Monday 25 March 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'Corofin and Crokes make Gaelic football look like the most beautiful game of all'

Kieran Molloy of Corofin celebrates at the final whistle of the AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Corofin, Galway, and Gaoth Dobhair, Donegal, at Avantcard Páirc Sean Mac Diarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon, Leitrim. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Kieran Molloy of Corofin celebrates at the final whistle of the AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Corofin, Galway, and Gaoth Dobhair, Donegal, at Avantcard Páirc Sean Mac Diarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon, Leitrim. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

Corofin and Crokes make Gaelic football look like the most beautiful game of all. For years the Galway and Kerry kingpins have exploited to the very limit football's potential for creativity, self-expression, adventure and joy.

This dynamic duo have won three of the last four All-Ireland titles between them. Corofin's victory over Nemo Rangers last year, when they scored the highest total ever in a club final at Croke Park, was probably the finest decider performance of all-time. Over the past decade Dr Crokes have been the most aesthetically pleasing team in football.

Now they've set up a dream final meeting after a pair of semi-final wins yesterday which showcased the very best qualities of both sides. The fluid Total Football which Corofin specialise in was evident in their first goal, brilliant wing-back Kieran Molloy popping up at the end of a move to force a save from Christopher Sweeney before Gary Sice blasted home the rebound.

Their second showcased their trademark slick combination as Ian Burke's lightning quick transfer set Martin Farragher free to score.

Crokes' football is a symphony of pace, space and movement. They were in classic mode yesterday during a burst which yielded six points in seven minutes at the end of the first half and again when bagging five in seven near the start of the second. A 26th-minute point which saw Brian Looney pick out David Shaw with the most subtle and accurate of diagonal balls before the corner-forward turned on a sixpence to pop over an angled shot seemed archetypal.

Yet, in the words of the Anglo-Irish writer Lord Dunsany, "It should not be forgotten how much the loser contributes to any game." If Crokes and Corofin were at their best in Thurles and Carrick-on-Shannon it was because the opposition forced them to be.

The resilience displayed by Gaoth Dobhair in a gruelling Ulster campaign was evident as the Donegal champions held Corofin scoreless for 14 minutes to close the gap to two points with six minutes left. It was Burke brothers time. First Gavin lashed over a long-range point strikingly similar to those landed by his uncle Gerry when Corofin won their first All-Ireland 21 years ago.

Then Ian took a hand, delivering a perfect pass to Jason Leonard, who made the lead four, and then battling to win a free whose conversion by Sice put the game completely beyond Gaoth Dobhair. The All-Star, stylish, intelligent and always aware of the players around him, might be the prototypical Corofin player.

The 6-41 put up by Crokes in their previous two matches suggested a chastening day in store for Mullinalaghta. But when Jayson Matthews scored the little Longford club's second goal after 18 minutes and Johnny Buckley was sent off as Crokes looked rattled, the impossible briefly seemed possible.

That was when Gavin White took a hand, his piercing runs putting the favourites firmly on the front foot. White, athletic, confident and supremely comfortable on the ball, is a Crokes player par excellence. So are the likes of Kieran O'Leary, David Shaw and Tony Brosnan, forwards showing that there is attacking life in Killarney after the heyday of Colm Cooper. The names are changing but the finishing remains the same.

Mullinalaghta lost little caste in defeat. Crokes have made much bigger and more famous clubs than the team from the half parish look a lot worse than the Longford champs looked yesterday. Instead of the usual late fusillade of points from the Killarney team it was the underdogs who finished on the front foot. There might even have been a cliff-hanging finale had Shane Murphy not pulled off a great save from Aidan McElligott. Mullinalaghta's run has been one of the great club championship stories. We'll miss them.

But now it's all about Crokes and Corofin. When you look at both teams, you're filled with admiration for clubs which bring up footballers to play with these levels of both proficiency and freedom. Outstanding individuals contribute to making their systems work but at the root of it all are distinctive philosophies which value everything that's best about football.

The mother of all finals awaits. Bring it on.

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