland semi-final: a win there would set up a St Patrick’s Day showdown against Corofin, and the chance for Ó Sé to land that elusive club All-Ireland title (having lost out with his previous club, An Ghaeltacht, back in 2004).

He fit in straight away, is actually a very personable guy, brilliant to have around. He knows, been there, done that.

For Nemo veteran Barry O’Driscoll – at 28 a lifelong member of the club –that day Ó Sé first walked into the dressingroom is still vivid: not that it felt strange or indeed surprising.

“Not hugely surprising, no,” says O’Driscoll. “Because there had been rumblings for a while. And Tomás was around the club, because his kids play in the club. And a lot of people in the club would know him. So it was half kind of expected, because there was so much talk. Then he was there in the dressingroom, and it was like, ‘oh, there’s your man...’

“But he fit in straight away, is actually a very personable guy, brilliant to have around. He knows, been there, done that. Like he knows what he’s doing around the pitch, when to slow it down, when to speed it up. His decision making is brilliant.

“He’s good to have around the dressingroom as well, because he’s great fun. But also, he wouldn’t be a huge talker. He will deliver something then every so often that will hit the right note.”

Ó Sé’s Cork-Nemo connection began before that, when in 2013 he agreed to coach the UCC Fresher team, and with that got to know proper Nemo veteran Billy Morgan. Truth is the club was seeking some fresh impetus, having last won a Munster title in 2010: their seven All-Ireland titles is still a record (one more than Crossmaglen), but Nemo last claimed that honour back in 2003.

As it turned out, a groin injury meant Ó Sé missed the 2017 Munster club final, back in November, when Nemo beat reigning All-Ireland champions and Kerry rivals Dr Crokes.

They’ll need to be at their best to beat Slaughtneil, the Derry club hungry like the wolf since losing to Dr Crokes in last year’s final, their hopes of a club double again broken earlier this month by Na Piarsaigh. Ó Sé is not the only “outlier” as Paddy Gummly has also been making his mark this season since moving down from Cavan, in 2015.

“I don’t know how they’ve done it, to be honest,” O’Driscoll says of the Derry club. “There is no better drug than winning, but I can’t imagine switching back from football, and hurling.

“I suppose there’s always that expectation on us, that you should be succeeding, because of the previous success. But it [Munster] is a different competition, approached a little differently, almost like you’ve gotten away from Cork, which is great, because those rivalries are gone. The shackles are thrown off, and you just go out and play the next team.

“But I wouldn’t say pressure. This is a much younger group of players, so we don’t feel we have to do it now, because this group is still growing, so hopefully we can progress past the semi-final, but I think there will be more in this team for the next few years.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics