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'Hard on the field and a gentleman off it' - All-Ireland final opponents 15 years apart

Gary Sice and Conor Laverty were back in opposition in Croke Park on Sunday.

Gary Sice and Conor Laverty in opposition in the 2005 All-Ireland U21 final.
Gary Sice and Conor Laverty in opposition in the 2005 All-Ireland U21 final.
Image: INPHO

THE TROPHY HAD been handed out, the Croke Park stands were starting to empty and the Corofin players were bunching together in celebration on the pitch last night.

One of their number had peeled away under the Hogan Stand to approach a Kilcoo opponent.

Gary Sice didn’t just briefly console Conor Laverty, they stood chatting away for several minutes in the wake of the marathon All-Ireland club final.

It was 15 years since they had previously faced off in an All-Ireland football final. Galway’s U21 team triumphed in a 10-goal thriller against Down that day in Mulligar, the game illuminated by the scoring exploits of the Meehan-Armstrong double act for the winners.

Sice and Laverty were in direct opposition in that match in Cusack Park, they forged a relationship rooted in football since then.

They may have had contrasting emotions after this battle for club supremacy but it didn’t stop them from gathering for a post-match debrief and make plans to catch up again next Sunday when Monaghan, who will have Laverty in their coaching setup this year, head west for the start of the National League.

conor-laverty-with-his-sons-after-the-game Conor Laverty with his sons after Sunday's game. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“A gent, I know Conor for a long time,” said Sice afterwards.

“We marked each other in 2005 in the U21 final. I’ve been talking to him a bit here and there. He’s been helping me with my coaching, I’m trying to pick his brains.

“I’ll meet him for a coffee now the weekend when Monaghan are down. A gent, some player and some footballer. He’s the epitome of what Kilcoo are. Hard on the field and a gentleman off it.”

Kilcoo had certainly ensured this was a more difficult path to success for Corofin. They may have cruised to victory in the opening two legs of their three-in-a-row feat, the completion of history tested them.

“We made life awful hard for ourselves,” admitted Sice. They were very good, they had a good gameplan, they made things very sticky for us. We didn’t do very well with it. Unlike us to be honest with you. We should have pushed on and squeezed us more. I don’t think we froze but we sat back when we shouldn’t have. We nearly paid a price for it but thankfully we came out the right side.

“I think it suited them when the chaos came, it suited their style of play. I think the last free, Conor Lane gave them plenty of help as well, I don’t know what happened to bring the ball in. Some strike from (Paul) Devlin in fairness to him, it was a good kick. Look we came out (in extra-time) and showed our true selves. That was the most important part of it.”

gary-sice-blocks-a-shot-from-paul-devlin Gary Sice blocks down a shot from Paul Devlin.

It’s the latest achievement in an era of Corofin brilliance. The prospect of four All-Ireland crowns in six seasons may have seemed distant to Sice and his colleagues back in 2009 and 2010 when they were frustrated by Dublin’s Kilmacud Crokes and Antrim’s St Gall’s at the semi-final stage.

But those losses did not define them as they have rebounded successfully.

“It’s a long time ago now, we learned a lot everywhere,” said Sice.

“We’ve brought it on and I think everyone’s been willing to learn which is the key. We have to go do it again now.

“I’m standing here talking to you and it doesn’t seem real. I’m sure it’s something we’ll talk about for a long time to come. It is special no doubt.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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