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Corofin generation gap is bridged on a day when King Henry reigns again

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Michael Farragher, with trophy, Corofin, and teammates including Martin Farragher, left, celebrate. AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Final, Corofin v Slaughtneil, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE

Michael Farragher, with trophy, Corofin, and teammates including Martin Farragher, left, celebrate. AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Final, Corofin v Slaughtneil, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE

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Michael Farragher, with trophy, Corofin, and teammates including Martin Farragher, left, celebrate. AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Final, Corofin v Slaughtneil, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE

It was hardly a vintage day for the club finals but no one around the Corofin bus cares. The sign that reads 'All-Ireland champions' is already on the coach dashboard.

Gary Sice emerges, and after finding a seat for the Andy Merrigan cup, is all handshakes and smiles.

Corofin are about to decamp to Johnstown House along with the rest of the parish. The supporters are there already, awaiting their heroes. Sice smiles as thoughts turn back to 1998.

Sons and nephews of the men who went before litter the current side. And like all those years ago, they did it in style. Sice was 12 back then, and he reckons that St Patrick's Day led to this one. Since then, the club has had new horizons.

"My uncle was playing and I spent 60 minutes watching him run around the place," he recalls. "The emotion and everything was massive. It bred the group you see here. It made it very easy for the coaches in the club go to and tell us 'here's the ultimate goal.' We went and did it today."

There was one significant difference. This time, the man at the helm wasn't one of their own. Stephen Rochford's appointment was a risk, as he wasn't just an outsider but a Mayo man.

Sice laughs now at the consternation when it became known that Corofin were to look outside their own boundaries for a manager.

Rochford now holds a small place in history as the only man to win club titles as a player (with Crossmolina) and manager with different clubs.

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If it comes to pass that this was Shefflin’s last gallop around the half-acre he has made his own for much of the last 16 years, then that is what these club finals will be remembered for.

If it comes to pass that this was Shefflin’s last gallop around the half-acre he has made his own for much of the last 16 years, then that is what these club finals will be remembered for.

SPORTSFILE

If it comes to pass that this was Shefflin’s last gallop around the half-acre he has made his own for much of the last 16 years, then that is what these club finals will be remembered for.

"It was a big move," Sice recalls. "It wasn't exactly something that everyone jumped on with.

"But, as far as the squad went, we knew what we were dealing with after session one. It was great and he's been a super presence with us."

Croke Park never heaved as it has in previous years on club finals day but the two winners hardly cared.

Corofin had their own small hurdles to overcome. Ciaran McGrath broke a leg two years ago that was severe enough to threaten his career.

Sice couldn't recall winning a game at Croke Park despite several visits going all the way back to his days with St Jarlath's of Tuam.

The veteran of the team, Kieran Fitzgerald, reckoned he was in the same boat and without a victory at the Big House since he helped Galway win the Sam Maguire Cup in 2001 at just 20.

The other winners of the day, Ballyhale, couldn't have been much different in that regard. They had 19 All Star awards across their starting team and many of the side only had to go back to last September for a win in Croke Park.

Still, there had been some creeping doubts. With eight starters over the age of 30, much was made of the age profile but, when approached to take over as coaches, Tipperary pair Colm Bonnar and Andy Moloney had no hesitation.

"It was surprising we got called in," Bonnar said. "There was a perception that we were taking it at the wrong time, they'd been through their prime and were on their way down.

COLLEGE

"I knew some of the players from the college and Andy would have played with them. We knew there was something in them."

All eyes were on King Henry. But neither he nor Ballyhale had to get out of first gear for him to win a 14th All-Ireland medal, made up of ten senior, three club and an U-21 title.

"There's no reason why he can't continue with the club and inter county," Bonnar ventured. "The decision is his. It's about time commitments. It's about sizing it up what you've achieved and how much more you want to do.

"But anyone sitting back would say 10 All-Ireland senior medals. . . I know I got two and we were beaten in two. They were incredible feelings.

"I just couldn't comprehend how you could win that many and keep going. We burnt ourselves out from celebrations and from having the craic and the whole lot and from not giving the commitment year in year out.

"These Kilkenny lads are just a law unto themselves. They love hurling and they keep it simple."

There was no big abdication from the 'King' afterwards. Just a promise to make his decision known within a week. Then the football took the hurling final's lead and followed its expected path. And with that another club campaign was done.

If it comes to pass that this was Shefflin's last gallop around the half-acre he has made his own for much of the last 16 years, then that is what these club finals will be remembered for.

Irish Independent