Joe Brolly

JOE BROLLY: The story of David and Adam

DAVID Clifford. Scored 12 points in the Kerry intermediate final last weekend then missed the vital one at the end to force penalties. It’s all very well scoring the unimportant ones. What a loser.

Used to be you could drive two miles to see a game of football. Nowadays, you have to drive 300 (to see Fossa) or 200, to see Corofin. When I checked into the Dean Hotel in Galway on Saturday, the staff had thoughtfully left a framed photograph of Mickey Harte on my bed surrounded by flowers. What a pity. I used to like that hotel.

An hour later, I was sitting beside Adam Nagle in the stand in Salthill aka Siberia. Adam plays for the Corofin u-7s. He told me all their training sessions are split into 50 per cent left foot and 50 per cent right foot. “I’ll soon be able to kick points with my left foot like Gary Sice,” he told me. In many clubs, our young people will play the game but they won’t go to watch one. Not in Corofin.

There is no point playing a sweeper against them. All that does is give them seven forwards. So, Ballina were quickly befuddled. Like nearly every team, they are used to coming out of their defence under little pressure, bringing the ball forward slowly, then probing to create a gap up front. They play to the modern formula, like every other Division One team in Mayo.

I either went to the majority of Mayo senior championship games or watched them on Mayo TV (€15 a pop) and there was more or less nothing to see. The best bit of this graveyard of football was John Maughan’s commentary for Mayo TV in the final, where he apologised to the viewers for how terrible the game was, was delighted when Aidan O’Shea missed the free to equalise at the end (“I don’t think I could bear a replay”) and said this at the final whistle. ” That’s the worst county final I’ve ever had to witness. That’s the way football has gone unfortunately. A truly terrible game of football. Let’s hope the GAA president who is here today takes urgent action. It’s no surprise a stream of people left at half time.”

The Corofin GAA community, led by the great Frank Morris, are not sheep. Unlike the rest of the country, they are not sheep. Against them, a sweeper system does not work. They keep all six forwards up and press like Liverpool. If there are sweepers, they push up on them too, making it virtually impossible for them to get out and hemming them in in the manner of Manchester City. Twelve times in the first half they dispossessed a Ballina man frantically trying to get out of his half. It was a blitzkrieg of skill and adventure and sophistication and toughness, with Ballina desperately clinging on. They kicked long and short, dragged Ballina all over the field, attacked from everywhere and were relentless. Only the gale spared Ballina. By half-time it was 0-9 to 0-3 and the game was over. Kevin O’Brien, Corofin’s manager when they won their three in a row of All-Irelands, was sitting behind me. His wife Emer said, “I used to bring two children to the games, since he retired I bring three.” “Will the gale help Ballina?” I said. “No, our boys love playing against the wind,” Kevin said, grinning like a Cheshire cat.

The second half showed their true invention. Six points up half way through, they continued to attack and press, weaving bewildering patterns that no defence could anticipate, refusing to play the ball back to the goalie. Refusing to “manage the game” or “kill it” or “control possession.” Ballina went from six down to only three behind in the 50th minute, but Corofin were indifferent.

They simply continued to do their thing, bewildering Ballina and delighting the crowd, launching attacks from everywhere including their own full back line and stretching the lead out to six again by the 60th minute. Ballina got two consolation points at the end and battled hard throughout, but the game was rigged against them. They were the B team wearing bibs.

The problem that Ballina faced, which is the problem everyone they play faces, is that this was the first time this year (in fact the first time in several years) that Ballina have been in a football game; a game where they were forced to play and show their stuff. Corofin meanwhile have been doing this since they were seven years old.

It was a lesson to Ballina that they are well capable of playing football if they break away from the robotic sameness of modern football. They have plenty of good players and in Evan Regan they have a special one. But in truth, it was the terrible conditions that spared them. Their entire coaching staff and board should go back to the …. board, and start drawing new plans on it.

In an era of mass produced football, Corofin are a miracle of originality. Leaving afterwards, the crowd was buzzing. We had witnessed something special. Something that reminds us that Gaelic football is a game. And when it is played this way, a very special game.

On behalf of the people of Ireland, Thank you Corofin.

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