Former Corofin man Donnellan plotting to derail champions' bid for five-in-a-row
Galway kingpins Corofin face a serious threat to their reign from a determined Mountbellew-Moylough side in the county final at Tuam Stadium tomorrow.
Corofin, winners of 18 titles in all, and ten from 2000-2016 inclusive, are now chasing a fifth Frank Fox Memorial trophy success in a row.
That is an impressive pedigree, but one which has been built on hard work, dedication, and a determination to stay on top by all concerned in the Corofin club structure for the last 17 years and more.
Remember, the North Galway side won five senior football championships in the 1990s, and captured their first All-Ireland club victory in 1998.
More recently, Corofin were again top of the heap in Ireland by virtue of their 2015 St Patrick's Day defeat of Derry's Slaughtneil.
Last year they won Connacht again, but came a cropper to Colm Cooper's eventual All-Ireland champions Dr Crokes, at the semi-final stage.
At the end of that 2-11 to 0-8 loss in February, Corofin manager Kevin O'Brien, who replaced Stephen Rochford when the latter took over Mayo, sent a message of defiance to those who might have thought his club's era of success was over.
"They'll be there again in 2017, I've no doubt about that.
"When you get to this level, to the top four in the country, teams just have it on the day. You go back to two years ago, we probably had a bit of luck on the day, and that's the way it works.
"We won't be going anywhere, I guarantee you that," said O'Brien.
The manager has been as good as his word, and so have his team.
They now stand on the brink of a landmark five-in-a-row in Galway, but the mantra of 'one game at a time' which has served the club so well for so long has been embedded into the Corofin psyche.
Standing in their way are Mountbellew-Moylough, who seek their first county SFC win since 1986. They are, intriguingly, managed by Corofin man Michael Donnellan.
Donnellan - not to be confused with the dual All-Ireland winner of the same name - played on the 1998 All-Ireland club-winning team for Corofin and won seven county and three Connacht club titles.
He took over Mountbellew-Moylough this year and their run to the decider included a win by 17 points over Monivea-Abbey in the semi-final. If there is any advantage to be gained from his inside knowledge of Corofin, Donnellan can utilise that in the cause of the challengers tomorrow.
However, Corofin have been on the success road so long that opponents know all they need to know about the inherent qualities of the dominant club football force in the county.
The problem is how to stop them in their tracks at the business end of the championship, something which no club has managed since a 2012 semi-final loss to Tuam Stars.
Veteran Joe Bergin, who was on the Galway All-Ireland winning team of 2001 with Corofin's Kieran Fitzgerald, has played an important role in the Mountbellew-Moylough season.
His club lost county finals to Corofin in 2009 and in 2015 after a replay, so Bergin hopes this is a case of third time lucky.
"This is my 20th season now, so I've seen a few different teams," Bergin told GAA.ie earlier this week. "The team in 2015 was very young, the boys were barely out of minor. It was their first taste of senior really, and they have developed big time."
At this stage, the Mountbellew-Moylough stalwart believes the wait is over for those young players to make the adjustment to senior level.
"They had bundles of talent, but the key thing and the challenge for everyone involved was evolving from underage to senior adult football. It is a lot different. It is more physical, it is more a game of attrition.
"The free-flowing underage football where a lad could nearly run the length of the field and not get touched, that doesn't happen in senior club football. That took a bit of time to get used to and in fairness to them they've knuckled down and worked very hard."
Fitzgerald has won 11 county senior medals with Corofin and goes in search of number 12 tomorrow.
The defender is keeping a low profile this week and his former Galway comrade Bergin would be happy if that's how it stays on the pitch.
"It is great, I get on great with Fitzy. Himself and myself played on many teams together down through the years and battled against each other as well," said Bergin.
"Hopefully he will do me a favour now, he is long enough playing with them, and he might take it a little easier on Sunday."