For the first 45 minutes of yesterday’s All-Ireland club football final, Kilcoo were as bad as the new Garda uniforms.
ast week, @dontfoul, the game’s foremost statistician, published his match prediction. It was a complex and compelling series of graphs, scribbles and charts, reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of his many prototypes.
I imagined him like Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, retreating to his garden shed for two full days, labouring feverishly over the work until he emerged, triumphant, proclaiming that Kilcoo would win on a scoreline of 1-10 to 0-11.
No one, however, could have predicted that Kilcoo would succumb to a bad case of the yips. Systemically, they were as normal: winning all their own kick-outs, disrupting Kilmacud’s kick-outs, patient in possession, weaving pretty patterns and hard hard running. Only they couldn’t shoot.
In the first five minutes they had three terrible misses and agitation quickly cloaked them.
Each man must prepare himself mentally. Champions are champions because they perform on the biggest day. There may as well have been a thought bubble above the Kilcoo players’ heads saying ‘We are blowing this, we are blowing this, Jesus quick somebody do something’.
By the 24th minute, Kilcoo, with loads of possession, had blown a full 1-6, and Kilmacud were thriving on their anxiety. Another aimless Kilcoo hand-pass in the 26th minute was returned for a Kilmacud point, and after an astonishing 14-yard free was missed by Kilcoo in the 29th minute, Kilmacud, looking as though they couldn’t believe their luck, tagged on a very easy point to go in at half-time leading 0-8 to 0-2.
The game could easily have been over in the second minute of the second half. Kilmacud cut them wide open, Craig Dias palmed the ball towards the empty net and somehow, miraculously, one of the Brannigans dived backwards and flicked it wide. This was an insight into Kilcoo’s mental strength and was, I believe, the foundation stone for what followed.
Kilcoo were then awarded two easy frees, which was about all they could have scored at that stage, and at 0-4 to 0-9, their ’keeper came up to take a 45, miskicked it and amazingly, it ended up in the Kilmacud net.
If the first 45 minutes were a study in panic, the rest of the game was about character. The goal brought an end to the yips, nudged Kilcoo back into something approaching their normal groove and the contest became utterly absorbing. The key thing was the rabid refusal of Kilcoo to give up, exemplified in their equalising score in the 60th minute of normal time. Not much happened in the first period of extra time, each team scoring a single point. Then, Callum Pearson scored a brilliant solo point for the Dubs, followed by a very soft, easy free which put them two up.
Earlier in the day, at 63:35 in the hurling club final, and Ballygunner two down, the Shamrocks were in touch of victory when Gunner substitute Harry Ruddle stepped into the limelight and delivered one of the most extraordinary cameos ever seen on a hurling field. Harry won the ball, soloed through the middle before letting fly. Like a flat stone skimming across the surface of a lake, the sliotar hit the net and the ref blew it up.
The Shamrocks looked like a great boxer who has been knocked out by a punch he hadn’t seen, seconds before the final bell.
A few hours later, with one minute of extra time left and Kilcoo two down, it was time for another sub to enter the wonderful world of glory. Shealin Johnston knew that only a goal mattered. He soloed through, twisting and turning, then delivered a magnificent, audacious foot-pass to the edge of the square where it was almost a shock to realise that two Kilcoo men were queuing up to score. Ryan Johnston took the first shot. Conor Ferris parried it. Jerome Johnston took the second shot and rocked the back of the net.
Winning an All-Ireland has got nothing to do with deserve. Winners win and losers lose. Kilcoo suffered a panic attack for the first three quarters of this game against a formidable opponent. They recovered from that. The fluked goal still left them two behind. They forced extra-time with a superb score. Then, when all seemed lost, they did what winners do. They kept going, kept their nerve and earned the greatest glory that any Gaelic footballer can earn.
Finally, spare a thought for
@dontfoul. He predicted a Kilcoo win by 1-10 to 0-11. The actual scoreline was 2-8 to 0-13. The poor chap will be at least two days in the shed figuring out where he went wrong!