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Dublin: 15 °C Friday 14 August, 2020

'It is a bit of an addiction' - Galway All-Ireland winner going strong with Corofin after 20 seasons

Kieran Fitzgerald remains key for the North Galway club.

Kieran Fitzgerald is still driving Corofin on.
Kieran Fitzgerald is still driving Corofin on.
Image: INPHO

ON ST PATRICK’S Day nineteen years ago, Kieran Fitzgerald watched on in Croke Park as Corofin etched their name in the history books.

They were trailblazers for their club, their county and their province.

The North Galway club became the first from the west of Ireland to be crowned senior football kingpins. New ground was broken.

It was a triumph that caught the imagination of a teenage Fitzgerald observing it all.

He was a 17-year-old then and in the wake of that success was drafted into the Corofin squad for their 1998 Galway county championship campaign.

It’s been a constant in his life ever since and there’s no sign of that link being broken.

This year marks Fitzgerald’s 20th season in Corofin senior colours and next Sunday he will be as integral to their plans and ambitions as ever, manning the last line of defence in the pursuit of Connacht honours against Castlebar Mitchels.

He’ll turn 37 in January and can reflect on golden senior days with Galway, most strikingly lifting Sam and claiming an All-Star in his breakout summer of 2001.

But it is his dedication to the Corofin cause that has endured for a remarkable length of time.

In 1998 Fitzgerald won his first Galway senior medal and by now has accumulated a staggering collection of honours.

Corofin club record

  • 12 Galway SFC – 1998, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
  • 4 Connacht SFC – 2008, 2009, 2014, 2015
  • 1 All-Ireland – 2015

And yet the desire to keep going remains.

“I’m lucky to be involved with the club I’m with. It’s hard to walk (away) from that situation. To be playing at this high level, there is a massive buzz.

“Even the last day against St Brigid’s, we didn’t really play very well but to get over the line after extra-time, the buzz you get off that is super. It makes it all worthwhile and it is a bit of an addiction.

“I see with my own family and supporters what it means. In rural Ireland, these club games are a real social event, from the match-day breakfast in the morning in Corofin all the way to the after-game drinks, it’s a huge social event.

“You see what the parish gets from it.  That’s one of the big things, as I’ve gotten older, I realise the effect we can have on people playing football. The mood of the area, to give them that enjoyment, it’s a good buzz.”

Kieran McGrath and Kieran Fitzgerald Kieran Fitzgerald and Kieran McGrath celebrate the 2011 Galway senior football final victory Source: Cathal Noonan

In Galway they have long reigned supreme, stitching together five senior titles on the bounce since 2013.

Fitzgerald’s dozen senior football medals would a phenomenal haul in any county.

2010 against Killererin is the only blemish on his record, the solitary appearance on Galway senior final day when he did not walk off the pitch as a winner.

The dizzying array of accolades achieved locally is not something that he dwells on yet there is no question that he does appreciate his good fortune.

Corofin swept past Mountbellew-Moylough in the Galway decider last month, his former county comrade Joe Bergin still toiling away for a neighbouring club who have been waiting since 1986 to grasp silverware.

“Absolutely, I’m very fortunate to be playing with a club that’s set up the way it is. All I do is play football for the club, there’s massive work going on behind the scenes to keep the show on the road. Very fortunate.

“I played football with Joe Bergin all the way through, we started at U14 in development squads all the way through to senior level with the county. It’s unfortunate.

“If it wasn’t against us, I’d obviously love to see Joe get over the line. Maybe he will yet.”

Kieran Fitzgerald and Joe Bergin Kieran Fitzgerald and Joe Bergin battle it out in the Galway county final. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

For a long time there was one breakthrough that eluded Fitzgerald. Emulating the Corofin class of 1998 became a goal he desperately sought to achieve but was left frustrated and broken when coming up short.

Connacht final defeats in 2006 and 2011, All-Ireland semi-final reversals in 2009 and 2010. The coveted prize seemed out of reach.

