Tuesday 24 April 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Beast from the West shows county sides how game should be played

Corofin's Gary Sice. Photo: Sportsfile
Corofin's Gary Sice. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

A long harsh winter drags into spring. When players wake up for an All-Ireland final they hope for good conditions. Yesterday, there was no kindness in the air and players could have been issued with long johns, woolly hats and gloves to keep out the biting cold. The small crowd deserved better too amid all the counter-attractions but at least they were rewarded with a game of skill which was a testament as to what the GAA is really about.

The county juggernaut has not strangled these clubs. Many inter-county managers would definitely have a seizure at the style of play too. Players actually kicked the ball.

Gary Sice lit up the game with a brilliant goal after seven minutes. He had no thought of taking an easy point when the chance came, he just buried it in the corner. At that stage Corofin were playing as if they were really enjoying the occasion. At one time I counted 10 Corofin players attacking inside the Nemo '45', and the pace and movement of the Galway club was cutting Nemo open. Mike Farragher was drifting out, winning ball in the air and on breaks, and the supply meant Martin Farragher and Michael Lundy were making hay in the biting cold.

Then, after 20 minutes, came one of the greatest team goals ever seen in Croke Park as Corofin took the patient route with a string of passes before a delicate finish by Farragher.

Even at that stage it looked all over, with Corofin 11 up and free-wheeling. By half-time they had enough scored to win most games so the second half was purely playing out time.

That first half should be taped and distributed to every club and school. It is what Gaelic football is supposed to be about. Skill, speed, great foot-passing and quick changes in direction using both foot and hand.

Corofin trusted their backs to mark their men too. Of course there was often a utility back but there was no mass defence and at all times there were three or four forwards staying in their positions. A message there for the Galway senior side who have similar quality forwards who spend a lot of time defending.

With Corofin on all-out attack, it meant Nemo's most dangerous forwards, Luke Connolly and Paul Kerrigan, were squeezed outfield and Tomás Ó Sé, who dominated the semi-final, was not exerting anything like the same influence. Ó Sé was substituted later. It was probably his last game in this famous arena. He does not owe anyone anything, one of the greatest footballers in one of the greatest footballing families in any code.

There was a very stark difference to the attacking of both sides too. Corofin at all times wanted to get men in front of the ball while Nemo played like most county sides, over and back across the pitch. And they did not kick as often or as accurately as Corofin.

As the second half dragged on - and that is the word - the Cork men needed goals and Corofin had numbers across the half-back line, and Nemo never looked likely to break them down. It meant that Corofin played out the match completely on their own terms and the spectators could drift away to check on what was happening in Twickenham.

Every player dreams of playing in an All-Ireland final and having the game of their life. It happened yesterday for nearly all the Corofin players. Great players play their best on the biggest day and on the biggest stage. They are great because they can harness the energy of the day, play with calmness while operating in a different zone where all turmoil is tamed. Others - like the challenge match stars - are overcome with fear, nerves and a lack of real confidence. As a result, they seize up. Not Corofin players and it is a tribute to everyone involved with the club, that like a lot of the winners in Cheltenham, they were trained to the minute.

For a great club like Nemo this was a very disappointing day. They ran out of road and never produced anything like the form of the Munster final or the extra-time performance against Slaughtneil. History beckoned for them but that must wait for another day. Murphy's Law applied yesterday. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong and on days like this there are no explanations for a poor performance. Nemo were hit by the Beast from the West, an animal that was not for taming yesterday.

Corofin also struck a blow for a return to a game where there is a mixture of foot and handpassing and skill trumps everything. This was a bad day for Nemo and for those who had hoped to see a real contest. Yet there is still joy in watching the old game played like this.

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