Football the drug that unites Corofin - Rochford
STEPHEN ROCHFORD was the first outsider appointed to manage Corofin, but he quickly discovered a striking similarity between this north Galway powerhouse and his native Crossmolina.
"They've a drug of football," he explains.
He recognised the trait, coming from a similar rural idyll in north Mayo where everything revolved around the local club. They achieved the ultimate in 2001, becoming the first Mayo winners of the AIB All-Ireland club SFC crown with Rochford at corner-back … and now, 14 years later, the same man is hoping to engineer a second All-Ireland title for Corofin.
"The thing that mirrors Crossmolina is that it's a rural area with football the number one passion," he expands.
"It's two parishes of Belclare and Corofin married together. But they're just fanatics about their football.
"I mean, you go there on a Tuesday night mid-summer and you'd find it hard to get parking in Belclare. There's U10s, there's ladies going on, U14s are coming out training the same time you're going."
As Corofin's first outside boss, he accepts there may have been some local "trepidation" but the committee and players have all been very supportive.
"I'm married and living in Ballinrobe in south Mayo. I actually applied for the Mayo U21 job back in October 2012, and it was probably a bit public that I didn't get that job. At the same time, about two weeks later, I got a phone call off Corofin; met them; and the rest is history."
They won Galway in his first season but fell to Castlebar in Connacht. Their status as ultimate contenders became apparent as they blazed a trail through Galway last year (winning their county semi-final by 24 points and the final by 18) and then Connacht (routing Aughawillan by a jaw-dropping 35 points and Ballintubber by nine).
Their recent semi-final against the holders, St Vincent's, was dressed up by some pundits as the final in all but name … in which case, a 1-14 to 1-9 victory surely leaves Corofin with one hand on the Andy Merrigan Cup? Rochford, predictably, rubbishes such idle talk. Slaughtneil wouldn't have been on his radar but they are now.
"They have a number of big name players - Chrissy McKaigue, Patsy Bradley, Paul Bradley - similar to Vincent's. They probably play a little bit more defensive from the point of view they get the numbers back and then they break very quickly," he says.
"I was in Portlaoise for the semi-final (against Austin Stacks). I was hugely impressed by their appetite for work, unwillingness to bow.
"As a Mayo person, I've seen Kieran Donaghy stick the knife in - and they weren't rattled by it. They played against the breeze; they didn't shoot a wide until five minutes to go in the game. That's a serious stat."