Those are the sentiments — fairly accurate ones, at that — of Paul O’Donovan, manager of the Nemo Rangers team who will this Saturday attempt to bring an end to Corofin’s charge to become the first club football side to take ownership of the Andy Merrigan Cup three years in succession.
UCD, St Finbarr’s, and Crossmaglen Rangers all managed back-to-back All-Ireland titles, a feat twice achieved by the latter, but none succeeded in extending their reign to a third consecutive year.
That’s the uncharted territory which Corofin are hoping to traverse over the coming month, Kevin O’Brien’s charges having not lost a single championship match since February 11, 2017.
It is true to say that most managers will jump at any opportunity to play up the opposition in advance of a fixture as significant as an All-Ireland semi-final, but O’Donovan can hardly be accused of over-egging the pudding when describing Corofin as one of the finest ever club football teams. Their almost three-year unbeaten championship run hardly needs embellishing.
Included in that sequence of victories is their 2-19 to 0-10 annihilation of Nemo Rangers in the 2018 All-Ireland final. O’Donovan reveals that he and his players recently sat down to watch a video of that St Patrick’s Day hammering. This wasn’t done to drum up motivation ahead of Saturday’s clash in Ennis, rather an attempt to once again draw learnings from that difficult afternoon at GAA HQ.
Having begun his term as manager following that 15-point beating last March, one of O’Donovan’s first acts in the post was to ask his players to watch back the All-Ireland final. “In my first meeting with the players, I told them, it is going to be hard and you are not going to enjoy it, but go away and watch the game because you are going to learn so much from it,” he recalls.
“That day in Croke Park, it was a case of Corofin being at the top of their game, hitting all the right notes, and us not playing well.
“Someone mentioned the word ‘revenge’ to me recently. Corofin didn’t do anything underhanded or untoward to us that day. They just completely outplayed us, out thought us, and outfought us.
“My opinion, when I came in first, was that they needed to look back at it and learn. We have since looked at it as a group. In fairness to them, the players have been very good at identifying their own flaws.”
O’Donovan described this semi-final, against a Corofin side bidding for a fourth All-Ireland crown in six years, as the ultimate acid test. “They have been the best side around for the last five years, there is no question about that, and arguably the best side of all time. They have the most balanced side, I think, left in the competition. It is going to be a serious test for us to try and stop them. But I’d have confidence in our own lads, as well.”
He added: “Obviously, we will try and counteract what we think are their strong points, and try and maybe hone in on their weaknesses, but they don’t seem to have many. We know from last year’s meeting that unless we are very competitive and aggressive in the right way, they could do the same to us again.
"But I think we have improved a lot since 2018 and I think we are a better side than 2018. We are more tuned in to how they can play.”
If Nemo are to reach an unprecedented 13th All-Ireland final, O’Donovan sees it as imperative they win the middle-eight battle.
“That is going to be a huge area of the field. We need to win over 50% of the contests across our half-back line, midfield, and half-forward line, whether they be breaks, turnovers, tackling, or whatever. If we win the middle-eight battle, it means the ball is going into our inside line. If we don’t, possession is being fed to their inside line. And both inside lines, as we know, can be fairly devastating at times.
“While we have used the full press on opposition kick-outs, you can’t over depend on it because if you are pulled up the field, you can be exposed with a long kick over the press. And the Corofin goalkeeper is well able to reach the opposition 65m line. We need to make sure we are not dragged out of position too much.
“Whether or not we are good enough will be seen on Saturday. We have every confidence in our guys, but I realise that we need to be hitting an eight or nine out of 10 against this crowd. We can’t afford to be creating chances and missing them. If we create three goal chances, we need to take all of them.
"We need things to go right for us; the hop of the ball and the bit of luck. But I think we have prepared well and the lads are looking forward to it.”