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Dublin: 2 °C Saturday 14 December, 2019

'Players won county titles in 1977 and here they were 21 years later, winning an All-Ireland club in Croke Park'

Galway and Corofin legend Ray Silke speaks to The42 about the club’s successful history as they go in search of another Connacht title.

GALWAY FOOTBALL LEGEND Ray Silke reached the pinnacle of Gaelic Football in 1998.

Ray Silke lifts the  Sam Maguire 27/9/1998 Ray Silke after Galway's All-Ireland final victory over Kildare in 1998. Source: Patrick Bolger/INPHO

Not only did he captain a special group of talented players to a first All-Ireland crown for the county since 1966, but earlier that year, he also skippered his club Corofin to their maiden senior All-Ireland success.

Galway’s All-Ireland victory was an unexpected achievement and they would go on to repeat that feat three years later as the first team to do capture the Sam Maguire through the qualifiers.

There are certain aspects of winning at inter-county level that distinguish it from club level success. The superior status and profile attached with inter-county triumphs is an obvious advantage, and playing in front of a crowd of 80,000 is not without its charms.

But the bond shared between players representing such a vast area, can’t quite compete with the closer relationships that are forged in the club between members and the local community.

The roots go deeper.

“When you need help in a local place, the connections are more than just sport when it’s with the club,” Silke explains to The42.

“My Dad is 80 now and sometimes we need a bit of help with him. The neighbours across the road will give you a hand.

You know every neighbour, you know even their dog’s name. You just know people so well and you’ve gone to school with them.

“If you’re car breaks down and you need that sense of community, it’s copper fastened by club success. It’s a very special day to win an All-Ireland club. It’s a fantastic occasion and you’d love to be able to press pause and relive those moments, but it doesn’t happen like that.”

He adds: ”A lovely memory for me is a neigbour from down the road who has since died, 1998 was the one and only time she was ever in Croke Park. So, it opens a window for people who wouldn’t be associated (with it normally). A neigbour’s child was playing so she went.

“They’re fantastic memories. I’ve my own children now and you’d hope that they would play with their local club. The club is a huge cornerstone of many many communities and it does fantastic work.”

Corofin Captain Ray Silke holds the cup 17/3/1998 Silke proudly lifts the trophy in 1998. Source: © INPHO

When the GAA club is seen as a pillar of the community, success can strengthen those bonds, and Corofin club have enjoyed over two decades of the good times both within the county and beyond.

Their legacy has been founded upon a slew of Galway championship titles, seven Connacht crowns and two All-Ireland titles.

Source: Gerard Conway/YouTube

They are the undisputed kingpins of football in Galway, and the current crop of players collected their fifth consecutive county title on the way to facing old rivals Castlebar in the Connacht final later this afternoon. [Throw-in 2pm, live on TG4]

Silke rhymes off a litany of loyal Corofin servants who have contributed to the ongoing rise of the club, by installing solid underage structures to provide the senior team with talent.

But the club didn’t always prosper however. Their All-Ireland victory in ’98 was preceded by a period of about 14 years between the late 70′s and early 90′s where even county titles were hard to come by.

Reflecting on Corofin’s eventual All-Ireland breakthrough under the stewardship of manager Tony Murphy, Silke points to the stalwart players who soldiered with the side through those barren years.

Among those was Gerry Burke, father of All-Ireland winning Galway hurler Daithí.

“We had a very good club set-up and it was kind of our time, we had been beaten in two semi-finals,” Silke begins.

“Kilarney Crokes (Dr Crokes) beat us and went on to win it as did Laune Rangers. A lot of guys on that squad had been working for a very long time. Gerry and Ollie Burke won county titles in 1977 and here they were 21 years later, winning an All-Ireland club in Croke Park.

You wonder where the success comes from, it comes from guys like that who play 20 years with their club.

“It’s fantastic. You look back with nostalgia and you look back with romanceand then the next thought in your head is that it actually can’t be 20 years ago.”

