Saturday's All-Ireland SFC club semi-final pits two of the country's best footballing sides into an Ennis bearpit. These three match-ups may decide which emerges, writes John Divilly.
The reigning club champions will pit themselves against the club roll of honour leaders Saturday afternoon. Revenge and redemption for Nemo or a step closer to a three-in-a-row for Corofin and club immortality?
Both sides are dripping with scoring talents, resolute defences and midfield steam engines. Big match experience and club expectations will not faze either club although Corofin hold more stock in this regard with their recent annual exploits.
What will separate these bluebloods? The following duels will certainly have a big bearing on proceedings.
Liam Silke (Corofin) v Luke Connolly (Nemo Rangers)
Luke Connolly is a scoring machine on his day but he’ll probably be marked by an equally talented scoresmith in Liam Silke. Silke, currently studying medicine in UCD, has amassed 5-7 in this year’s club championship. Not bad for a corner-back.
The only goals scored by Corofin in their Connacht club victories over Ballintubber and Padraig Pearses came from the right boot of Silke. Like a fox in the night, he silently steals forward into the opposition's backyard and goes for the kill. No dramatic goalscoring celebrations, he just turns on his heels and sprints back to his day job. And he will have to defend stoutly as Nemo have averaged 2-15 to date.
I expect that the Cork U20 star Mark Cronin and the veteran Paul Kerrigan will be closely tagged by Dylan Wall and Kieran Molloy respectively which leaves the unenviable task of curbing the mercurial Luke Connolly to Silke.
Connolly has a huge influence on how Nemo attack and indeed on how they perform collectively. With 2-28 (2-14 from play) already bagged to date, he has shown that his scoring radar is switched on but is it fully switched on? Luke Connolly and Nemo have left some easy goal-scoring chances behind them in recent games and they can’t afford to misfire as Corofin don't give away too many goal scoring chances.
Ronan Steede (Corofin) v James McDermott (Nemo Rangers)
The possession percentages, so integral in every game, will prove crucial. Ronan Steede is a veteran of All-Ireland club semi-finals at this stage; Saturday will be his sixth. He is almost a permanent fixture in the midfield sector for Corofin and his football brain is invaluable to their successes.
Steede always seems to find that pocket of space in the crowded middle third and fires the arrows into Ian Burke and the Farraghers. He’s the ultimate link player in the team and knows when to kick first time or when to hold possession and suck the opposition out of their shape and zone. He kicks the precious scores too, with either foot, for Corofin when it really matters.
His points from distance against Tuam Stars in the Galway final replay and against Padraig Pearses in the Connacht decider were both crucial and inspirational which is why Nemo’s James McDermott will have to produce an inspirational performance of his own to curb Steede’s influence. The ex-Roscommon Gaels midfielder is a hard grafter, who quietly performs the basic duties and has been a consistent presence in Nemo’s latest attempt to win back the Andy Merrigan Cup. He’s a powerful midfielder who’ll relish the physical exchanges with Ronan Steede and Daithi Burke but he’ll need to have his wits about him on the ground as Corofin, akin to Barcelona, flash the ball around with ridiculous ease. McDermott will have to get under the skin of the Galway lads and stop their flow at source.
The best way to do this? Catch lots of clean possession and deny Corofin coveted time on the ball. A big ask but a priority for McDermott and Nemo.
Mike Farragher (Corofin) v Stephen Cronin (Nemo Rangers)
Mike Farragher mightn’t get the same headlines as other Corofin attackers but he’s a key cog in their offensive arsenal. A very versatile and skilful player, he’s got tremendous vision and a sublime range of foot-passing. Corofin possess two main attacking playmakers – Ian Burke and Mike Farragher.
The biggest difference between them is Farragher’s strength. In the drawn county final against Tuam Stars, when it seemed Corofin had run out of time, Mike Farragher made a sensational midfield mark in injury time which led to Gary Sice’s equaliser. He’s got guts and puts himself about which is something Stephen Cronin will be acutely aware of. Farragher, like all Corofin forwards, will be constantly on the move.
Does the Nemo centre-back man-mark and leave the centre channel open for the savvy Ian Burke? Or does he hold and block a straight path into Ian Burke and allow a clever Mike Farragher roam free and have time on the ball? A conundrum for Nemo and Cronin.
I would expect the two Nemo wing forwards to clock up serious kilometres on their GPS’s and track back consistently which will allow the Nemo wing-backs an opportunity to block up the middle and help Stephen Cronin stifle Mike Farragher and co.
Whatever tactic Nemo employ will have to carried out collectively as any ball watching or lazy play will be punished emphatically by Corofin. If Cronin can produce a powerful performance it will stem one of Corofin's key platforms for scores and provide Nemo with a solid basis to attack with pace and purpose.
The only way this glorious Corofin team might be derailed is through pace, purpose and precision in front of goal.