THE LAST TIME an All-Ireland club football title was on offer, Kieran Fitzgerald was immersed in the heat of the action.
That was back in January 2020, his last act as a Corofin player was a winning one, he signed off on a joyous note as the north Galway club football dynasty completed three-in-a-row.
It was their fourth national crown in six seasons but Fitzgerald had experienced the flipside when county and provincial titles could not translate into the greatest club prize of all.
In that 2020 decider they prevailed after extra-time in a gruelling battle with Kilcoo.
The Down club have returned to that final stage next Saturday, when they pit themselves against Kilmacud Crokes, and aim to complete a mission they have been on.
Since 2009, Kilcoo have won ten county titles and Ulster silverware has finally arrived in 2019 and 2021.
They just need an All-Ireland to complete the set and Fitzgerald can relate to the scenario where the pursuit of that trophy consumes a club.
“We were in that position down through the years where we were winning county championships and winning Connacht which was great but eventually you want to get to the next step and Kilcoo are at that now. They have won in Down, two in a row in Ulster and they nearly got there two years ago against us. I have no doubt that they are consumed by the pursuit of that All-Ireland championship.
“They play like guys who are thinking like that and from my experience from playing against them, they were like men possessed to get over that line. I can totally appreciate where they are coming from and in many respects for a rural club like that – like we were in Corofin – to get over that line you nearly have to be 24/7 thinking about it.”
Kilcoo’s style of football is well-defined and while Corofin faced an array of contenders in their various seasons playing on the Galway, Connacht and All-Ireland stages, Fitzgerald rates that 2020 battle as ‘one of the toughest games of club football’ he encountered.
“I’m really interested in it. There are loads of different ways of winning and that was what worked for us. What works for Kilcoo is a different form of football, that’s what they believe in, and best of luck to them. They nearly won it two years ago against us and we really struggled with that.
“They’re tough opposition, they made it so difficult for us, they were one of the toughest, most aggressive teams I’ve ever played against, and I mean that as a compliment.
“They made us earn that and it was one of the toughest games of club football I’ve ever played in. They nearly did it and I fancy them this weekend.
“Tackling, work rate, their organisation, their discipline in the defensive structure, the turnovers, the way they tackled, they led you up alleys, there’s a method to their defence, they encourage you to go up avenues then they turn you over and break.
Kilcoo manager Mickey Moran.
Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO
“They have very talented forwards and when they break they break well, wing-backs like the Branagans break at speed, Johnson up front. Mickey Moran has them well tuned and it’s going to be a very interesting final.
“They are going to have a massive test against Kilmacud Crokes, even though they are minus Paul Mannion. They are a fine outfit as well so it will be an intriguing contest, it will be low-scoring possibly and tight but I do fancy Kilcoo.”
Fitzgerald brought a decorated playing career to a close after that 2020 club final, moving into a role as part of the Corofin management team for the past two seasons, something which aided his transition.
“I had my decision made to retire coming up to the Kilcoo All-Ireland final which seems so long ago now. Then obviously Covid hit and there was no football at all, so everybody wasn’t playing, so it wasn’t only me. It was great to play for years under Kevin O’Brien but probably didn’t have a full realisation of the extent of the work those guys were doing behind the scenes to keep the Corofin machine going.
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“It was an eye opener for me to cross to the other side and see how that worked and obviously I was happy to play a small part in it.”
The theme of change in Corofin’s fortunes has been created by new county champions in Galway for the past two seasons in Moycullen and Mountbellew-Moylough.
Going into 2022 they will have a new manager at the helm in Kevin Johnson after Kevin O’Brien brought his hugely successful spell to a close late last year.
Kieran Fitzgerald celebrating the 2019 All-Ireland final win with Kevin O’Brien and Ciaran McGrath.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
After three All-Ireland club title wins as a boss, Fitzgerald feels O’Brien has the capability to move into inter-county management in the future if he desires.
“I don’t know what his ambitions are but he is very well capable of it. He is a hugely organised guy, very considerate and a great planner. He is so structured and organised, a great man manager.
“He has all the attributes to be an inter-county manager if that is the route he wants to go down but I am not sure exactly what his ambitions are. He is a super manager, he knows how players tick and I would not be surprised if he did go down that route.”
- Kieran Fitzgerald’s Laochra Gael episode airs on TG4 this week on Thursday night at 9.30pm
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