Many elements add up to the Sice success
31 Oct 2019
BY SHANE STAPLETON
Gary Sice doesn’t intend on being secretive. When asked what his proudest day across a stellar GAA career has been, he is quick to point towards the AIB All-Ireland club final win of 2019.
Corofin beat 2017 champions Dr Crokes that day, winning back-to-back titles and with Sice top-scoring 1-5.
But when he is asked to expand on why it was such a huge day for him, Sice is keeping his cards welded to his chest.
You get the sense that winning another medal or his feats in front of the posts have little to do with the sentiment rattling around in his brain — that this is something laced with a more lasting meaning.
“Paddy’s Day in 2019 for a lot of reasons — not to be mentioned,” Sice says with a determined look. “A very proud day with my family.”
No doubt it was, and it continued what has been a glorious run for the club. Corofin were expected to march through Galway once more, but this Sunday they will face a final replay against Tuam Stars. Should they overcome their neighbours, there’s every chance they can ultimately get back to the devastating form we’ve seen at Croke Park in recent seasons.
Consider the following: they needed a replay to see off Mountbellew-Moylough in the county final in 2018 yet went on to win the All-Ireland Club final by 12 points. In 2017, they beat Nemo Rangers by 15 and had ten to spare over Slaughtneil in March 2015. Both games came after tough and testing Galway campaigns.
This is a team that builds momentum in Galway and then hits the rest of the country like an avalanche. To that end, there’s a feeling that Tuam might have missed their chance in the drawn county decider — with Sice nailing a last-gasp free from 35 yards out to force a replay. Only time will tell.
Yet the question is: where do Corofin get the energy to do this over and over again? They have so many miles on the clock that the counter may struggle to keep up with them. “The lads we have just enjoy playing,” Sice explains. “We’ve had a nice bit of youth come through and they have really rejuvenated us. We have a great core of supporters there that are reasonably reserved and who give us good feedback too. Everyone rows in behind us and you feel that support. We trust the management to get things right, manage individuals, and for the strength and conditioning lads to have us ready.”
Sice explains that manager Kevin O’Brien, who played for the club for many years, is a huge part of that. A gentleman, he says, who “gets his point across when he has to but gets the lads on side too”. Another source of good advice for Sice is his father who he says he can always turn to although the message of “do the simple things well and nothing else” rarely changes.
It all feeds into a familiar environment that he describes at this great club. Their record on the field shows that they understand when to be serious and focus on the job at hand, while any successful team knows there must be a fun side too. When asked who the joker is within the pack inside the dressing-room, Sice immediately breaks into a grin: “Dylan Wall. The man is a mess and can’t help himself at all! You can’t sit still around him, he has the phone going and he’ll get a snap of you doing something and use it against you.”
“He has caught me numerous times and it’s only a matter of time before he feeds out into the (WhatsApp) group. ‘Gizzy’ (Kieran) McGrath is very witty, he waits for audience and hits you with a stinger.”
Sice won’t name names but he tells a funny anecdote from inside the camp, the sort of shenanigans that have been seen the length and breadth of the country. “One day, one of the lads rang the manager to say he was off at work, so he couldn’t make training. Well, an hour later wasn’t he off winning a tag rugby competition! What made it worse was how we all found out: we all saw it on Facebook!”
While the young men provide the light relief, the best trainer is a totemic figure who has seen it all — 2001 All-Star Kieran Fitzgerald. “He’s just a leader,” says the forward of his 38-year-old teammate. “He just does things right, always performs and does things for the right reasons. Thoroughly enjoys it, in every aspect.”
“Occasionally, yeah,” Sice adds of Fitzgerald’s age being the source of amusement to other players, “One of those guys who you can’t slag too much though, he’s too nice. Maybe when you get the chance, you could have the odd comment!”
When so much of what is happening away from the field is so serious, there’s a feeling that this is a group that have found the right balance. A cocktail for success between hard work and good fun, of youth and experience. All that experience will be required in Tuam Stadium this Sunday when they meet a Ballintubber team eager for revenge following defeats to the Galway side in the provincial finals of 2014 and 2018. The Mayo champions have already had a run out in the provincial Championship, beating Leitrim’s Glencar-Manorhamilton 1-11 to 0-09. Cillian O’Connor missed out on that game, but Mayo’s all-time leading scorer is expected to be back for what promises be a fascinating duel.