Two club championship heavyweights clash on St. Patricks Day as 2015 champions Corofin of Galway face seven-time winners Nemo Rangers from Cork in Croke Park.
The Connacht men go into the final as very slight favourites as they go in search of a third All-Ireland title with Nemo looking for a first triumph since 2003.
The five-in-a-row Galway champions are boosted by the availability of full forward Martin Farragher, who has a had a red card that he received in their semi-final win over Moorefield rescinded clearing him to play in the final.
The Galway men have been consistent performers in recent years, winning three of the last four Connacht championships and are gradually building a tradition, having lifted the Andy Merrigan Cup in 1998 and 2015.
Corofin forward Gary Sice admits that his club has been “very lucky,” in terms of having that experience and tradition to draw from during their most recent championship run.
“We’ve had former players come back in. Kevin O’Brien (Corofin’s manager) has an All-Ireland club medal, he was here in ’98,” said Sice to GAA.ie
“I think that’s how you build a tradition. That’s how you build a desire. I grew up watching my uncle play, he won an All-Ireland here.”
“Most of the lads on the team have some relation to somebody who has been here and done this. That’s how you build it, I suppose. It’s nice to have that tradition.”
Gary Sice – Corofin
The Connacht outfit have had to go to the well on more than one occasion on the way to Saturday’s decider, 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 of Mayo respectively.
They were reduced to 14 men within seconds of their semi-final clash against Kildare’s Moorefield but prevailed when a late Liam Silke goal decided the tie to book their place against Nemo in the Croke Park showpiece.
Nemo Rangers of course are no strangers to the big club stage having already appeared in 12 finals, amassing a record seven All-Ireland titles.
Unlike Corofin who have been competing at the top table in very recent years, Nemo last appeared in a semi-final in 2011 with their last All-Ireland triumph coming 15 years ago.
While manager Larry Kavanagh, who himself played in four All-Ireland club finals, winning two (1994 and 2003) and losing two (2001 and 2002) values the importance of tradition, he acknowledges that his side must seize Saturday’s opportunity.
“Fifteen years, as it is, is seen as too long. We have seven titles, you have to keep it ticking over. Now is the time to do it. How this team is remembered will be dictated, in part, by Saturday,” said Kavanagh to the Irish Examiner.
“The club’s younger generation need to see we are still winning All-Irelands. If you start going 20 years without winning one, does the confidence wane, does the club begin to question itself, ‘can we do this anymore, what are we doing wrong’?”
Larry Kavanagh – Manager, Nemo Rangers
Kavanagh admitted that his team have to deal with the high expectations from within the club given their successful record in the competition.
“If we don’t win Saturday and the next couple of years are barren, then it’ll soon be 20 years since the club won an All-Ireland. That’s not acceptable around here,” he said.
Nemo have impressed over the course of the season dispatching last year’s winners Dr. Crokes in Munster before toppling a much-fancied Slaughtneil side in spectacular fashion after extra-time in the semi-final three weeks ago.
What to expect?
Corofin manager Kevin O’Brien expects Saturday’s clash to be an “open” one and with both sides free scoring en-route to the final, it would be difficult to disagree.
“I think all year the games I’ve seen of them, they’ve played a very open game, very much like ourselves,” said O’Brien to GAA.ie.
While Nemo came good in their semi-final win over Slaughtneil eventually racking up 2-19 after extra-time, it will be a concern to management how they played second-fiddle to the Derrymen for large periods, failing to score in the opening 20 minutes.
The Corkmen, with four members of the 2011 team present in Aidan O’Reilly, Barry O’Driscoll, Paul Kerrigan and Colin O’Brien as well as Kerry legend Tomas O’Se and ex-Cavan forward Paddy Gumley among the ranks, will certainly be hoping for a more composed start against Corofin.
The manner in which both sides manage the key match-ups will be crucial as to how this one turns out.
For Nemo Luke Connolly in particular has been outstanding in attack and Corofin will have to come up with something to put the shackles on him.
Elsewhere, the ability of Corofin to curb the influence that the likes of O’Se and Kerrigan have on the Leesiders will be essential.
Corofin for their part will arriving in Croke Park with the memory of last year’s semi-final defeat to Dr.Crokes fresh in the mind, something that might give them an edge in what is likely to be a tight affair.
“It was more frustration in that we didn’t perform the way we can ourselves. Getting an opportunity to fix that now was fantastic against Moorefield but now we have to go and perform again,” said Gary Sice when speaking of last year’s disappointment.
“That’s what we’ll be looking for is a performance against Nemo. Come what may after that,” he added.
With the experienced Kieran Fitzgerald in the defence, Galway hurler Daithi Burke paired with Ronan Steede in midfield and the likes of Michael Lundy, Michael Farragher and Gary Sice in attack, they will be confident of overturning an exciting Nemo outfit.
Throw-in: Saturday @ 2pm, Croke Park | Verdict: Corofin
Senior columnist for GAA Wrap.