Gort aim to make up for lost time
GORT captain and corner-back Andy Coen (30) doesn't put a tooth in it ahead of his side's appearance in the Galway senior hurling final tomorrow.
"There were times when some of us thought we'd never see the day," the former county defender says.
"We reached a lot of county semi-finals before we made the final in 2008 but unfortunately we flopped badly that day," he recalls of their 1-18 to 2-7 trouncing by Portumna.
A year later Gort fell at the second-last hurdle for the fourth time since '01 and last season they got a terrible slap in the face, failing to even get out of their group.
"We won our first two games and then lost our last two, we actually lost to Tynagh-Abbey-Duniry in the last game to end up on the same points as them but lost out on the head-to-head rule," Coen explains with a groan.
"The same day Clarinbridge drew with Beagh but got through by just a one-point margin. They went on to win the county title and then the All-Ireland club. Sometimes that's how fine a line it is."
It is the defending champions that Gort face in tomorrow's south Galway derby, which makes their bid for a first county title in 28 years all the more difficult but, having seen their opponents' breakthrough last year, they are relishing it.
"Clarinbridge's success last year would definitely have given other clubs great hope," says Coen, who won a Connacht junior football title with local club St Colman's in '07.
"If ever you wished for a complete performance it was the one they gave in the All-Ireland final -- they went in to Croke Park and didn't just win, they completely ran away with it.
"I was delighted for them, everyone in Galway was," he says, before adding "of course that was last March, I'll be viewing them very differently tomorrow."
Gort have endured a long wait since the last of their five titles in 1983 and suffered defeats in the knockout stages in six of the last 10 years before booking their place in tomorrow's decider with victory over St Thomas in the last four, with the ever-reliable Gerry Quinn firing seven points, six from placed balls.
As one of the team's elders Coen played in all of them and recalls the '05 semi-final as the most painful.
"We ran Portumna very close that year," he remembers. "We lost a lot of semi-finals to them and a few to Athenry and Loughrea.
"There was always a point in those games when we had to push on to win it and we didn't take that opportunity. I don't know was it we didn't believe in ourselves or what, but we just couldn't seem to push on."
Many believe Gort's age-balance has been a big factor in this year's progress as their young team of '08 is now coming to maturity.
Aidan Harte may be their only current county senior but half of their team won county U-21A titles in '09 or 2010 and the likes of Harte, former minor star Richie Cummins, Greg Lally, Brian Regan and Sylvie Og Linnane have all played with Galway U-21s, with whom wing-back Jason Grealish won an All-Ireland this year.
With Mattie Murphy at the helm for the second year of his current term, they beat Loughrea in the quarter-finals and their neighbours St Thomas in the semis on a particularly filthy day.
"We were just two points up and got a late goal then but there was nine minutes of injury-time. The conditions made it a complete wrestling match really, there was no strike of hurling in it," Coen admits. "We had to dig it out but we did."
Coen's leadership, including one long-range free, proved vital and another former Galway veteran Ollie Fahy plays an equally important role at full-forward.
"I'm the eldest of the six backs by about five or six years and Ollie brings up the average age of the forwards by a good bit," Coen jokes. "But there's a nice blend there now and the young fellas are great.
"They haven't suffered as many loses so they have no real fear of any particular club and they just go out and hurl with great freedom, which is what we'll need to do to beat Clarinbridge."