A St. Patrick’s Day All-Ireland final is the prize on offer on Saturday as Connacht champions Corofin take on Moorefield of Kildare in the AIB club championship semi-final in Tullamore.
The vastly experienced Galway side go into the clash as favourites having won three of the last four Connacht championships, securing an All-Ireland title as recently as 2015, adding to their 1998 triumph.
Kevin O’Brien’s oufit defeated Mayo’s Castlebar Mitchels in the provincial decider before accounting for Fulham Irish in London to leave themselves just an hour away from another final appearance.
Moorefield have perhaps been the story of the club championship so far as they snatched a provincial title from the jaws of defeat in a dramatic finale against Westmeath champions St. Loman’s back in December.
The Newbridge-based team looked to be dead and buried as they trailed by six points with just a minute of normal time remaining before a Ronan Sweeney-led come back saw them score 1-04 at the death to secure a dramatic victory.
Resilience has been the hallmark of this Moorefield side throughout their club campaign as they staged an arguably equally impressive recovery in the Kildare decider.
Having been reduced to 13 men early in the first half against a fancied Celbridge outfit, the Moores dug in and grounded out a victory in the most unlikely of circumstances.
The Kildare champions are battle-hardened at this stage, something that centre back James Murray is taking confidence from going into Saturday’s showdown.
“Probably everybody that day believed we were dead and buried coming into he last ten minutes,” said Murray of the Leinster final victory while speaking to RTÉ Sport.
“But if you go back to our first game in Kildare, against Confey, we were three or four points down coming into the last five minutes and we dug our way out of that,” he added.
“It was probably the same in the county final last year when we had 13 men for most of the second half – we battled our way through it. So we knew well in the backs of our minds that we were well able to claw it back in the end,” concluded the centre back.
Moorefield manager Ross Glavin, who remarkably is in his maiden campaign in the hot seat with his home club believes that his charges can take great belief from the manner of recent victories.
“We’ve been stressing the importance of belief and not being overawed by the task at hand. If we concentrate on putting in a massive performance and perform to the height that we can then we can’t be beaten and that has shown over the last six months. It’s all about the performance on the day and believing that we can get to that All-Ireland final.”
Corofin, who are five-in-a-row Galway champions will have to draw on all of their experience to come out the right side of Saturday’s fixture with manager Kevin O’Brien admitting that the Kildare men will provide a stern challenge.
“The key thing on Saturday is that we put in a big performance. If we do that, we give ourselves a genuine chance of winning. Moorefield have shown a real never-say-die attitude in their past few games, and we need to be aware they will see this game as a golden opportunity for them to get to Croke Park,” said O’Brien to local media.
The Connacht outfit themselves have been equally tested en-route to Saturday’s game, having been forced to extra-time in the semi-final and final of the provincial campaign against St. Brigid’s of Roscommon and Castlebar Mitchells respectively.
O’Brien believes that his side will need its leaders to step up if they are to overcome the Leinster champions.
“We will need leaders in every line of the team, and the lads coming off the bench to make a real impact to win this game. We expect a really tough battle and we will have to be at our best to advance,” O’Brien says.
What to expect?
Saturday’s clash is likely to be a heavy battle between two sides that have shown their resilience time and time again.
Unlike many top teams who boast several high-profile marquee players, what you get with Moorefield is the ultimate team unit.
Former Kildare stars Ronan Sweeney and Daryl Flynn provide the leadership on the field with Adam Tyrell and Eanna O’Connor, son of Jack providing the fire-power up front.
With the exception of Ryan Houlihan who is unavailable due to army commitments, Glavin has a full squad to pick from and he will look for big performances from Murray at centre back and promising young midfielder Aaron Masterson.
While the Moorefield story has made the headlines this year, the Kildare men will have to perform for a full 60 mins if they are to have any chance of overturning the Connacht champions, a fact acknowledged by their young manager.
“There have been too many games though when we haven’t played for the full 60 minutes, this time we are really focused on putting in our best performance for the duration of the match,” said Glavin, who played for the Moores in their 2007 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kerry’s Dr. Crokes.
Corofin for their part have lost their captain Ciaran McGrath and Kevin Murphy who pulled a quad muscle in the victory over Fulham Irish but will be bolstered by the addition of three-time All-Star hurler Daithí Burke to the ranks.
Corofin boss O’Brien will hope that older heads such as Kieran Fitzgerald and Gary Sice will lead the way for the Connacht men as they look to the likes of Martin Farragher and Jason Leonard to pose a significant threat to the Moorefield rear guard.
In recent years, tradition and experience has weighed heavily in terms of progress in the club championship with clubs who reached the All-Ireland final in the last 20 years being nearly twice as likely to get back to another decider, according to the Irish Times.
While Moorefield have proven that they are a formidable outfit when the chips are down, they will need to offer much more than they have done to date to overcome the Galway side that lifted the Andy Merrigan Cup just three years ago.
Given their respective paths to this stage, it could be a real war of attrition likely to go right down to the wire.
The winners of Saturday’s game will play the either Ulster champions Slaughtneil or Munster champions Nemo Rangers of Cork who clash in next weekend’s semi-final.
Throw-in: Saturday @ 2pm, O’Connor Park, Tullamore | Verdict: Corofin
Senior columnist for GAA Wrap.