Dr Crokes selector Vince Casey has mixed memories of taking on Corofin. As a player, there was the 1992 All-Ireland club semi-final victory over the Galwaymen, a game where Casey found the net from full-forward. As a manager, however, his record is rather less kind.
Casey was the Dr Crokes U14 football boss back in 2003, his team, which contained current senior starters Johnny Buckley, Fionn Fitzgerald, Daithí Casey, and David O’Leary, blitzing their way through the county championship.
That success meant Crokes would represent Kerry at that year’s All-Ireland Féile competition held in Galway. And who did they meet in their first group game up west but Galway winners Corofin.
“We didn’t score. They beat us 1-7 to 0-0, or something close to that,” Casey recalls of the thumping inflicted on them by Corofin.
“I was amazed by their size. We had won the Kerry Féile comfortably and thought we had a very good side going up there, which included Dáithí, Johnny, Fionn and David. But we got a rude awakening from Corofin. They kicked two 45s over the bar and this was from 14-year olds. That was my first awareness of Corofin after ‘92. You could see they were building.”
The likes of Michéal Lundy, Mike Farragher and Cathal Silke would have been part of that Corofin U14 set-up, all three of whom will line out at Croke Park this weekend. And while the Corofin U14s didn’t go the distance that particular year, the club’s 2004 class did secure All-Ireland U14 Féile honours.
Indeed, many more of the players who backboned that latter team will also be involved in Sunday’s St Patrick’s Day decider.
“No more than ourselves, Corofin have always had a very good underage structure. In the early 90s, Pat O’Shea put in place a coaching structure at underage level in the Crokes.
2016 Kerry minor David Shaw is the latest to come through the club’s nursery and establish himself on the senior team, the corner-forward kicking 2-11 across their last five outings.
“There are more young lads in our team compared with the 2017 All-Ireland winning side. Youth gives energy. You are ultimately judged on results so if this team can win on Sunday, I’ll say, yeah, the 2019 team is better [than 2017] because the challenge we are facing is higher than 2017.
“We know our team is facing the biggest challenge they have faced over the last three years,” said Casey of attempting to prevent Corofin securing back-to-back All-Ireland club titles and a third Andy Merrigan Cup in five years.
“Corofin are a much better team than when we played them in the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final. We played exceptional football that day. Corofin have evolved since then and showed that with the form that took them to last year’s All-Ireland. The quality of football they played last year was probably the best ever seen in a club final at Croke Park. They are an exceptionally skilful team, have great pace about them.
“Again, this year, they have made the game look easy. In the semi-final, they managed Gweedore’s big men and they managed the opposition’s pace around the middle.
“They were always in control of the game. What they have is huge experience built up. They’ve six Galway titles in-a-row won.”
Experience, mind you, is one area where Crokes have a similarly bountiful harvest. Losing midfielder Johnny Buckley to a red card early in their All-Ireland semi-final against Mullinalaghta didn’t rock them in the slightest, with Pat O’Shea’s charges claiming 11 of the next 14 scores.
“The guys showed great composure, didn’t panic,” continued the Crokes selector.
“That is where experience comes in. There was no rushing around. Guys were controlled.
“We managed the ball well, waited for the gaps to appear. Everyone just really stood up and wanted to be part of it. That said, nothing but a lift in levels from the semi-final display will get us to where we want to be on St Patrick’s Day.
“There are a lot of similarities between us and Corofin in that both teams want to play the game the way it should be played.
“I don’t think we’re going to enjoy watching it in real time, but hopefully, we will enjoy watching it back afterwards.”