Giant-killers Cortoon Shamrocks are just one step from their first county title and a successful end to their fairytale championship when they face favourites Corofin in Sunday’s Claregalway Hotel Senior Football Championhip final at Pearse Stadium (1.30pm ).
Apart from dyed-in-the-wool Corofin supporters, the rest of the county would love to see Cortoon win their first senior title.
Their run to the final has been fairytale stuff. They have seen off Killererin, Annaghdown, Salthill, and NUIG as if they were old hands at sitting in on the top table of club football in the county. Theirs has been a remarkable step-up in class for a club that only came up to senior in 2003. And now they are only 60 minutes from being crowned the best senior club in the county. That’s serious progression.
There are many reasons for the rapid advancement. Most notably young talent like David Finnegan, Donal O’ Neill, and Michael Martin have stepped up and taken on leadership roles in the team.
Likewise the decision of former All-Star and club captain Derek Savage to focus exclusively on the club this season has helped them to establish a consistent pattern of play and gather considerable momentum going into this final. Savage’s work-rate on the field of play and his experience, leadership, and self-belief have made him a wonderful role model for the younger members of the squad. Savage is a model pro who has always maximised his ability and he has been a massive factor in Cortoon reaching this stage.
Another part of their jigsaw was the appointment of Dublin native Barry Downey as club manager. Downey had recently relocated to Cortoon and his was an inspired choice. He oozes modesty, despite possessing a massive knowledge of football and tactical awareness. Not unlike Mickey Harte he deflects praise from himself and instead is wholesome in his praise for the commitment and honesty shown by his panel of players for the cause.
“I offered a different voice coming in last March and it suited the lads this year. They have been magnificent and have done anything that has been asked of them. Every player on the panel has a terrific attitude and their work-rate both on and off the field makes them a joy to be involved with.”
Downey is the first to admit that his side have been underdogs all year and will again be this Sunday.
“It is a great way to be and everyone knows about Corofin. They are a club that would be nationally recognised and they deserve to be favourites based on their successes in the past two decades. However we are here on merit and a final is there to be won. We are under no pressure and very few expect us to beat Corofin. The pressure is on them to perform and collect another county title. There is no pressure on us.”
However he knows there are no guarantees about getting back to a county final anyt ime soon and he wants to make this opportunity count.
“Some will feel it has been a great achievement by us to get to the final, but we have not got to this final the easy way and now that we are here, we want to win it.”
While most commentators have been raving on about the Cortoon attack, Downey has a special word for his defenders. “Guys like Brian Gilmore, Brian Roche, John Martin, Donal O’ Neill and David Finnegan have been outstanding all season and they held teams like Killererin and Salthll to just seven points. We have some tremendous forwards, but our defending is something we are very proud of and we know that it will have to stay at the top level next Sunday afternoon if we are to collect any silverware.”
Corofin selector Eddie Steede, who famously kicked 0-7 of a total of nine points for his club in the county final of 1997 against Dunmore, knows the challenge his side faces.
“Cortoon have been very impressive in all their games to date. You only have to look at the calibre of the teams they have beaten to get to the final. They have had the toughest side of the draw getting to the final and we will be treating them with the utmost respect. We know that it will take a top class performance from us to beat them.”
Steede, who along with Pat Curley, Brian Silke, and Ger Keane, make up Jimmy Sice’s backroom team, has some genuine concerns about this tie; “We have been very sluggish in all our games and we need to start a lot better than we have been doing. We have been working on that, however it is something we need to get right for this weekend. If we let Cortoon get a lead up, they will be extremely difficult to rein in.
“Up front we need more composure from our forwards and they will have to be at the top of their game to get much from Cortoon’s backs who are tenacious and defend in numbers. Unless we work like demons all over the field, we will find ourselves in big trouble. A final at any level is never easily won and unless we improve on the performances we have delivered to get here, we will not be county champions. It’s that simple.”
Corofin do have some injury woes. Michael Comer twigged his hamstring against Caherlistrane and he and Kieran Fitzgerald are still on the physio table.
A victory for Cortoon would not be a major shock and at almost 2/1 they represent good value. The key man that Corofin must stop is Derek Savage. He is Cortoon’s talisman, and if he was nullified, then the balance would swing massively to Corofin. However stopping Savo is no easy task.
Corofin will relish playing in Pearse stadium and the mobility of Alan Burke, Joe Canney, Gary Sice, Kieran McGrath, and Greg Higgins if they open their shoulders for the hour may be the deciding factor. It will be a dogfight and Corofin will need to play a lot better than they have so far this season to collect.
They will have to be much more clinical up front then they were against Caherlistrane. However their fluid running game should cause Cortoon a lot of problems, and if a few of their forwards show some genuine leadership, guile, and keep the wide count down, I would expect them to annex their ninth county title since 1991.
The county senior football final is live on TG4 this Sunday. Coverage starts at 3pm.