‘GAA Gold’, ‘Premiership Gold’, ‘Rugby Gold’, ‘Olympic Gold’, ‘The Golden Moments of Sport’ etc. …etc: We have been fed a feast of great sporting memories from every vault and every TV archives over the past year. This scribe is not complaining – far from it. For me, sport = sanity. We need a fix of sport and if there is little live stuff, well then, what is better than reliving the golden moments from games past?
For those of you who have no interest in sport, but still pass yourselves off as being sane anyway – well good luck to you! But this column is the wrong stop-over for you this week. For the rest of us, sport is the great escapism, the great retreat into a world where dreams can come true and where ‘the glorious uncertainty of sport’ makes the heart thump and the nerves tingle.
Bill Shankley is reputed to have said; ‘Sport is not a matter of life and death – it is much more important!’ The legendary Cork hurler, Tomas Mulcahy was a regular visitor to my pub in Spain. We constantly discussed hurling and one day, feeling a bit guilty, I asked Tomas; ‘do you ever get tired of everyone you meet wanting to talk hurling to you?’ He looked me straight in the face, with a look of exaggerated astonishment and replied, ‘and what else would uuh want to talk about … boy!’
All this ‘gold’ got me thinking as to what is my greatest sporting moments, and I finally settled on a glorious moment in Croke Park in 2004. I am not talking precisely about a match, but of a moment so golden that it blew me into an out of body experience.
Favourite sporting moments are the ‘fix’ of sporting junkies. As I say, the one that totally blew my mind happened in 2004, during the Leister Senior Football quarter-final. To show how great this moment was for me, I have to tell you of the spectacular ‘fixes’ which didn’t make the cut.
I was in Giant’s Stadium in 1994 when Ray Haughton scored ‘that goal.’ Every time I see the clip on TV, I have a recurrence of goose-pimples. The ‘Bird’s Nest’ in Beijing was very special when Usain Bolt won an Olympic medal with a world record and his ‘show-boating’ was spellbinding for those of us privileged to be there. All this, and Westmeath’s ‘Leinster’ still to come …
Croke Park holds many great moments for me: The emotionally draining Ireland rugby win over England: Galway, Offaly, Clare, Wexford and Limerick winning All-Ireland hurling titles and Westmeath’s minor football success in 1995. Another one to make the short list was Westmeath’s U-21 football success; beating Kerry in Limerick in 1999.
I list the above short-list, just to show how strong the competition for my greatest sporting moment – and there was no cup or medals at stake that day.
When I mention Croke Park and 2004, you are entitled to think that my greatest sporting moment had to be our first ‘Delaney Cup’ win, where we beat Laois in a replayed final. That was incredible, but by then many of us fanatics were so sore from pinching ourselves and in such a zombie-like state that normal human feelings were alien to us. No, my greatest thrill came a few matches further back.
Westmeath, the no hopers, beat Dublin in that year’s Leinster quarter final. My greatest sporting memory is packed into five minutes of this match.
Time was up when unbelievably, Joe Fallon sent over the lead point for Westmeath. There were three minutes of added time to be played. Now, if you loaded my half-century’s experience of following Westmeath, into a computer and asked ‘what comes next’, the print-out would tell you that Dublin would score a goal – or at best an equalising point to condemn my county to another ‘gallant effort.’ And if all past experiences were anything to go by, we would be trounced in a replay. I believed Dublin had time and would score.
Then Gary Connaughton, who had earlier brought off a spectacular save from Jason Sherlock, came out to kick a free. The ball soared like a golden eagle straight into the Dublin half of the field. Paul Conway rose highest out of a blue forest and fielded the ball. In one herculean movement, his boots barely touched the sod as he swivelled and sent the ball straight between the posts. The ref blew it up on the kick out – and I cannot adequately express my disbelief and the overwhelming ecstasy. I can only describe those couple of minutes as a brain orgasm!
I remained on such a high from that moment right through to the Leinster final that I thought nothing of walking from Mullingar to Croke Park for the match against Laois.
The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.