IN 1992 COLM Cooper sampled an All-Ireland football final adventure for the first time.
He was eight years of age. His formative football days shifted between kicking ball in Ardshanavooly in the heart of Killarney and getting a front-row view of the Dr Crokes senior team training on the Lewis Road.
His brothers were involved, Danny centre-forward in that St Patrick’s Day decider and Mark amongst the subs.
Colm was the prime candidate to be mascot on club final day in Croke Park. Before the Dr Crokes team took to the pitch, a steward firmly informed them that no mascots were allowed.
Goalkeeper Peter O’Brien – a neighbour and the man who bestowed the nickname ‘Gooch’ upon the future multi All-Ireland winner – ran out and kept the youngster close to him. The rest of the team followed and in the warm-up, the mascot helped test the netminder between the posts.
“The mascot only came in for the All-Ireland final,” laughed Vince Casey, full-forward on that team.
“He was with us alright all year, that was a good breeding ground for him. He was up kicking ball around training sessions.
“Colm just had a love for the game. He used to be taking shots on Peter above in the estate, that’s where a lot of the interest came from.
“It was Peter gave him the nickname (but) Peter used to have a nickname for everyone.”
Former Dr Crokes joint manager Vince Casey
Source: Gerry McManus/INPHO
Dr Crokes staved off Dublin’s Thomas Davis by a single point in that final. They’d reached the summit of All-Ireland club football. Ever since they’ve been trying to get back there but have hit frustrating roadblocks.
Tomorrow is the opportunity to take another major step towards ending that barren run. All-Ireland club semi-final day and Galway’s Corofin await in the Gaelic Grounds.
They’re two of the national club heavyweights, frequently demonstrating Gaelic football excellence in their bases in East Kerry and North Galway.
But tomorrow is only their second championship meeting, 25 years after they last crossed paths on the last four stage.
Before they would conquer Thomas Davis in the final, Dr Crokes plotted a route to Tuam Stadium on 1 March 1992 to face Corofin. In those days, there were no neutral venue choices.
“I don’t know how the format was that way,” stated Casey.
“Salthill beat us the year before. We played them in the Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney and it was amazing that it was Connacht Munster again in 1992.
“What I remember really was the goals we got early in the game. We got three goals in the first half and that’s what I think set it up for us really.
“They came back at us in the second half and Peter O’Brien made one particularly good save. You never take games for granted but we’d a comfortable lead going in at half-time.”
Irish Independent, 2 March 1992
Source: Irish News Archive
Now Corofin are accustomed to the club championship spotlight. Back then it was new and different for them.
“Lads mightn’t like it but we were a bit naive,” recalled Ray Silke, the 1998 Galway All-Ireland winning captain.
“Corofin hadn’t won a county title since ‘77 to ‘91. So it’s 14 years since we’d won it previously and it was the club’s first Connacht title ever (in 1991).
“So we were fairly green behind the ears. I think our preparation wasn’t as sophisticated as it became later and it’s at a different level now entirely obviously.”
Silke remembers the Corofin team being buried under the avalanche of early goals. Seeing their goalkeeper and county man Martin McNamara sent-off for the penalty that yielded Dr Crokes third goal, applied salt to their raw wounds.
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“For that penalty it was bizarre, I think Gerry Burke our midfielder went in goal for that. It was a bridge too far for Corofin. That was my feeling.
“They were a good fine side. I remember John Galvin at centre-back, Vince Casey, Pat O’Shea. The game was over by half-time.
“It’s a surprise that two such prominent clubs haven’t met since considering how many times Corofin have come out (of Galway).”
Cork Examiner, 2 March 1992
Source: Irish News Archive
Dr Crokes won 3-4 to 1-5 at the end. Corofin watched them go on to prosper as they lifted the Andy Merrigan Cup. They came back four years later and slugged it out with Laune Rangers on a wretched day in Ennis.
Another semi-final defeat, this time by 0-8 to 0-6. Eventually the pain of those defeats to Kerry opponents was channeled towards success in 1998.
Ray Silke and Corofin finally triumphed in 1998
Source: © INPHO
“What we said to ourselves is both teams that have beaten us, have gone on to win the All-Ireland club, so maybe we’re not that far away,” outlined Silke.
In 1998 they had their day in the sun against Dublin opponents, 0-15 to 0-10 victors against Erins Isle. They’d added a few players since 1992 but the core of that side remained and experience told.
39-year-old midfielder Gerry Burke was immense and kicked three splendid points off his left. He was man-of-the-match and captain Silke got to lift the cup on the Hogan Stand.
Irish Independent, 18 March 1998
Source: Irish Newspaper Archive
As they prepare to renew acquaintances, Corofin and Dr Crokes both find themselves in the midst of trophy-laden eras.
Consider their respective senior football championship records over the past decade.
- 7 Galway SFC titles from 8 final appearances.
- 4 Connacht SFC titles from 6 final appearances.
- 2 All-Ireland semi-final losses (Kilmacud Crokes 2009 and St Galls 2010).
- 1 All-Ireland final win (Slaughtneil 2015).
Michael Farragher was the Corofin winning captain in 2015
Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
- 5 Kerry SFC titles from 6 final appearances.
- 4 Munster SFC titles from 5 final appearances.
- 3 All-Ireland semi-final losses (Crossmaglen Rangers 2012, Ballymun Kickhams 2013 and Castlebar Mitchels 2014).
Ambrose O’Donovan shows Dr Crokes dejection in 2014
Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO
The glaring difference is this group of Corofin players managed to enter the winners enclosure on St Patrick’s Day two years ago, whereas Dr Crokes have found the semi-final stage to be the graveyard of their ambitions.
Casey believes parallels can be drawn between both clubs.
“Both teams really have similar profiles. I think if you were looking at what stands out in relation to both clubs, there are similarities between them.
“They have put a huge amount of resources and emphasis on their underage structure and we would have done similar.”
A super Sunday for provincial champions Dr Crokes, Slaughtneil and Corofin. The All-Ireland club series awaits them. #gaa #thetoughest #allireland #drcrokes #corofin #slaughtneil
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For Silke, comparisons with club preparations now to those days in the early 90′s are futile.
““The current Corofin squad are much more sophisticated, much more organised than we were in 1991. These guys have won four-in-a-row now, which is poor for Galway football at many levels but that’s not Corofin’s fault.
“Corofin at the moment aren’t judging their success by winning the county title. I’m sure Dr Crokes are similar. The professionalism of club sides now is huge with things like video analysis.
“Corofin went down to Limerick for a weekend, I’m sure Crokes did the same. Someone said to me, top club level now is probably similar enough to inter-county in some counties.”
There’s a strong desire to succeed fueling both squads. For veterans like Kieran Fitzgerald and Alan Burke on the Corofin side, Cooper and Eoin Brosnan in the Dr Crokes camp, there is a realisation that these opportunities are more precious at this stage of their careers.
You don’t have to look far for family links to 1992. Gavin O’Shea’s father Pat and Johnny Buckley’s father Mike both triumphed 25 years ago. Now they serve as manager and selector respectively.
Vince Casey’s nephew Daithi won the AIB Munster club footballer of the year award after his pre-Christmas exploits for Dr Crokes. Eddie ‘Tatler’ O’Sullivan, a Dr Crokes figurehead who steered the managerial reins for the All-Ireland club win, is a current selector.
For Corofin, Ray Silke and his brother Brian – who’d rehabilitated from a broken leg – played in that semi-final loss to Tuam. Brian’s sons Cathal and Liam now anchor the defence.
Ollie Burke and Eddie Steede were corner-back and full-forward back then, tomorrow their sons Ian and Ronan will have a critical influence.
And then there’s Gerry Burke, the veteran star of the 1998 success, whose son Daithi dovetails between producing powerful displays for Corofin and winning All-Stars for his Galway hurling shows.
Daithi Burke in action for Galway in last year’s All-Ireland senior semi-final
Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
The two clubs haven’t encountered each other at senior level at since, not even on the challenge game circuit. But Vince Casey has witnessed the capabilities of Corofin up close.
“I remember I was in charge of the U14 Féile team, which Daithi (Casey) and Johnny Buckley were playing in. 2003 it was.
“And we played Corofin in the first game up in Galway. Jeez I remember it, they hammered us, they beat us off the pitch.
“Ever since they’ve been strong and I’m sure some of those Corofin lads are still playing. For us it’s brilliant to be back at this stage.”
“We’re up at the top range now with these clubs,” says Silke.
“If there’s 10 top clubs in Ireland, these four (including St Vincent’s and Slaughtneil) are definitely in the top ten.
“There’s no effort being spared in order to try and get the club back to Croke Park. (Dr) Crokes are a fine side, a lot of county players.
“They’re one of the marquee sides in club football. They’ll want this just as badly.”
– First published 18.30, 10 February
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