Twelve years ago in February 1998 Corofin footballers travelled up to Donegal as underdogs to take on Joe Brolly and Dungiven in the All-Ireland club semi-final.
The bookies and the papers fancied the Derry and Ulster champions. However Corofin won.
On Saturday at 7.30pm the club will face the 2009 Antrim and Ulster champions, St Gall’s under lights in Parnell Park (Dublin ), again as underdogs.
Aidan Donnellan, who will line out at midfield this weekend, is the only Corofin player who started that game and the subsequent All-Ireland club final in 1988.
The Caherhugh man has been around the block. He captained a Galway minor team to an All-Ireland final back in 1994 and still commands a regular starting jersey on the Corofin seniors.
He knows the drill and appreciates what has to be done by the entire Corofin panel if they are to join the Portumna hurlers in Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day.
“St Gall’s are a very fine team,” he says. “They had a few big wins in Ulster, especially their 10-point victory over Clontibret from Monaghan, and we will have to be at our very best to beat them.”
Donnellan believes last Sunday’s postponement due to snow is a positive for Corofin.
“We have had a lot of annoying injuries and the extra week should be a big boost for lads like Ronan Steede, Cathal Silke, Gary Delaney and Greg Higgins. We know the magnitude of the challenge we face, but that is a good thing as we know that we must focus 100 per cent on the job and not get side-tracked by anything except the job in hand.
“The game is under lights, is on TV, and there should be a big crowd there, but we must keep our mind on the prize at stake, which is a place in an All-Ireland final.”
Corofin’s win ratio at this stage is not good. They have played in four All-Ireland semi-finals, 1993, 1995, 1998 and 2008, but won only won one. That is not a statistic to which Donnellan wants to add.
“Against Kilmacud last year, we let them pull away in the last quarter. We need to be mindful of that and not let it happen this Saturday. I expect this game to go down to the wire and we will need to keep our focus for the full 60 or 70 minutes that it takes to win. We have a lot of hard work put in over the past ten months and we now have to produce a big performance.”
Donnellan teaches PE and English at the Holy Rosary in Mountbellew and he knows from first hand experience as a teacher and football coach the work that has to take place in the background to achieve success.
“It has been a real team and club effort with Corofin and the management team all year. For example, Martin McNamara [team coach] has kept us on our toes. He is extremely organised, commands respect, and has loads of game focused drills with lots of variety.
“Likewise Michael Comer, who would be playing only for injury, has also taken some sessions and worked on our weight programme and core strength. He has lots of experience from his work with the Kingfisher in Tuam and it is fantastic to see him involved. And Joey Power has also been doing lots of one-to-one work with the three goalkeepers and there is great competition within the whole squad. Unless everyone is pulling in the same direction and giving their all for what is good for the club, you won’t have success.”
Donnellan knows that the chances of getting to All-Ireland club finals do not come around too often and need to be snapped up.
“There is no guarantee that I or anyone else on our panel will ever get to this stage again. So we will be giving it everything we have on Saturday night. It’s just another game with a ball and 15 players against 15.
“You have to go out and focus on the performance. If the majority of us win our individual battles and perform as we can, we will get to the final. As Kilmurry-Ibrickane proved last Sunday against Portlaoise, if the craving for success is there, a lot can be achieved.
“We need to match and better St Gall’s intensity and work-rate and then see who has the better footballers on the night.”