O'Brien aiming to preserve Corofin's tradition of success
It was not long after Corofin had won the All-Ireland club SFC in 2015, when veteran defender Kieran Fitzgerald remarked that Mayo would soon be looking to prise away their manager Stephen Rochford.
Fitzgerald's words proved prescient and, within eight months, Rochford was ratified by the Mayo County Board. Of course, by the conclusion of his first campaign at the highest level, it had taken Dublin well over two hours to defeat his team and to retain Sam Maguire by the margin of a solitary point.
Rochford, who was the first man not of their parish to be appointed as manager by Corofin, had returned to his native county having steered the north Galway outfit to a county league and championship double.
To find his replacement, Corofin once again looked inward, and passed the torch to Kevin O'Brien, who was a selector during Rochford's three-year reign. The tenures of Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich, Matt O'Connor with Leinster and David Moyes at Manchester United all amply demonstrate that the timing of a succession can come to define the fate and ultimate legacy of the successor. But O'Brien had played right through the ranks from underage to senior, and was on the bench when Ray Silke captained Corofin to their first All-Ireland club title in 1998.
This afternoon, the 42-year-old will hope to guide Corofin to their fourth straight Galway title, when they take on Salthill-Knocknacarra at Pearse Stadium.
There was no grand plan for him to take over from Rochford, he says, but for the sake of maintaining the climate he helped build, it was the right fit. O'Brien was not daunted by the prospect of filling the void left behind by Rochford, simply because at the end of each campaign with Corofin the slate is wiped clean.
"It was important that we continued with the same culture at the club and the way we played," O'Brien explains. "So I think that was important that we had a link from Stephen's management team going into the next management team, whoever that was going to be. Taking over a successful team doesn't matter to me because every year you start again, and it will be same for next year."
As Corofin's concentrated roll of honour can attest, they were hardly mired in mediocrity before Rochford arrived. Having won five Galway titles in each of the last two decades, and four of six prior to Rochford coming on board, an ethos of excellence had long since been established. According to O'Brien, Rochford built astutely on well-laid foundations and he is simply following suit.
"I think the first thing Stephen would say himself is that he was fortunate to come into a good set-up," O'Brien says. "His attention to detail was excellent and the fact that he had won an All-Ireland club title was very important. The last 20 years have been such a good time, in terms of teams coming together, a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, which you always need in sport.
"I'm just fortunate to have the name as manager of this team, but it's all the support people around that you don't see. You're only as good as the people around you."
Paradoxically, while O'Brien refuses to be shackled by the past, it informs a significant portion of his philosophy. Irrespective of age or level, he believes it to be paramount that all teams wearing the green and yellow of Corofin play and conduct themselves in a manner befitting of those who came before them.
"A lot of the younger guys coming through, particularly on this team, their fathers would have had very successful times with the club," he adds. "So it's very important to carry that spirit on to ensure that you're creating a culture that fosters the development of the underage players in the club."
Familial lines are evident within the current group, with Ray Silke's nephews, Liam and Cathal Silke, in the side. Liam Silke, along with Gary Sice and Brendan Power, have all been supplied to the Galway panel by Corofin, while 2001 All-Ireland winner Fitzgerald, now 38, remains an automatic choice at corner-back. Dual star Daithi Burke has also returned to the fold.
"Within the team and the group there has been no talk of winning four-in-a-row," O'Brien adds. "Our view on it is that this is a new group going for our first county final, and that's been the goal all year. What's happened in the past is just history."
Sunday Indo Sport