Then two years ago when everything clicked into place.

“The overriding feeling after winning it in 2015 was a wee bit of an anticlimax and a huge sigh of relief,” says Fitzgerald, thinking back to that day when they got over the line against Slaughtneil.

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Kieran Fitzgerald Michael Farragher celebrate at the final whistle Kieran Fitzgerald and Michael Farragher celebrate the 2015 All-Ireland senior club final victory. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“We have had good teams in the past that just didn’t get there. (We were) Beaten by Kilmacud twice and St Gall’s, beaten in Connacht finals by Brigid’s.

“They would have been right good teams but just couldn’t get there. To go from 1998 to 2015, a lot of players have gone through there without actually getting there.

“So it was great to do it. It would be nice to do it again but that feeling was just pure relief.”

Kieran Fitzgerald and Martin Farragher celebrate at the end of the game Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The requirements of the game that Fitzgerald plays now are far removed of what was demanded when he started off. Every season he has seen the bar raised higher.

“The standards of the club scene has risen incrementally every year. There are extra little bits every year.

“Activation work before training, even a few years ago you wouldn’t be thinking about that. Analysis, your diet, physio, medical teams, it has all gone up.

“The club scene in probably where the county scene was two or three years ago, and the inter-county scene I’m sure has pushed on even further now.

“At the real high level, the club scene is not too far away from it. You talk to the inter-county players with Galway, when they come back in with Corofin they’re hugely impressed.

“It’s not a step down for them. From where it was when I started playing to now, it’s worlds apart.”

Corofin team during the national anthem The Corofin team before the start of this year's Galway senior football decider. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

It’s to his credit that he is still acquitting himself at such an elite level but being a veteran defender requires assistance from those in charge of Corofin’s preparations.

How has he lasted for so long in this senior club football arena?

“A lot of rehab and stretching and activations,” laughs Fitzgerald.

“Our management is very understanding as well, they understand the mileage on the clock with me, and we have a good strength and conditioning coach in Michael Comer.

“He tailors it a wee bit to suit me and there’s never any pressure on me to train 100% all the time. Just looking after niggles is the thing.

“We have a good medical team, David Hanley is our physio who is involved with the Galway senior hurlers and the Connacht rugby team. He’s excellent and he looks after any knock or niggle.

“You just have to be more mindful of your body. As a young lad, you could go out the night before and go straight onto the pitch, but now you’d fall down if you tried it. Touch wood, I’ve been pretty good injury wise.”

He has witnessed the evolution of the club, soldiering at the start with Corofin stalwarts and now lining out in the trenches with their sons. Ian Burke’s father Ollie was a corner-back in those days, Galway hurler Daithi Burke’s father Gerry was a rock at midfield and Ronan Steede’s father Eddie was stationed at the edge of the square.

Corofin's Gerry Burke andMichael Donnellan celebrate 17/3/1998 Corofin's Gerry Burke and Michael Donnellan celebrate victory after the 1998 All-Ireland senior club final. Source: © Keith Heneghan/INPHO

But Fitzgerald keeps pushing on and even after last February’s All-Ireland semi-final loss to Dr Crokes, he signed again up for duty.

They have a curious relationship with Castlebar Mitchels, losing to them in nearby Tuam in 2013 and 2015 before travelling up to win in their Mayo backyard last year.

“We’d know each other and obviously through the inter-county scene as well, where you’d have come across each other a fair bit as well.

AIB GAA Club Championship Provincial Finals Media Day Kieran Fitzgerald will face Castlebar's Barry Moran on Sunday. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

“When you play each other so often, it’s going to be very tactical. It might be a very cagey game when you’re trying to outsmart each other.

“To be back in a Connacht final again is super. I’m delighted to be back there but that’s only half the job really.”

Two decades on and still pushing to add to the trophy cabinet.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Fintan O'Toole

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