‘Sometimes you wonder has the fun gone out of gaelic football a little bit’
Former Galway goalkeeper Martin McNamara tells Donnchadh Boyle about the changes he's witnessed since helping Corofin make the county title breakthrough in 1991
It's probably too simplistic to call the 1991 Galway final win the starting point of Corofin's emergence as a national force in terms of club football.
As the club's former All Star goalkeeper Martin McNamara points out, the raw materials were already there, they were just performing below their potential to that point.
But when the breakthrough came, thanks to a little slice of fortune to help them past a fancied Salthill side, it kicked started a wave of momentum that hasn't stopped since.
Things haven't always been so straight forward for the club. That 1991 success was just the fourth county title in their history and their first since 1977 but it marked a turning point. Since then the longest they have gone without winning a county title was the three seasons between the 2002 and 2006 wins. In the 28 campaigns since '91, they have mopped up an incredible 16 county titles.
"We were always tipping about, I suppose, but a guy called Ger Hanley came in training us (in '91) and he brought a little bit of professionalism to it whereas before it was all about having the craic," McNamara explains.
"It showed us a different way of doing things and we just had a bit of luck. We came up against a super Salthill team who had about 15 club players and every one of them had played county football at some stage up along the way.
"In fairness they were probably way better than us, but we did everything right on the day and we got the bit of luck as well. A ball hit the post with a couple of minutes to go. They are still arguing about whether it was a goal or not. It seemed to go our way in the drawn game and then we beat them comfortably enough in the second game."
That win lit a fire that still burns today. Around the same time, Corofin's underage system cranked into gear and they won eight minor titles on the bounce.
"Maybe we were sleeping giants to an extent," McNamara explains.
"Frank Morris had been playing and hadn't been concentrating on the coaching but he had a serious cruciate ligament injury and that time when you had a cruciate you were finished. The medical side of it wasn't as advanced as it is now.
"Luckily for Corofin he got stuck into the coaching and a lot of the younger guys were coming through then - there was a lot of them coming - and by the time we got to the mid 90s you were getting two and three lads off a minor team every year which is a great thing for any senior team."
The crowning glory of the 1990s came on St Patrick's day in 1998 when they defeating Dublin's Erin's Isle for their first All-Ireland club title. That was a particularly memorable few months for McNamara, who would go on to win Sam Maguire with Galway that summer as well as an All Star award.
He modestly insists the breaks fell his way. Pat Comer, who had represented Ireland at International Rules, was injured that year and it was just before Alan Keane, who was between the posts for Galway's 2001 triumph, emerged.
Those were very different times. There are equal amounts of admiration and relief in McNamara's voice when he sees where the game has gone.
There's admiration for the monkish existence players today live out in pursuit of their footballing goals. The relief comes from the fact his career ended just before things got really serious.
"The way the guys train is outstanding really. And the shape they get themselves into is just a professional level. But sometimes you wonder is the fun gone out of it a little bit? Their whole lives are taken over by it. The fun element seems to be slipping out of it a little bit."
His Corofin team knew how to both win and have fun. The weekend before big games, they'd organise a challenge game and on the way home "have a rake of pints."
"That was our preparation to get the lads together. If you said that to the young (Corofin) lads now they'd have you locked up. There was no such thing as the gym. If you mentioned the gym at all you were a big head - 'who do you think you are going to the gym?'"
Even at the peak of his powers in that memorable 1998 season, he took a detour to the Galway races on the way to training.
"When John O'Mahony was with Galway one year, myself and Tommy Joyce, it was race week which is a big week in Galway when you'd always love to go and have a couple of pints, well on the Thursday we decided we wouldn't go training we'd go to the races. The racing was on and the phones were going and O'Mahony rang.
"'Where are ya?'
"'Ah Jesus Johnno I'm at work I won't be able to make it.'
"And wasn't I standing under a tannoy and next thing it goes 'Winner alright, winner alright' - I didn't know what to say. It backfired on me anyway."
There's none of that these days.
Corofin have worked themselves into a position where they are one of the heavyweights in club football. And they have no intention of giving it up.
"It's lovely to watch them playing. A lot of the games are defensive and we have old fashion heads on us, we want to move the ball fast but that doesn't come easy.
The likes of Dave Morris and Mike Comer would have worked on that over and over again for the past number of years so they do play a lovely brand of football, and they can play defensive if they want but they play super attacking football.
"The time and effort they put into it, you don't have to go begging any of those guys to go to the gym or turn up training - it all follows on."
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