As Donegal prepare for Mayo’s visit, Corofin and Kilcoo tussled it out in a dour All-Ireland Club Football final last Sunday, and Ballyhale, the Kilkenny champions won the hurling decider.
The one common denominator regarding both winning teams was that they both come from regions with a population of approximately 600 people, so big is not necessary to be beautiful in terms of All-Ireland success at club level in Gaelic games.
While no one in Corofin will worry, this was without doubt their worst display in a final; the football played by both sides was pockmarked by elementary mistakes. The kicking was very poor with the ball being kicked over the sideline, and the free kicks were less than clinical and turnovers were a feature of the play by both outfits.
Indeed Kilcoo had three gilt edged opportunities to win the game in injury time, but their accuracy let them down when the Galway side were under real pressure.
Corofin, in extra time, were a much improved outfit, who could teach many teams about weathering the vicissitudes of fortune when the heat is on.
When Kilcoo got their late equaliser after about ten minutes of extra time it seemed that the momentum might be with them in overtime, but it was the Galway side who regrouped best, and their management spotted the need for reinforcements, and the players who came on made a big impression when introduced.
The defensive football on display in this game resulted in Kilcoo scoring three points in the first half and that was enough to give them the lead as they only conceded two first half scores.
This made the game a first half bore and it was only in extra-time that that the organisation and execution of Corofin saw them prevail.
In trying to understand why this Corofin side has created history by becoming the first team ever to win three successive club finals - for which they deserve great credit - there are some obvious answers to this question.
The camaraderie in the squad is second to none. They have grown up together - and won Galway championships for fun. They play as if they would go through anything for each other. There is a closeness among the team, and they have leaders in every line on the pitch.
Kilcoo made it to their first club final by playing attacking effective football, but on Sunday they played without their mystique, their menace and their organisation.
Their manager Mickey Moran played a major role in leading his team to this final, but by resorting to a defensive approach it seemed like a damage limitation job.
I never ever saw a team who set up in an ultra-defensive mode prevail.
The honest endeavour that saw Corofin win when not at their best went a long way to seeing them create history, and I don’t believe that any team will or can emulate their magnificent achievement.
Coming home to Corofin on Sunday night this team would have difficulty grasping the meaning of their achievement.
No doubt young people were singing, old people were crying, ,and mothers were probably holding up babies. Corofin will never ever forget winning their momentous three in a row.
Mayo a dangerous opponent
On Saturday evening, Mayo come to Donegal for the opening league game. The first priority in league football is to retain first division status and to achieve this it is imperative for a team to win their home games.
At this stage Donegal owe Mayo one because since the All Ireland win in 2012 Mayo have proved a very difficult opponent for Donegal.
In Ballybofey two years ago, Mayo etched out an extra-time equaliser which plunged Donegal into second division football, while our Super 8 defeat in Castlebar last summer was a very poor performance.
Some people have tended to write Mayo off after a number of years when they were Dublin’s biggest threat to the elusive five in a row, but they still have a lot of good players in their ranks, and in James Horan, they have a very shrewd presence on the sideline.
Horan has his team playing with a sense of desire, spirit and fight and Donegal seem to bring out the best in Mayo.
One major negative for Mayo is the loss of their brilliant forward Andy Moran who retired at the end of Mayo’s championship campaign last year. Moran’s genius lay in his vision, bravery ,and his effortless command of the games most subtle tricks and skills. He was a wonderful player and he will be an exceptionally difficult act to follow.
After playing a very experimental team in a short Dr. McKenna Cup campaign it will be more than interesting to see Donegal’s line out for this game.
Playing at home should be a bit of an advantage to Donegal but Mayo have wonderful supporters who will have no problem travelling to Donegal, and games between these sides always generate a good atmosphere.
My wish for football this year would be that we would see the revival of three great skills: catching, kicking and scoring long range points.
Tinkering with the rules has failed to eradicate some blemishes, but I live in hope, and a Donegal win on Saturday night would set an optimistic mood for the season ahead.
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