Corofin hunger has been restored - Sice
The competitive nature of the Connacht club football championship is reflected as well in the odds being offered by a range of bookmakers as much as any text could testify - three teams at the top of every list with less than three percentage points dividing them.
Corofin are favourites at slightly better than evens, St Brigid's are next at around 2/1, while Castlebar Mitchels trail slightly at between 5/2 and 11/4.
By comparison there are clear odds on favourites in Leinster (St Vincent's at 2/5) and Munster (Dr Crokes at 4/11), while 9/2 is the best price for the third favourites in Ulster, Killyclogher, behind Kilcoo and Slaughtneil.
One of the three western 'big guns' has contested All-Ireland finals in the last five years, St Brigid's twice in 2012 and 2013 (winning in 2013), Castlebar twice in 2014 and 2016 (losing both) with Corofin champions in 2015.
The generous odds on the reigning champions might come as a surprise but this weekend, when they meet Corofin in a semi-final, will be their fifth successive weekend in action while Tom Cunniffe and Richie and Alan Feeney have been missing. But they have recent past history on their side. On the way to both Connacht club titles they won they have beaten the Galway kingpins, in a 2013 semi-final and then in last year's final.
Corofin's Gary Sice, who has overcome a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Galway county final against Salthill-Knocknacarra last month, admits that they can have no excuses about either defeat.
"The first time around we were doing very well but we took our foot off the pedal for 10 minutes and we ended up getting hit by a sickener of a goal. They were an unknown quantity to a point, we didn't take them for granted, it's just that we let them back into the game," he recalled.
"Second time around you could give a lot of excuses about the end of an 18-month period in which we had won an All-Ireland but they were a hungrier team than us on the day. I'm not too sure they were better but definitely hungrier.
"They went harder for a lot of stuff that we didn't. You couldn't complain about that, they were very good and they proved it again against Crossmaglen, they bullied Crossmaglen after that. Now they're on the other side of it, let's see what they can do."
Castlebar have won three of the last four titles in Mayo, Corofin have stockpiled the last four in Galway to retain their dominant position in modern times.
"We probably haven't capitalised over the years when we have gone outside Galway but we're hoping to rectify that," said Sice. "It's not a case of rectifying anything against Castlebar. We want to go back at it again. We might have been burning the candle at both ends last season," he said, reflecting on an unbeaten streak that stretched 18 games in league and championship in the calendar year from the All-Ireland semi-final against St Vincent's to the Castlebar defeat in November.
"We went unbeaten the whole season until we got to Castlebar. That's a fair stint for any club to do. And then we got stretched a bit with various injuries.
"That's something that every single team encounters. Crossmaglen have encountered it this year. We will encounter it again, no doubt. It's our ability to bounce back, to go again is the big thing. That's the making of our team as far as I can see. We're looking forward to pushing on again. There's a new hunger in the group."
Now managed by Kevin O'Brien, Stephen Rochford's second-in-command, with current player Michael Comer looking after fitness, Corofin have managed to retain the core of their playing group with Kieran Fitzgerald, in his 18th season with the club, a shining example of what a great club player should be.
"What a machine," said Sice. "He's a great bit of stuff. He's the kingpin of our team, he's a serious operator. He's coming back stronger the whole time. If you want to know what a club footballer and a county footballer looks like, it's Kieran Fitz. He seems to be getting better with age."
Sice is ready to commit to Galway for a further year himself if required.
"The body is willing. I thoroughly enjoyed it last season. I know we had a bad ending but I really enjoyed it. We had one bad game, we'll take it apart and look at it but Tipperary were fantastic," he acknowledged.
"Kevin (Walsh) is doing a really good job. He's looking to build. He's after getting a new three-year term which is fantastic for the county, a bit of continuity and he's a Galway man which is a really big seller for me. And he's done it. He's one of the main reasons I'd go back if I am to go back."
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