Galway and Connacht champions Corofin will take the M6 motorway on Saturday morning to Tullamore to take on the Leinster and All-Ireland champions St Vincent’s in the eagerly anticipated All-Ireland football semi-final in O’Connor Park (2pm ).
Stephen Rochford’s charges were in sublime form before Christmas and annexed the Shane McGettigan Trophy with some ease against Ballintubber. However St Vincent’s have enjoyed similar success in Leinster.
Form is difficult to ring fence, and nobody is fully sure which side will come out of the blocks with all guns blazing this Saturday.
Rochford and his panel of players are fully aware of one indisputable fact - St Vincent’s boast huge talent in their ranks. On their day they play like a well-oiled machine and Corofin must not allow them get into top gear or they will be in trouble.
“We are under no illusions at all,” says Rochford. “They are a top class team and the best that is out there at the moment. They have quality players all over the pitch and no side comes out of the ultra-competitive Dublin championship two years in a row without being a really formidable outfit.
“Guys like Diarmuid Connolly, Mossie Quinn, Brendan Egan, Ger Brennan and Eamonn Fennell are all experienced intercounty players and they have a serious panel of players. We know we will have to produce a really top-class performance to get past them.
“However, that is the beauty of top level sport and we are really looking forward to the challenge we face on Saturday. To win an All-Ireland title at any grade, you have to beat the best teams out there, and that is what we have to do on Saturday if we are going to get to a final.
“We have prepared really well and thankfully we are injury free so we are just hoping we will perform to the standard required to get a win. It is a fantastic position to be in and we are looking forward to it.”
Rochford ( 36 ) is a branch manager with AIB in Castlerea and he knows what it takes to win an All-Ireland club title, as he collected one himself with Crossmolina on a team with players such as Tom and James Nallen and Ciaran McDonald in 2001.
Corofin have lost four All-Ireland club semi-finals since 1992 (Killarney Crokes, Laune Rangers, Kilmacud Crokes and St Gall’s – all four went on to win the title ) and they will need top-class displays and genuine leadership all over the field if they are to jump the high fence they face in two days’ time.
Tomas Healy is likely to be in goal and his kick-out strategy will be very important as he tries to give every advantage to his midfielders Daithí Burke and Ronan Steede.
The defensive pillars in front of him are likely to be former All-Star Kieran Fitzgerald and former All-Ireland winning u-21 captain Alan Burke.
Both those men will have to lead the defensive charge and get support from players such as Liam Silke and Kieran “Gizzie” McGrath.
It will be interesting to see who is assigned to pick up the intimidating Diarmuid Connolly, who riddled Castlebar Mitchels in the club final last year and was in transcendent form for Dublin too in the intercounty championship.
Up front Corofin will look to Gary Sice, Micheal Lundy, Ian Burke and team captain Michael Farragher to provide the match winning scores.
It promises to be a really high quality tussle and the bookies have St Vincent’s as slight favourites at evens, with the men from the N17 at 11/10 and the draw is at 15/2
Calling it is not easy, but you would imagine that Corofin will be put to the pin of their collar to advance.