Saturday 19 October 2019

Corofin cement status as club football's 'greatest' of all-time

Corofin 2-16 Dr Crokes 0-10

Jason Leonard celebrates after scoring his side’s first goal against Dr Crokes. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Jason Leonard celebrates after scoring his side’s first goal against Dr Crokes. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Corofin 2015-2019 v Crossmaglen Rangers 1997-2000 - which is the greatest club football team of all?

That was really the only question left after this All-Ireland final rout in Croke Park, the second in successive years that Corofin have enjoyed over a Munster giant.

John Payne of Dr. Crokes' connects with Dylan Wall of Corofin, before being shown a straight red by referee Barry Cassidy. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
John Payne of Dr. Crokes' connects with Dylan Wall of Corofin, before being shown a straight red by referee Barry Cassidy. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Cross won three titles in four years and through the unforgiving fields of Ulster club football their resilience and style of play was a badge of honour that set them apart for so long.

But Corofin have been so majestic on All-Ireland final day that theirs is a strong case for the status of greatest now.

Once again they illuminated this fixture, quite probably the last on St Patrick's Day as the GAA look to move the club finals to an early January date next year, the crowd of 17,819 the lowest in years.

It was unthinkable that what they did to Nemo Rangers, the most-decorated club of all, 12 months ago, they could repeat again. But that's essentially what happened as they made little of Crokes' challenge, reducing them to bystanders from the second quarter on.

Micheál Burns of Dr. Crokes' in action against Kieran Molloy of Corofin. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Micheál Burns of Dr. Crokes' in action against Kieran Molloy of Corofin. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

It didn't help that Crokes were reduced to 14 men when John Payne was sent off after his boot made contact with Dylan Wall in a collision, referee Barry Cassidy not deeming it accidental.

But in truth, Crokes were taking on water even at that stage, reeling from some sublime Corofin attacking movement as they trailed by 2-4 to 0-6.

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With 14 men, tracking those Corofin runners and tracing their movement off the ball became even more taxing.

Their overall account yielded just three points from play and no back-to-back scores. For a team with so much promise, it was a sobering day.

Corofin have now won three club football finals by a cumulative total of 37 points (by 10 against Slaughtneil in 2015, 15 last year against Nemo and 12 here). Figures like that tell their own story, the teams on the receiving end are no mugs.

"We got schooled by the best team," acknowledged Crokes selector Niall 'Botty' O'Callaghan.

"You can say nothing went right and you can give all the platitudes and excuses you want to give. We were beaten by a far better team. Congratulations to Corofin.

"They showed us how to play a game of football. They took away everything we brought that we thought was good."

Against the wind in the opening half they were holding their own through the first quarter and were just a point behind on 17 minutes, when Kieran O'Leary set up Tony Brosnan.

Corofin's opening goal on eight minutes had a touch of class about it with Kieran Molloy's deft half-volley played perfectly into Jason Leonard's path.

But even that was easily supplanted by their second goal on 21 minutes which was reminiscent, in its construction, of Mike Farragher's goal last year.

Martin Farragher's reverse handpass to Daithi Burke was the key and when Ian Burke squared, Gary Sice was in the right place at the right time to palm home for a 2-3 to 0-5 lead.

Sice was a big first-half influence, testing Fionn Fitzgerald, while Molloy produced so many fine moments.

Daithi Burke was a like a juggernaut through midfield and with Ronan Steede they dominated Johnny Buckley and Daithi Casey, something Crokes could never have legislated for.

By the break, it was 2-7 to 0-6 and it was only a question of how much Corofin would win by.

Martin Farragher scored four points, adding to his six last year, as he underlined his love of the place.

Leonard cut lanes through the Crokes defence to finish with 1-3. They lost Liam Silke to concussion at half-time but nothing could break their momentum.

They needed to scramble to clear their lines too in that second half. David Shaw drew a great save from Bernard Power on 37 minutes before Kieran Fitzgerald, sent off late on for a second yellow card after another fine performance to make a mockery of his 38 years, denied Michael Potts with a last-ditch effort.

There was a physical gulf too and for Kevin O'Brien, selector in 2015 and manager for the last two titles, their commitment to the ball was paramount.

"We challenged very, very hard for the ball. We threw our bodies on the line, and that's excellent from a team that won an All-Ireland 12 months ago."

Like the great Kilkenny hurling team of the last decade and the current Dublin football team, they hunted goals ravenously

"We just seemed to be getting in behind them any time we went forward," admitted O'Brien.

"The first goal, in particular, was well-worked. We're always looking to create the chance, we moved the ball through the hands as quick as possible. That gave us good opportunities. The sending off threw us a small bit in how we were going."

For Crokes, the repair work shouldn't be difficult as they have so much promise but it looks like there will be a change of management with Pat O'Shea expecting to step aside to allow brother-in-law Edmund O'Sullivan, current selector and minor coach in recent years, to take charge.

"We have great young fellas coming through. David Naughton, Billy Courtney, Brian Fitzgerald have won minors with Kerry," said O'Sullivan.

"They're training well but it will be up to them to take the jersey off the boys. It's not the end of the world.

"I'm sure a lot of clubs in the country would be happy to be in this position."

Colm Cooper may also have played his last game, though O'Callaghan and O'Sullivan were both keen that he would stay on after the impact he made here, one magnificent pass into Jordan Kiely in the second half standing out, even among so much scintillating Corofin play. Ironically, Corofin's toughest opponents were on their doorstep when Mountbellew-Moylough forced them to a replay in the Galway final.

The challenge for Corofin now is to come back and do it all over again. No club football team have ever won three-in-a-row.

They became the fifth to successfully defend the Andy Merrigan Cup. Few would bet against them being back here in 10 months' time.

Scorers - Corofin: G Sice 1-5 (0-3fs); J Leonard 1-3; Martin Farragher 0-4; Daithi Burke 0-2; Mike Farragher, K Molloy 0-1 each. Dr Crokes: T Brosnan 0-5 (4fs); D Casey 0-3 (2fs); M Burns, C Cooper (f) 0-1 each.

Corofin - B Power; L Silke, K Fitzgerald, C Silke; D Wall, D McHugh, K Molloy; D Burke, R Steede; M Lundy, J Leonard, Michael Farragher; G Sice, Martin Farragher, I Burke. Subs: Colin Brady for L Silke inj (h-t), C Cunningham for McHugh (48), G Burke for Lundy (53), C McGrath for Wall (55), D Canney for Sice (56), Ciaran Brady for D Burke (57).

Dr Crokes - S Murphy; J Payne, M Moloney, F Fitzgerald; D O'Leary, G White, S Doolan; J Buckley, D Casey; M Burns, G O'Shea, B Looney; T Brosnan, K O'Leary, D Shaw. Subs: M Potts for Doolan (h-t), C Cooper for O'Shea (37), J Kiely for K O'Leary (40), A O'Sullivan for D O'Leary (46), E Brosnan for Casey (53), J Lyne for Looney (57).

Ref - B Cassidy (Derry).

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