Fitzgerald returns to Croke Park with Corofin
By Cian O'Connell
The Corofin success story continues, but Kieran Fitzgerald hasn't forgotten the days when AIB All Ireland Club Semi-Finals were proving to be an awkward hurdle.
Throughout the past two decades Corofin have flourished in Galway and Connacht, but it is only in recent years that they have truly delivered on the national stage.
Saturday's triumph over Nemo Rangers set-up a January 19 Croke Park decider against Kilcoo with Fitzgerald thrilled to be still a key figure for Corofin.
"I thought about it coming down in the bus," Fitzgerald says about Corofin's difficulties at the penultimate round.
"This is my seventh All-Ireland semi-final and my first three were defeats. We were perennial under-achievers winning Connacht finals and then getting beat by better teams, Crossmaglen and Kilmacud and Galls.
"We probably didn’t have the belief either that we were good enough to defeat those teams. Something happened in 2014, Stephen Rochford started it and this particular group of players came together. We are moving on."
Fitzgerald acknowledged that Corofin, who had cruised to an emphatic All Ireland final win over Nemo in 2018, were primed for this encounter.
"Obviously we knew two years ago that wasn’t a true reflection of us or Nemo," Fitzgerald remarked.
"We expected a huge battle from Nemo. We probably hadn’t planned to get a goal as early as we did but Micheal Lundy took it very well.
"We got into our stride. The first 20 minutes we played great football, they probably came back a bit in the last ten of the first half. The second half then was just keep the scoreboard ticking. "That last 10 minutes wasn’t pretty for us. It wasn’t great football at the end there but we are in an All-Ireland final so we are delighted."
An All Ireland winner with Galway in 2001, Fitzgerald sensed that something was stirring in Corofin when emerging players started to be integrated into the set-up.
"They are super, they are so ambitious," Fitzgerald admits. "They love football. They work really hard and they love training. They turn up every second day, as do other teams as well.
"But these guys’ application to it. They are dedicated to their craft. They just bring such energy to training. I said it loads of times. I am 39 just gone and I am lucky to be part of this team.
"They are dragging me along at this stage. If I was with another club maybe I would be retired five or six years ago, but to be playing with this particular group of players is something special. Just delighted to be back in an All-Ireland."