When Corofin won the AIB All-Ireland club football title three years ago, their smooth style and slick offensive play won them many new supporters.
Fast-forward on to last month’s semi-final win over Moorefield, a game with just 13 scores, and they happily replaced silk with steel.
Down to 14 men for almost that entire game, it was Liam Silke’s late goal that finally broke the Kildare men’s resolve in a gruelling arm-wrestle.
The message sent by Corofin was that whatever way the chips fall, they’ll adapt and prosper.
“We’re an experienced group, we’re around a while now,” said Gary Sice, their 33-year-old former Galway forward. “We didn’t panic. I don’t think we actually changed our game plan a whole lot, we just kept dogging it out. The pitch didn’t allow for any fantastic football on either side. It was a bit boggy but it didn’t matter to us, it was just about winning. That’s what semi-finals are about. We got out of there alive, that’s all that mattered.”
Sice speaks from painful experience when he says that semi-finals are for winning. How much you win them by is irrelevant.
“I think I’ve lost three semi-finals to eventual winners over the years,” he said. “It’s just a very tough competition. The Christmas break is the hardest part I think. Managing that Christmas break has been difficult, it always has been. It’s been difficult for every group that ever went through it. So when you get through that and win your semi-final it’s really great to be back in Croke Park, in an All-Ireland final.”
Corofin have won two All-Irelands in the last 20 years, Nemo Rangers one. In all, they have nine titles between them though Sice describes their meeting now as like two complete strangers happening upon each other.
“Whether that’ll make for a good thing or a bad thing on the day, I don’t know,” he said.
It’s hard to imagine that it won’t be an exciting contest, even allowing for the usual final day tensions. Both camps simply bring too much quality and experience to the table for it to be a dull decider.
“They’re a superpower in the club championship, aren’t they?” Sice said of Nemo. “They’re top of the pile. They have the most All-Irelands and now they have a management team with three or four each, I think, so they have a huge amount of experience.
“They won’t be in any way worried about us coming to Croke Park.”
Nemo, with good reason, are probably saying the same about Corofin.
“We’ve had a good turnover of personnel ourselves, we’ve a lot of younger fellas come in,” said Sice. “Obviously if you change different members of the team you’re going to have a different style automatically. But we still have the same goal in mind, just to get over the line in Croke Park.
It should help that Kieran Molloy will have a regular pre-match buildup. The wing-back memorably raced up the motorway from Tullamore after the semi-final win to come on for NUI Galway in the Sigerson Cup final in Dublin.
“Was it odd or brilliant, I don’t know but it’s the beauty of the GAA,” said Sice of the episode. “He wanted to play in a Sigerson final, we weren’t going to hold him back. He was fantastic, fair play to him, that’s the kind of guy he is. He’s very enthusiastic and loves his football. He’s a big part of the NUIG squad as he is ours.”
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