On they march, the untouchables from north Galway now just an hour from history.
In two weeks' time, at Croke Park, Corofin will bid to become the first club football team to win three consecutive All-Ireland titles. Should they manage this groundbreaking feat, they’d also become the first club football side to raise aloft the Andy Merrigan Cup on four occasions over a six-year period.
The last remaining obstacle is a Kilcoo side who have never before played at Croke Park, who have never before been involved in an All-Ireland final. Whatever about class or quality, the gulf in experience, when one considers that Corofin’s two most recent visits to GAA HQ ended in 12 and 15-point All-Ireland final wins, is seismic.
Moreover, there was little to no evidence provided at Cusack Park on Saturday to suggest Kevin O’Brien’s side, despite being on the road for as long as they have, have in anyway slipped or depreciated during this latest push for glory.
They led from pillar to post, with the gap never less than five points following Nemo’s opening score after all of 23 minutes of action.
Their opening goal after 33 seconds was textbook Corofin. Fluid straight from the throw-in, Gary Sice, having spotted the run of Martin Farragher, kicked possession towards the corner flag. Micheál Lundy initially gave chase to the same pass, but realising that Farragher would get there first, the former Galway player immediately changed direction and began sprinting towards the Nemo goal. Farragher played a delicious pass inside Alan Cronin to Lundy who finished with aplomb. It was the first goal Nemo had conceded since mid-August.
Jason Leonard (45) and Ronan Steede added points thereafter, the seven-in-a-row Galway champions quickly asserting themselves in front of a crowd of 4,150.
Their tackling was ferocious, countless Nemo players stripped of the ball when attempting to work forward. The dispossessing of Stephen Cronin led to their third point, supplied by Farragher.
Mark Cronin being bottled up by Kieran Molloy and the wily Kieran Fitzgerald was just one of many examples of Nemo players being trapped, and then turned over by a gaggle of green and gold uniforms.
That they didn’t even get a 45 out of Barry O’Driscoll’s saved drive at goal summed up a first-half where little went right for Nemo.
The back-to-back champions led 1-4 to 0-0 when Alan O’Donovan eventually landed Nemo’s opener. Their interval advantage was six, 1-5 to 0-2. Damage done.
The gap was never closer than five throughout a second-half where both sides were guilty of wastefulness. How Lundy didn’t even hit the target after yet another piercing Corofin move was head-scratching. They could even afford for Ian Burke to cut a subdued figure for the first three-quarters of an hour.
Manager Kevin O’Brien is confident that talk of a historic three-in-a-row will not affect his players over the next fortnight.
“Our thing is the next game and history will look after itself after that. Our lads are mature enough to know that. There are two teams on the other side of the draw that will be glad to quieten us. We have to focus on that.”
O’Brien was effusive in his praise of the “fantastic culture” fostered by the players.
“This is our fourth semi-final in a row. But a lot of guys have probably left and others have come into the panel, and nothing has really changed. We have seven or eight ex-county players that would have retired going back the years and it still moved on. That is a credit to everyone involved; the schools, the club, and the underage coaches.”
Thirty-nine-year-old full-back Kieran Fitzgerald quipped that retirement is “coming very quickly”. If January 19 is to be his final outing, how dearly he would love to sign off with yet another All-Ireland medal.
“We are there now and we just want to win another game. This was my seventh All-Ireland semi-final, my first two were defeats. We were perennial under-achievers, winning Connacht finals and then getting beaten by better teams, the likes of Kilmacud and St Gall’s. 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.
“They are super, so ambitious. They love football. They are dedicated to their craft. They bring such energy to training. I am 39 just gone and 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.”
Special, indeed, are Corofin.
Scorers for Corofin: M Lundy (1-1); Martin Farragher, I Burke (0-2 each); G Sice (0-1 free), J Leonard (0-1 ‘45), K Molloy, R Steede, Mike Farragher (0-1 each).
Scorers for Nemo Rangers: L Connolly (0-2, 0-1 free); K O’Donovan, A O’Donovan, B O’Driscoll, C Horgan, C Dalton (0-1 each).
COROFIN: B Power; C Silke, K Fitzgerald, L Silke; K Molloy, C Brady, C Cunningham; R Steede, D Burke; Mike Farragher, G Sice, M Lundy; J Leonard, Martin Farragher, I Burke.
Subs: D Wall for Lundy (50); D McHugh for Cunningham (57); G Burke for Brady, D Silke for Sice (both 60); C McGrath for C Silke, D Canney for Martin Farragher (both 63).
NEMO RANGERS: MA Martin; K Histon, A O’Reilly, A Cronin; J Horgan, S Cronin, K O’Donovan; A O’Donovan, J McDermott; B O’Driscoll, P Kerrigan, C O’Brien; L Connolly, M Cronin, C Horgan.
Subs: K Fulignati for O’Brien (41); C Dalton for Horgan (49); R Dalton for M Cronin (53).
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry).