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Conor McDonald ‘buzzing’ for 2020 with Davy Fitzgerald

Conor McDonald ‘buzzing’ for 2020 with Davy Fitzgerald 0013700c 1600

Conor McDonald says he and his Wexford hurling colleagues were “buzzing” when they got word that manager Davy Fitzgerald was staying on.

The former Clare All-Ireland winning boss will guide the county once again as 2020’s inter-county season begins in earnest.

Speaking to RTÉ Sport, forward McDonald was delighted to see the bond forged between players and manager extended into another campaign.

“He’s brought so much to us over the last number of years and I think we have a great bond,” he said.

“The atmosphere in the camp is always really good and while it’s high intensity most of the time, Davy’s very good at keeping everyone fresh and having a fresh outlook on anything which is more important than the bodies even.

“I think 99%, if not 100%, we’re delighted to have him back and once news broke, we were obviously buzzing.”

Fitzgerald’s side kickstart their Allianz Hurling League campaign against Laois on Saturday.

McDonald is using the memory of a recent match against Laois in Portlaoise as motivation.

Conor McDonald of Wexford celebrates after scoring a late goal during the Walsh Cup Final   Conor McDonald ‘buzzing’ for 2020 with Davy Fitzgerald 0013700b 614
Conor McDonald of Wexford celebrates after scoring a late goal during the Walsh Cup Final 

“Laois had a great year last year. They’ll be wanting to build on that,” he said.

“Going up to O’Moore Park, I think we went back in 2014 or ’15, and it was hotly contested.

“I think we barely scraped out there with a one-point win. So they’ve obviously improved an awful lot since then and we know the danger that they can bring.

“We’re going up there now under no illusions that we’re going to get a great contest.”

Wexford already have some silverware to start the year, having edged Galway in the Walsh Cup decider on Saturday.

“It’s a bit early to be jumping to conclusions but it’s obviously nice to be winning those games rather than getting beaten in them,” said McDonald.

“We were under pressure for an awful lot of time in that game.

“So it was nice to obviously come out with a victory.”

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David Clifford named Kerry captain for 2020

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David Clifford named Kerry captain for 2020 0012d47e 800

David Clifford will captain the Kerry footballers for the 2020 campaign.

The Fossa 20-year-old takes over from Dr Crokes defender Gavin White. 

The Kingdom continue their old tradition of giving the captaincy to a player form the current county senior champions.

Clifford plays for divisional side East Kerry, who dethroned four-in-a-row chasing Dr Crokes in the Kerry SFC decider last November.

Last year White lifted the the Munster title as Kingdom captain but Paul Murphy took on the duties for the All-Ireland final replay defeat to Dublin, which White started on the bench. 

“The huge honour of captaining the Kerry senior football team lies with our clubman David Clifford for 2020,” Fossa tweeted.

“We have no doubt David will do himself, his family, our club and East Kerry proud.”

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Cillian Buckley thrilled by Kilkenny clubs’ clean sweep

Cillian Buckley thrilled by Kilkenny clubs’ clean sweep 00136fde 1600

Cillian Buckley says the triple All-Ireland Club Hurling successes of Ballyhale Shamrocks, Tullaroan and Conahy Shamrocks has brought a “buzz” to Kilkenny hurling circles.

The Kilkenny hurler was speaking to RTÉ at the launch of the 2020 Allianz Hurling League.

While Tullaroan and Conahy won the Intermediate and Junior All-Ireland titles respectively, Ballyhale claimed the headline senior title on Sunday by beating Tipperary’s Borris-ileigh.

“Once [Ballyhale] found a rhythm, they just kicked into gear and once they got ahead then, they really seemed to be in control,” said Buckley.

“We know now that they have leaders right up the spine of the field and caught the game by the scruff of the neck and drove it home.

“There’s fierce excitement up here yesterday and on Saturday with Conahy and Tullaroan and there was a fierce buzz around Kilkenny and everyone behind the three teams coming up here.

