Corofin searching for more Connacht success
By Cian O'Connell
Out west the respect for Corofin runs deep simply because they keep coming back for more. Throughout much of the last three decades they have been the team to beat in Galway.
What has defined the Corofin story is how they have let so few players slip away from the game, there is always some type of role that can be filled.
“That is a fair point, it is something that we do see as being important in the club: people speak of legacies, but that is one legacy that a club can leave is that we bring through as many young players as we can and that we don't lose them,” Ciaran McGrath, a dynamic and distinguished servant to the Corofin cause, admits.
“You see clubs that maybe have good minor teams and players after minor then drop off. That is what we try to work on, that we don't lose these lads. To be fair over the last few years we haven't lost them.
"At the same time there is no pressure on these lads, we've had groups of guys going to America, Ronan Steede and Michael Farragher, in the past have went to Australia, there is no pressure.
“Everytime they have came home they have been welcomed back into the panel as if they were never gone, the same way with the guys going to America for the summer. They are part of the panel, everyone understands that, if they are back a day, back a week or back a month they are back in training. It starts from scratch again, we don't hold it against them that they were gone for three or four months or whatever.”
Injuries have disturbed his career, and even though he sustained a cruciate ligament knee injury 15 minutes into the 2015 All Ireland Club Final against Slaughtneil McGrath still completed the match.
It was a particularly sweet success for McGrath, who offers an interesting reply when asked about Corofin’s strike rate outside of the county.
“Groups gone by there was probably an element of something missing,” McGrath says about Corofin, who have claimed 15 Galway titles since 1991. Six Connacht and two All Irelands have also been accumulated in this stint, but St Brigid's, Roscommon have inflicted two cruel defeats on Corofin.
“Maybe we just weren't good enough,” McGrath remarks about the narrow losses suffered. “Some teams or groups that I was involved in maybe overachieved, maybe we won county titles out of pure commitment.
“Maybe we weren't the best team in the county, but we always gave a good account of ourselves. Even in All Ireland Semi-Finals against Kilmacud and St Galls, these were probably teams with better sides and more inter-county footballers, but we still gave a good account of ourselves.
“It probably wasn't until the current crop of lads that came along that we then changed slightly from being a team that could compete to being a team that could win and win at the highest level.”
That is where Corofin have certainly operated at in recent years with a third Connacht Final appearance in a row imminent. “It is great, it is where we want to be really, we have become accustomed with it, even though we don't take anything for granted.
"It is pretty special for us, it is somewhere we train for and plan to be. In that sense it is great to be there, but this is a first for some guys and it is the first for this group in particular.
“That is what we are looking at, that is what we are looking at really, what this group achieves, not what we achieved maybe two or three years ago: it is about the present group. By that present group we mean what we do on Sunday is what matters most.”
Alan Burke’s Galway SFC medal collection is nine, but the Corofin captain highlights a four year gap without silverware as being instrumental in his own sporting journey. “I started in 2002 when I was 17, we won the County title, we beat Annaghdown, but we lost to Eastern Harps from Sligo.
“Even though we won the County title that year I remember thinking we should nearly win one every year, I didn't win one for another four years. I think losing during those years against Killererin, who had the Joyces, we lost to Salthill-Knocknacarra another year. We lost to Caltra, even though we were losing I felt we were learning a lot. The fact that the teams that bet us went really far, I knew if we got everything right that we could go places too.”
Most winter nights in Corofin the floodlights from the Gaelic Football provide a reminder of why the game matters to the locals in north Galway.
Manager Kevin O’Brien acknowledges the importance and sense of place with former players being involved. It is a privilege to manage Corofin, it is the people around me that make my job easy, I'm so lucky to have such a great network of people around me,” O’Brien remarks. “All the people involved, I'm just fortunate that my name is on the bib this year. It is a privilege for me, it is an honour.
“People buy into the club from under 6s training, you can see a lot of the old players from the past - James Lardner, Shane Conlisk, Aidan Donnellan, Ger Comer, giving a hand to the younger players coming through. That is so important, they are starting to take the mantle with the under 6s and under 8s.
“The philosophy, the way we want to play football is embedded into them very early. Everyone gets involved and credit to the senior players, who regularly attend sessions to give a hand. That is important that you are looking after the next generation coming up.”
The future always seems bright in Corofin.