Galway champions Corofin will face off against Mayo champions Castlebar Mitchels this Sunday in what promises to be an intriguing Connacht senior club final in Tuam Stadium (2pm ). Last year in the Connacht semi-final, Corofin beat Castlebar after extra-time in McHale Park before going on to defeat St Brigid's in the final.
However the Corofin players will not need any reminding that in the 2015 provincial final, which was played in Tuam Stadium, they went down by 2-10 to 0-11 - Mitchels inspired by midfielder Barry Moran, who scored a splendid goal, and 1-3 from Neil Doughlas. Both teams have changed significantly since then with Corofin having new personnel in their starting team such as Bernard Power, Jason Leonard, Kieran Molloy and Colin Brady.
Defender Cathal Silke is available for selection for Kevin O'Brien's squad after being suspended for the provincial semi-final, but the loss of Galway player Micheal Lundy after an appendix operation will be a blow for Corofin. In their semi-final win over St Brigid's Corofin mixed some superb passages of attacking play with some terribly loose defending, and they will really have to watch their free count as it was the concession of some soft frees which forced that game to injury time.
Sligo referee Marty Duffy is the man in middle on Sunday, and hugely experienced Corofin players, such as team captain Ciaran McGrath and Kieran Fitzgerald, will know they will have to bring their top game to Tuam if they are to keep the Castlebar men at bay.
Fitzgerald wary of Castlebar qualities
Corofin's full-back Kieran Fitzgerald, who turns 37 on the first day of the new year, is delighted to be back in another provincial final, and speaking at the AIB GAA’s media day he considers next Sunday to be a 50:50 game.
“Castlebar have been knocking on the door in All-Ireland finals either side of the year we won it (2014/2015 ), so they’re a formidable outfit. They're well-coached and hugely determined. They will come to Tuam on Sunday full of confidence, and while we're delighted to be back there, that’s only half the job really.”
"Fitzie", as he is known in GAA circles, and some of his teammates have already won four senior provincial medals in '08, '09 and 2014 and 2016. The 2001 All-Star also has All-Ireland senior medals with Galway from 2001 and Corofin in 2015 and he pointed out that he loves seeing the excitement and fun football brings to the parish. You see what the parish gets from it. They’re in and they’re talking about it before and after the games. It’s a huge buzz for them as well. For us to be part of that, or to create that, is huge. That's one of the big things, as I’ve got older, I realise the effect we can have on people by playing football. In rural Ireland, these club games are a real social event, from the match-day breakfast in the morning in Corofin, all the way to the after-game drinks, it’s a huge social event."
Professionalism is now the standard
Having made his debut with Corofin seniors almost 20 years ago, Fitzgerald has witnessed first-hand the way all top clubs have embraced a far more professional approach over the past decade. "The standards of the club scene have risen incrementally every year,” he explains.
“There are extra little bits every year. Activation work before training, even a few years ago you wouldn’t be thinking about that. Analysis and your diet and physio… medical teams, it has gone up. The club scene is probably where the county scene was two or three years ago, and the inter-county scene I’m sure has pushed on even further now."
Fitzgerald and some of his other veteran teammates have seen it all before in a Corofin jersey. Now in the twilight of their careers, they understandably want to savour and enjoy all the big games and big occasions that they can. And they do not come much bigger than a senior provincial final at home against high quality Mayo opposition.