Cillian Buckley ahead of the 2019 All-Ireland final  Cillian Buckley thrilled by Kilkenny clubs’ clean sweep 00136fdf 614
Cillian Buckley ahead of the 2019 All-Ireland final

“To think that the three of them came out with silverware is no mean feat and it’s just a serious achievement.”

However, the Dicksboro club man’s own thoughts are very much turned towards the start of the inter-county season. 

The Cats begin their league campaign Dublin on Sunday. He is under no illusion about the challenge this weekend’s opponents will bring to the table.

“They’re a physical team with Mattie Kenny behind them bringing that tactical approach to it as well,” said Buckley.

“Obviously, they have a good crop of players now coming in from Cuala over the last few years and the main group that are there.

“I’m bracing for a big challenge this weekend and I think Dublin are intent on setting their mark on the Leinster Championship this year.

“They probably didn’t feature as heavily as they were expected to the last year, so I think they’re going to come with a ferocious challenge this weekend first of all and for the year ahead.”

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Tipperary’s Seamus Callanan keen to ‘move on’ from 2019

Tipperary’s Seamus Callanan keen to ‘move on’ from 2019 00136fd0 1600


Tipperary’s Seamus Callanan keen to ‘move on’ from 2019 00136fd0 800

Tipperary full forward Seamus Callanan is keen to put 2019’s success behind him as the new inter-county season returns at full pelt.

2019 All-Ireland champions Tipp face Limerick in their opening 2020 Allianz Hurling League assignment on Saturday and despite savouring what last year had to offer, Callanan told RTÉ Sport he is not planning to dwell on it.

“It’s great to be back. I don’t know where the winter has gone,” he said.

“But it’s great to be back hurling again and playing games in the Allianz League every weekend, it’s going to be very exciting because inter-county hurling has gone so competitive now.

“There are so many teams that can be successful and five different Allianz League champions over the last five years just goes to show how competitive it is and we’re really looking forward to getting going again and putting 2019 behind us and moving on.”

The Drom-Inch club man added that the Tipperary team holiday was a perfect way to bookend the 2019 season and consign that year into the background.

He said: “It was a nice reward for 2019 but when you come back then it just closes the door on 2019 as well and the second you get off the plan, you’re in 2020 mode and it’s great to enjoy the successful year we had and enjoy it with the panel and your partners.

“So it was important for everyone but now back, fully focused and driving forward.”

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Tier 2, rule changes and a yellow sliotar

Tier 2, rule changes and a yellow sliotar 0013324a 1600

2020 has arrived and it’s very much a case of a new vision of sorts for the GAA.

And that new world has already seen the club finals move from their traditional St Patrick’s Day slot to a new day in January.

The weather played ball as Ballyhale Shamrocks and Corofin were crowned hurling and football champions respectively on Sunday last. What’s envisaged, and it will probably come very soon, is that the club deciders will be run off in the calendar year.

Indeed, the All-Ireland club semi-final for 2020/21 will take place on the weekend of 12/13 December.

So what else is new?

RULE CHANGES IN GAELIC FOOTBALL

At a Special Congress in Cork last November, the following changes got the green light to be introduced for all levels of Gaelic football

Sin bin 
A player will spend 10 minutes off the field with no substitute allowed, reducing his side’s numbers for that period.

A second black card, or a black following a yellow, will result in a red card and expulsion from the game rather than a sin-binning.

The sideline official will keep track of the 10-minute suspension, which could be interesting in underage and some adult club games where the participating teams often provide the linesmen.

Kick-out 

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All kick-outs must now be taken from the 20-metre line rather than the current mark of the 13-metre line. The ball must travel forward and all players must be at least 13 metres away and outside the D and 20-metre line when the kick is taken. 

Mark from a kick-out 

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Caption

A mark will be rewarded for a clean catch from a kick-out on or past the 45-metre line. A mark is called by putting a hand up in the air and a player has 15 seconds to take the kick. The mark will be awarded by the referee.

Advance Mark 
The ball must be kicked from, on or outside the 45-metre line and must travel 20 metres. A mark is called by putting a hand up in the air and a player has 15 seconds to take the kick.

Inside the large rectangle a mark can be awarded and claimed, but the player must go back to the 13-metre line to take the kick. If he decides to play on, he can be tackled immediately.

TIER 2 FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP

The Tommy Murphy Cup didn’t catch fire. So it’s a case of trying again, with GAA President John Horan keen to have this competition introduced. Well, last October, the delegates at the gathering on Leeside voted in favour of its introduction on an initial three-year period.

So how is it going to work?

Teams who find themselves in Division 3 and Division 4 at the end of the 2020 Allianz League will not contest the Sam Maguire unless they reach their respective provincial finals.

That will make the upcoming action In Divisions 2 and Division 3 really competitive to say the least.

Sixteen teams will therefore play in this ‘B’ competition. It’s a straight knockout, with the semi-finals and final down for Croke Park.    

Round 1 – Saturday 20 June
Quarter-finals – Saturday 27 June
Semi-finals – Sunday 5 July (Croke Park)
Final – weekend of 18/19 July (Croke Park)

What about St Patrick’s Day?

This year the national holiday is on a Tuesday and it’s proposed that the All-Ireland Under-20 football semi-final will take centre stage.

YELLOW SLIOTAR

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The traditional white sliotar is set to be replaced by a yellow ‘smart’ ball ahead of this year’s hurling championship. 

The sliotar will incorporate a microchip in its core and has passed a series of rigorous tests, bringing an end to a process that began eight years ago.

It is expected to get the official approval at the upcoming Central Council meeting.

The last two stagings of the Fenway Classics have trialled a yellow sliotar, and former Cork goalkeeper Donal Óg Cusack has repeatedly called for a colour change.

“Tennis used to have a white ball and they changed for really good reasons, some of those being TV,” he told RTÉ Sport earlier this year.

AUGUST DATE FOR FOOTBALL FINAL

This year’s showpiece will take place on Sunday, 30 August.

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The story behind hurling’s new yellow sliothar

The story behind hurling’s new yellow sliothar 00136ac7 1600

Analysis: the new digitised yellow sliothar has come through a rigorous set of tests over the last few years 

Hurling is one of Ireland’s most popular sports and the design of the sliotar is central to how one of the world’s fastest field sports is played. It must allow for short passing with the hand and hurley, accurate striking for large distances and comfortable catching by players. One challenge however is that supporters and the game’s guardians do not want the ball to be able to be struck too far. This could result in the sliotar being struck from deep in defence to score a point, robbing players and spectators of the exciting contests that see possession of the sliotar change between teams. In addition, players invariably want consistency in a sliotar, so as to be able to fine tune their skills.

Unfortunately some manufacturers have designed sliotars that can be hit too far. This is perhaps not surprising as it is in a player’s DNA to want to be able to score as many points as possible, hence they may tend to purchase sliotars that allow them to score from distance. This issue is not unique to hurling; many sports have face similar dilemmas. Golf and tennis for example are highly regulated in terms of ball design to limit how far and fast their balls can travel.

From RTÉ Archives, Kilkenny’s Eddie Keher shows some young stars of the future the art of lifting the ball in the Skills of Hurling series from 1976

Back in 2003, I was contacted by Pat Daly, Director of Games Research and Development at the GAA, to help them decide on new regulations for sliotars to try to ensure there was greater consistency and “playability”. While this seems a relatively easy task, it was confounded by the fact that if you asked 100 coaches, players and supporters how they want a sliotar to behave when struck, we would never reach an agreement.

We therefore took a pragmatic approach and decided that we would measure key mechanical characteristics of the sliotar across all of the main manufactures at the time (around 15) and use the average (after removing those sliotars that travelled excessively far). We focused on how far the ball would travel when struck for distance as there were no rules in place. We measured the coefficient of restitution (how bouncy the sliotar was) and eventually arrived at agreed regulations.

While many manufacturers had to make alterations to the design of their sliotar to adhere to the new regulations, it clearly resulted in greater consistency. The GAA designed a “stamp of approval” (by Avril Kennan) which manufacturers printed on their sliotars to indicate adherence to the regulations. The idea was that players and coaches would be able to ensure they were buying and using approved sliotars.

From RTÉ Archives, RTÉ News report by Joe O’Brien on the launch of new hurling helmets in 1986

But over time, it became clear that some unapproved manufacturers were using the stamp of approval illegally. Some approved manufacturers were placing the stamp on sliotars that would not pass the tests, either deliberately or because they could not sufficiently control the manufacturing process.

Research led by the author, Prof Dermot Brabazon and Dr Fiachra Collins from DCU started to examine the mechanical characteristics and design of sliotars in far more detail using a specially designed testing rig. It was able to launch balls at up to 80 miles-per-hour and used a very high-speed camera and force plate to determine how much the sliotar deformed during high impacts, and how fast (and far) the sliotar would travel.

But even with the new regulations, It became clear, that there was still significant variation between manufacturers on how sliotars performed. After consultation, the GAA decided that it needed a process that would allow them to have full traceability of a sliotar, as well as greater consistency in its design and playability, to protect the integrity of the game. Full traceability would also allow the GAA to better ensure overseas child labour could not be used by any manufactures, a problem faced by all sports. In addition, the GAA decided to address the issue of sliotar colour for improved visibility.

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“A major problem using a white sliotar is that it becomes hard to see and track when it passes in front of other white or pale colours (for example floodlights, clouds, stands or posts)”

The main requirements for traceability were to ensure the GAA knew who manufactured the sliotar, where it was made, that it could not be counterfeited and ensure that referees and the general public could check using their mobile phones if they were using or buying an official GAA sliotar. After much searching, the GAA partnered with DMF Systems, who drew up specification for a NFC (Near Field Communications) tag and subsequently designed the mobile phone app and data handling infrastructure. They also partnered with sliotar manufacturers Green Fields and O’Neills to help with sourcing appropriate tagging technology and sliotar design.

From a hurling performance perspective, it was critical that the NFC tag was so small it would not interfere with the playability and performance of the ball. For the manufacturer, it had to survive the process of the polyurethane mix expanding under high heat and pressure in the sliotar mould, while still staying beneath the surface. For the GAA, the tag had to still be readable after multiple high impact usage.

We undertook months and months and months of testing. Some of this was in our sliotar testing rig to check the sliotars behaved in the same way. However, because the rig heats up under the bright lights of the high speed camera, we also had to use an adapted baseball launcher to ensure each sliotar and NFC tag would survive over 200 very high impacts onto a rigid surface at 50 miles per hour. As you can imagine, there were many sliotars which failed the tests because the NFC tags would break or the sliotars would break due to the tag being too close to the surface and creating surface weaknesses. Eventually we identified an appropriate tag that could be embedded deep enough in the sliotar by the manufacturers.

During this process, we also tested the sliotars with county and club players to ensure the sliotars performed to the highest expected standards and that they could not distinguish between the sliotars produced by the different manufacturers. We used unmarked sliotars to remove the influence of a player’s previous preferences, as there is a potential natural bias to assume that the sliotar you normally practice with is the best. Players were extremely happy with the sliotars and could not distinguish between them in terms of playability and performance. We plan to undertake more testing with players in this regard as a final check.

As part of the process to improve the sliotar, a colour change was also suggested, which Valerie Kennelly, an optometrist with Sportsvision, advised on. A major problem using a white sliotar is that it becomes hard to see and track when it passes in front of other white or pale colours (for example floodlights, clouds, stands or posts).

The most visible wavelength is around 555nm, which is a colour part-way between yellow and green. In particular, it appears that yellow is also easier to see at a distance. In addition, from a contrast perspective with background scenes, there are few naturally occurring yellow colours. No-one appears to use yellow when painting stands as it is physically hard on the eyes when used on large surfaces (not surprisingly, very few people paint their walls bright yellow).

To improve the visibility of yellow further, a shade of yellow referred to as florescent or “optic” yellow can be used, which the GAA has adopted. This is the same approach that tennis took back in 1972, to make the ball more visible for television, which had moved from monochrome to colour coverage. But the GAA’s decision has not been driven by television requirements. Unlike tennis, hurling is a much more aerial sport and the challenge is with the white ball not contrasting sufficiently with sky and surroundings, which is a problem for players, officials and supporters.

READ: The roots of hurling, the greatest game on earth

It is hoped that the changes to the colour and the design of a more consistent and traceable sliotar will ensure that generations of players and supporters will continue to enjoy the fast, skilful and competitive game that they love.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ


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My time is nearly done, my focus is Offaly

My time is nearly done, my focus is Offaly 00136a66 1600

Ballyhale Shamrocks captain Michael Fennelly admitted he was “on his last legs” and contemplating retirement after collecting a record fifth All-Ireland club title with his side’s victory over Borris-Ileigh in the decider this afternoon. 

The 34-year-old, who is currently managing the Offaly seniors, lifted the Tommy Moore Cup for the second year running as Ballyhale held off a late surge from the Tipperary champions to win by three points. 

Fennelly departed the inter-county scene in 2017 following a highly decorated career, albeit one in which he was frequently forced to battle injury. He famously won the Man of the Match award in Kilkenny’s most recent All-Ireland final victory in 2015, having barely trained all year. 

Now, closing in on his 35th birthday and with his new job in Offaly to think about, Fennelly openly acknowledges that he is weighing up whether he’ll continue to hurl with Ballyhale. 

“I’m on my last legs out there as you can probably see,” he told RTÉ Sport after the match.

“It’s been tough on the body. If I could stay injury free, without a doubt, but my body is not built for it being honest. 

“I’m suffering a bit with my groins and my hips. Over the last few weeks, I’ve realised this is a young man’s game really and I’m 35 in a couple of weeks.

“My time is nearly done now. I’m not sure will I finish off or not but I’m probably very close to it. 

The enjoyment is kind of going out of it to be honest

“My focus is Offaly now and that management role. We’re playing next Sunday against Meath and I’m really looking forward to that new challenge. 

“If I do leave, I’ve left in a good place and finishing on a good high. Even this year, I wasn’t sure whether I’d come back or not, coming back from a seven month injury again. The enjoyment is kind of going out of it to be honest. It’s a bit of a drain going training when your body is suffering each and every time.”

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Henry Shefflin has guided Ballyhale to back-to-back titles

In his victory speech, Fennelly referenced the passing of his uncle Brendan, a star player on the All-Ireland winning team of 1981, and Eugene Aylward, the Ballyhale defender who was killed in a car crash in the autumn. 

And in the post-match interview, he praised the resilience of his teammates, particularly the younger panel members, for dealing with everything that had been thrown at them. 

“The club has been put through the test over the last few months. Especially these younger boys. I don’t think people realise the resilience they’ve shown since September. We kept it going. It was mentally a drain at times. But just thinking of the family, the parish, the young people. Henry would have driven that through as a leader with the values of our club.  

“We’ve really re-generated ourselves. And that takes a bit of time to go through. And there’s a lot of bumps on the way too. It’s not a ladder or a nice easy steady climb. But we got there and I’m thrilled for the boys. 

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“It was rocky enough today for us. We made some silly mistakes. We weren’t as clinical as we have been today but that’s probably down to Borris-Ileigh’s pressure. And they’ve been a savage club throughout the whole club championship.”

Fennelly is one of the veterans of Ballyhale’s 2007 All-Ireland success – his brother Colin and TJ and Eoin Reid being the others – who now hold five All-Ireland club medals. 

This is unique territory. For context, no other club outside of Ballyhale have won more than four All-Ireland titles, with both Birr and Portumna at that mark. 

However, the inter-generational contest looms large in Ballyhale. There were famously seven Fennellys – Michael and Colin’s father and uncles – on the Ballyhale Shamrocks team that picked up nine county titles and three All-Ireland titles between 1978 and 1991.

“I was five when we won our third one in 1990. I don’t remember the match but I do remember being on the bus with my mother and aunties. That’s all I remember but it’s a memory and a fond memory. 

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The Ballyhale team that won in 1990

“We knew that hurling was good in Ballyhale growing up and we knew it was a special place. 

“Thankfully, we’ve surpassed those teams of the past. I’ve a good few uncles that were largely part of that so we’ll always be having a bit of craic about who was the best team.

“But now, I’ve notched up five (All-Ireland titles) and I think Colin has five and TJ has five. There’s a handful of us there with five. 

“They’ve (the previous generation) more county finals still but I’ll take the All-Irelands.” 

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Kilkenny hurling is on the way back

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Colin Fennelly says Kilkenny hurling “is on the way back” after a bumper weekend in which clubs from the county won all three hurling titles at the weekend. 

Ballyhale’s completion of the back-to-back on Sunday followed victories on Saturday evening for Tullaroan and Conahy Shamrocks in the intermediate and junior All-Ireland finals respectively.

For Fennelly, the weekend trophy haul, combined with Kilkenny’s generally unexpected progress to the All-Ireland final in 2019, shows the county is on the way back following a couple of years of transition since the 2016 All-Ireland final loss to Tipperary. 

“It’s an amazing achievement. It shows Kilkenny hurling is on the way back,” Fennelly told RTÉ Sport after the senior final.

 “A lot of people put Kilkenny away last year and said they don’t have a hope.

“And we got to an All-Ireland final and now you have the three club teams winning All-Irelands. It’s great to see it on the way back up but it’s up to us to push on from here.” 

Along with his brother Michael and TJ and Eoin Reid, the younger Fennelly now has a record five All-Ireland club medals. 

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Colin Fennelly being chased by Dan McCormack in the first half

After the latest win, Fennelly admitted that he thought that Ballyhale’s era of success was drawing to a close once Henry Shefflin’s generation shuffled into retirement. 

But the arrival of a new wave of talent, typified by the likes of Adrian Mullen, has sparked a fresh round of success, culminating in the club’s first ever back-to-back at All-Ireland level. 

“I thought it was over a few years ago and to see you the burst of young lads come through. It’s given us new life and it’s a new style and Ballyhale are on top at the moment. 

“The older you get the more you enjoy it. Two years ago, I didn’t think we’d win another county final, never mind an All-Ireland.

“And to win the back-to-back and to see our uncles, father and all the older lads. They weren’t able to do it and they had such a great team. For us to be able to do it, they’ll be absolutely delighted for us.”

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Corofin’s tunnel vision points the way

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Corofin are rightly basking in their history-making conquests in the All-Ireland club football championship, but when referee Conor Lane brought an end to normal time in Croke Park yesterday, things were looking ropey for the holders.

Jason Leonard’s 48th minute free put Galway men into a three-point lead against a Kilcoo side that appeared to be running out of ideas and at a numerical disadvantage following the dismissal of Dylan Ward for a second bookable offence.

The underdogs rallied however and soon after trailed by the bare minimum. Paul Devlin’s equaliser 10 minutes into injury-time meant Corofin went more than 22 minutes without scoring and were in truth barely hanging on as the sides prepared for an extra 20 minutes to settle the outcome.

Add in the dismissal of Mike Farragher in time added on – he would return for extra-time – and all the momentum was with Kilcoo with tensions boiling over repeatedly.

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Michel Farragher receives his marching orders

Indeed after a number of skirmishes and exchanges of words, the biggest flash point occurred in the tunnel as both sides made their way for the dressing rooms.

The question was, would Kilcoo kick on, buoyed by the comeback, or would the unsavoury incident almost kick-start the below-par champions into action?

The answer was utterly emphatic. The men in saffron and green hit 1-04 in the opening 10 minutes of extra time, while Kilcoo failed to raise a flag over the 20 minutes. The three in a row was secured.

Just how much of an impact did the tunnel clash have on the winners?

I suppose it was a bit silly, lads going in pumped up at the same time

“In typical fashion, I don’t think anyone saw anything,” Kieran Fitzgerald mischievously told RTÉ Sport.

“I suppose it was a bit silly, lads going in pumped up at the same time and no one wants to take a backwards step. I think it was harmless enough really.”

The marauding Kieran Molloy also downplayed the flash point. He was replaced in the 48th minute after picking up a shoulder injury and says he missed all the action unfolding.

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“I’ll be honest, I didn’t even see it. I was first in the tunnel, I wanted to get to the physio to strap up the shoulder so I didn’t see what happened.”

The tactical talk focused on wrestling the advantage away from the rejuvenated Kilcoo.

“We were disappointed with how we managed the last 10 minutes of the normal time,” Fitzgerald said.

“The advantage was with them going in as they equalised. We said we weren’t going to sit back and go at them. It was a really good 10 minute spell.”

Molloy admitted the manner of the response made victory all the more satisfying.

“The lads knew they had to dig deep and throw the kitchen sink at them. Thankfully we got over the line.

“It was definitely the hardest earned and probably the sweetest because we worked so hard for it.”

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For evergreen Fitzgerald, it was a fourth All-Ireland club title to go with his 14 county titles. For a player with a Celtic Cross with Galway dating back to 2001, it is an incredible run of success.

The defender admits that he has not made a decision whether to bring the curtain down on an illustrious career.

This may be my last time in Croke Park, and if it is, it’s a very special day

“I have to assess my own situation now. I’m just gone 39, and to still be playing at this level is something I never thought I’d be doing. It’s a credit to my club and management the way they have facilitated me. I don’t know what the future holds for me.

“This may be my last time in Croke Park, and if it is, it’s a very special day.”

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Corofin make it three on the bounce in extra-time

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Corofin became the first club to win three All-Ireland senior football crowns in succession as they eventually shrugged off Kilcoo in a surreal extra-time final at Croke Park.

History will record the Galway side’s superb achievement but the three-in-a-row was achieved in vastly different fashion to the swashbuckling victories over Dr Crokes and Nemo Rangers that preceded it.

Having failed to get to grips with a deep-lying Kilcoo defence, Corofin trailed 0-03 to 0-02 at the interval in normal time and despite having an extra man for almost the entire second half – after Dylan Ward’s dismissal – led by just a single point going in to the closing stages.

The determined Down men missed multiple chances to level before eventually forcing extra-time through a Paul Devlin free after 10 minutes of injury-time had been played.

Corofin came alive in the additional periods, however, hitting their opponents for an unanswered 1-05 to win the Andy Merrigan Cup for the fifth time.

In 2019, Corofin scored 2-07 in the first half against Dr Crokes. The year before, Nemo had shipped 2-09 at the same stage.

In 2020, Corofin managed two points in the opening half. They didn’t even kick a wide until the 19th minute.

That was partly down to their inability to deal with the counter-attacking tactics of Kilcoo, who quite reasonably decided giving the best running team around room to do it in was inadvisable, but also that the champs were uncharacteristically sloppy and outfought throughout the half.

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Kilcoo only managed three points themselves in the opening 30 minutes but kicked five wides to Corofin’s two and probably deserved the half-time lead.

Ryan McCourt had to come off his line to save smartly from Micheál Lundy in just the second minute but that was the last offensive impression Corofin made for quite a while as they frequently gave away possession against a disciplined Kilcoo team that were happy to keep the majority of their players behind the ball and break with pace.

Paul Devlin missed a scoreable free in the eighth minute but broke the deadlock from another dead-ball five minutes later and added a second just after the quarter hour.

Ryan McEvoy fisted wide when he should have at least managed a point and then finally, in the 24th minute, Corofin got on the board through a booming Ronan Steede effort.

Corofin make it three on the bounce in extra-time 0013697b 614

McCourt had to save smartly again, from Martin Farragher this time, as Corofin belatedly started to hit their groove, and Cathal Silke levelled after a lovely 1-2 with Daithí Burke that capped a flowing team move.

Devlin had the last word on the scoreboard though, curling a fine point over for the minimum advantage.

Directly from the restart, Steede powered forward to level, in what appeared a statement of intent. Devlin nudged Kilcoo ahead again from a free but Dylan Wall levelled with the game’s third point in as many minutes, the crowd surely feeling spoiled after the grim spectacle of the first half.

Then came what seemed like a pivotal moment, a clash of two Dylans. Both Kilcoo’s Ward and Corofin’s Wall had picked up yellows before the break and when Ward unwisely tackled Wall around the neck referee Conor Lane had no choice but to show him the line.

Gary Sice converted the resulting free, and the one Kilcoo conceded almost immediately afterwards, making it 0-06 to 0-04 after 37 minutes.

It was still 0-06 to 0-04 after 47 minutes. Kilcoo tried to keep their shape with reduced numbers. Corofin were happy enough to pass it around, knowing they now held the upper hand.

Liam Silke, Ronan Steede and Kilcoo’s Ryan McEvoy were all booked as the contest became even scrappier and bad-tempered, Jason Leonard making it a three-point game after the Down side’s full-back took down Daithí Burke in the 47th minute.

That should have been that but Corofin didn’t score again in normal time as Kilcoo decided to take off the shackles and dug deep.

Devlin was fouled right on the edge of the square by Conor Cunningham. He almost caught out the Corofin defence by playing it short to the onrushing Eugene Branagan but the wing-back’s effort on goal was blocked and Conor Laverty tapped over the loose ball.

Corofin make it three on the bounce in extra-time 00136978 614

With six minutes left of normal time Darryl Branagan curled over a peach of a score to make it a one-point game.

Corofin were rattled and there for the taking now but Kilcoo seemed determined to let them escape. Devlin (a free), Laverty and Eugene Branagan all missed chances to equalise as at least five minutes of additional time was announced.

Corofin tried to run down the clock with fouls and substitutions so Lane kept the game going. After 67 and a half minutes, Mike Farragher was shown his second yellow card. Two minutes later Darragh Silke, having been on the pitch for only four, got black for a pull-down.

Lane brought the ball forward for dissent and Devlin had a free from 35m, dead centre, to equalise. As the clock ticked into the 70th minute, the 10th added on, he planted it between the posts to make it 0-07 apiece and secure extra-time.

Both sides were back to 15 for ET and you might have expected Kilcoo to have the momentum. Instead, Corofin, having almost thrown it away, suddenly turned on the style.

Steede boomed over his third point. Sub Dylan Canney and Liam Silke added scores in quick succession. Gary Sice scored a free and then Conor Cunningham bundled the ball to the net after Micheál Lundy’s shot came back off the post.

Corofin had scored 1-04 in 10 minutes, the same tally they managed in the previous 70.

Seven points was always going to be a huge gap for Kilcoo to overcome and so it proved, Corofin winning by eight after Leonard’s second.

If history is written by the winners, Corofin won’t care about the fine print. And having won so beautifully in the past, maybe they have earned the right to win one ugly.

Corofin: Bernard Power; Cathal Silke (0-01), Kieran Fitzgerald, Liam Silke (0-01); Kieran Molloy, Colin Brady, Dylan Wall (0-1); Daithí Burke, Ronan Steede (0-03); Gary Sice (0-3f), Mike Farragher, Jason Leonard (0-02); Ian Burke, Martin Farragher, Micheál Lundy.

Subs: Conor Cunningham (1-0) for Wall (35), Dylan McHugh for Molloy (48), Gavin Burke for Brady (57), Ciarán McGrath for C Silke (58), Darragh Silke for Martin Farragher (65), Dylan Canney (0-01) for I Burke (et), Conor Newell for Lundy (et), Conor Newell for Lundy (et), Ross McMahon for L Silke (et).

Kilcoo: Martin McCourt, Niall Branagan, Ryan McEvoy, Niall McEvoy; Eugene Branagan, Aaron Branagan, Darryl Branagan (0-01); Aaron Morgan, Aidan Branagan; Dylan Ward, Paul Devlin (0-05, 4f), Ryan Johnston; Shealan Johnston, Jerome Johnston, Conor Laverty (0-1).

Subs: Justin Clarke for Ryan Johnston (50), Anthony Morgan for Aidan Branagan (57) Felim McGreevy for Morgan (et), Paul Greenan for D Branagan (et).

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