Daithi Burke Daithí Burke Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Some of the offspring of that triumphant ’98 team now populate the Corofin green and gold, and the second generation are proving to be just as successful.

The aforementioned Daithí Burke emulated his father’s footsteps to line out at midfield when the club won their second All-Ireland two years ago. Gerry was 39 when they won that All-Ireland, and was awarded the man-of-the-match award for his performance.

Elsewhere on the team, Silke’s nephew Liam is part of the team’s current defensive unit.

All in all, the breeding is strong in that part of Galway.

“There’s a lot of family linkages there,” says Silke, “and it just becomes second nature I suppose. Ronan Steede’s (midfielder) father Eddie was a magnificent forward and won a few county championships with us.

“Gerry’s son Daithí, Ollie Burke’s sons are Ian and Justin so there’s linkages all through. It’s the next generation coming through, the likes of Gary Sice and people like that don’t know anything but winning basically.

My nephew Liam is studying medicine in UCD, he’s 23 this week, he’s played five senior championship finals in Galway and he’s never lost a game. It just becomes the norm, if you’re used to driving a span new car, that’s your expectation.

According to Silke, Gaelic football ‘is the number one code’ in those parts of the west. But in dual player Daithí Burke, they have something of an anomaly in the club.

He came on against St Brigid’s in the Connacht semi-final to score a decisive goal in their extra time victory over the Roscommon champions, but while he has been a consistent performer for the footballers, his passion lies predominantly in hurling.

Silke can see that the 25-year-old has inherited some of his athletic attributes from his father.

‘Black cat, black kitten,’ he says.

Corofin's Gerry Burke andMichael Donnellan celebrate 17/3/1998 Gerry Burke celebrating Corofin's All-Ireland win over Erins Isle in 1998. Source: © Keith Heneghan/INPHO

But while he insists that Corofin are proud of their clubman for the success he has enjoyed with the small ball, he laments that the 25-year-old didn’t pick Gaelic Football as his number one sport of choice.

“When he gets the ball in Gaelic Football, invariably he isn’t going to lose it. He scored a stunning goal against St Brigid’s and he’s a terrific engine. He has a natural strength that you don’t get in weights, it’s just a natural power.”

“He hasn’t been able to play any consistent football because between the Boston Fenway thing, the All-Stars, winning the All-Ireland and hurling is his first love which is understandable when you win three consecutive All-Stars and win an All-Ireland.

“No-one would begrudge him that, but it makes it tough for Kevin O’Brien and his management team that one of the best Gaelic footballers in Galway isn’t able to commit to his club from a training point of view. It’s tough on management, it’s a bit of a catch 22.

“The man is obviously good enough to be on the team, an automatic starter, but isn’t able to commit to the regime that you want everyone else doing. He came on against Mountbellew and came on against St Brigid’s. Had he been training fully, he’d be an automatic selection but it does leave a quandary for management and it’s something that we’ve all come across.

“Back in the day Ja Fallon came back very late from a rugby season in 1998 and it raised a few eyebrows, but Fallon was so good that he had to be on that team.”

Silke has since relocated from Corofin up towards Moycollen country, but continues to look in on how his old club are progressing through each season.

Danny Kirby and Kieran Fitzgerald Castlebar’s Danny Kirby and Kieran Fitzgerald of Corofin tussling in the 2016 Connacht semi-final Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Corofin and Castlebar are about to enter the next chapter of their ongoing rivalry in Tuam today. Corofin are the reigning provincial champions, while Castlbar were the holders in 2015.

Considering the marginal differences between them, Silke is somewhat hesitant in deciding on a winner but if his side can squeeze through the tie, he can see them putting up a battle for All-Ireland glory on St Patrick’s day next year.

“There’s very little between them. I fell both sides have maybe gone back a little bit and I think Corofin haven’t reached the heights of 2015 when they beat Slaughtneil in the final.

“They haven’t quite got up to there but whoever comes out of this will feel that they’ve a chance of going on and maybe bringing another All-Ireland back to Connacht again.

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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