Corofin ease Padraig Pearses aside to retain Connacht crown and set sights on historic All-Ireland three-in-a-row

Corofin 1-10 Padraig Pearses 0-07

24 November 2019; Corofin captain Micheál Lundy, left, and Jason Leonard lift the Shane McGettigan Cup after the AIB Connacht GAA Football Senior Club Football Championship Final match between Corofin and Pádraig Pearses at Tuam Stadium in Tuam, Galway. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Conor McKeon

MOST of the questions asked of members of Corofin's celebrating party in Tuam yesterday afternoon started with the word 'how?'

How have they kept their standards so impressively high, their play so fresh and vibrant, through a combination of competitions that stretch through almost a full year?

How, given the number of awkward obstacles that have been thrown in front of them through county, provincial and national combat, are they unbeaten in championship football since February 2017?

A run that, as of yesterday and the annexation of their fourth Connacht title in a row – and tenth in total - stretches to 32 unbeaten games.

"It's not a military regime that we're trying to run," offered their manager, Kevin O'Brien by way of measured explanation.

"These fellas have plenty of scope to do things that they want.

"But they're very disciplined. And they probably know the Galway Championship starts after the (Galway) races. And if you can win your first two games, you're set up nicely.

"So they get a bit of free time during the summer. A good few of them went to the States. A good of them did other things.

"Now they're all back focused. And they're all pushing each other, which is the important thing."

"They're probably all friends as well, which is important."

Most commendably of all is their knack for thinking their way out of tight corners.

There was the 2017 Connacht semi-final against St. Brigid's that went to extra-time, which preceded the final against Castlebar Mitchels when – once again – they required extra-time.

They've needed replays in each of the last two county finals and in both of those years, Ballintubber have had the scent of blood in their nostrils in Connacht and failed to finish them off.

If Corofin's ability to illuminate Croke Park on St. Patrick's Day is their most impressive trait, their group resolve and cunning on dark, cold provincial days like yesterday might actually be their most useful.

As O'Brien observed: "Every question that has been asked of us we've probably answered at this stage."

So it went against Pádraig Pearses, the Roscommon champions apparently unsated by winning their first county title.

At half-time in Tuam, Corofin led by 0-5 to 0-2.

Ten minutes into the second half, the teams were level - 0-6 to 0-6 – Pearses had all the momentum and had established a physical advantage to what had been an edgy game to that point.

"There was a lot of big men out there and a lot of hard hits going in," noted Kieran Molloy.

"They were trying to get you into the middle, hit you hard and turn you over.

"I suppose this year we seem to be doing that a lot but the fact that we are used to it, we were able to grind it out again."

Then, as is his wont, Liam Silke popped up with precision timing.

The man wearing number four on his back had already been fouled having raced into a goal-scoring position in the first half by Niall Carty, who was black carded for his act of prevention.

In the Connacht semi-final, Silke scored what was effectively the match-winning goal against Ballintubber.

Here, he ghosted into space where previously, there had been none.

Instinctively, Ian Burke picked him out and Silke scored the goal that changed the dynamic of the match utterly.

And Corofin, as they tend to, turned the screw, almost orchestrating another goal off the next Pádraig Pearses kick-out, when Daithí Burke's fisted effort came back off the cross bar.

They opened up a three point lead by the time Niall Daly, who led the Pearses resistance manfully, was sent off for a second yellow card.

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

"We probably controlled the game a bit better then," O'Brien noted. "We got a few frees and we were able to kill the game."

In March, after their dismantling of Dr Crokes in Croke Park, they sparked debate as to whether the Corofin team of 2015 to 2019 or the Crossmaglen Rangers side of 1997 to 2000 is the greatest club outfit in history.

By the time they play again against either Nemo Rangers or Clonmel Commericals in the All-Ireland semi-final next January, 35 will have passed without losing a Championship match.

Should they win their next two games, Corofin would become the first club team in either football or hurling to win three All-Ireland titles in a row.

That should end any argument.

"It's great to have another Connacht title," O'Brien admitted.

"It's probably something we never dreamed of when we won our first in '91, that we would win four-in-a-row and this is the tenth.

"A lot of those lads have seven or eight Connacht medals They're a credit to themselves.

"I look forward to the next six weeks working with them."

"In the past, we've taken some time off. But with six weeks, we'll have to rethink that.

"Six weeks is not that long away."

SCORERS – Corofin: L Silke 1-0, J Leonard 0-3 (1f), Michael Farragher, G Sice (2f) 0-2 each, D Wall, R Steede, C Brady 0-1 each. Pádraig Pearses: P Carey 0-3 (2f), R Daly, N Daly, H Darcy (f), E Kelly ('45) 0-1 each.

COROFIN: B Power; C Silke, K Fitzgerald, L Silke; K Molloy, C Cunningham, D Wall; D Burke, R Steede; G Sice, Michael Farragher, J Leonard; M Lundy, Martin Farragher, I Burke. Subs: D McHugh for Cunningham (29 black card), C Brady for C Silke (43), G Burke for Wall (58), D Canney for Martin Farragher (60), C McGrath for Steede (60), D Hynes for Michael Farragher (63).

PÁDRAIG PEARSES: P Whelan; M Richardson, A Butler, R Daly; G Downey, D Murray, S Carthy; C Daly, N Daly; L Daly, N Carty, E Kelly; P Carey, H Darcy, C Payne. Subs: T Butler for N Carty (19 black card), S Fahy for Kelly (53), A Duffy for Carty (55), A Feehily for Downey (58), S Mulvey for L Daly (62), J Kelly for Payne (62).

REF: E O'Grady (Leitrim)