Twenty years on, Taaffe's magic moment remains a source of joy
Published 04/09/2015 | 02:30
Some 20 years since scoring the crucial goal in Clare's historic 1995 All-Ireland success, Eamonn Taaffe still considers himself lucky to have even been in that position.
The Tubber clubman pulled his hamstring for the third time that season when the Banner visited Croke Park the week before their semi-final win over Galway and had almost written the year off.
But Ger Loughnane kept faith in the young attacker and with the game swinging away from Clare, he was sprung from the bench despite not being listed in the match programme.
"Loughnane said I wouldn't be part of the 24 but that my name would be one of the five or six that would be given to the referee," Taaffe said.
"I thought he was mad but I wasn't going to say no. As I was going on, I remember him saying that there were a lot of balls hanging in round the square and to get my hands on one of them."
Taaffe didn't feel the weight of the ball for 20 minutes and was way off the pace but his poacher's instincts sent him to the edge of the square, the only place he felt he could any impact.
"I remember running out the wing after Kevin Martin and he just left me for dead. I just said that whatever chance I have of doing something, it wasn't going to be out here," he said.
"I went back to full-forward. I really wasn't fit to play at all and it was pure luck what happened, but I'll take it."
Reigning champions Offaly were two up heading towards injury-time and Loughnane readied Cyril Lyons to replace Taaffe and chase the deficit.
Then, the face of hurling changed forever with one pull of a hurley. Yesterday marked the game's 20th anniversary but the events following Anthony Daly's free are still ingrained in Taaffe's mind.
"Dalo hit in a free and it came off the crossbar. I remember distinctively because Kevin Kinahan went to pull on it as it was coming out and he literally missed it by an inch," he said.
"I just hopped on it and it flew in. It feels like yesterday and it's hard to believe it's 20 years ago. I didn't think I'd be fit and I was no where near the level required but I got lucky."
The substitution was already made so Taaffe returned to the sideline and he remembers the nervous tension as everyone waited for Dickie Murphy's final whistle.
The 40-year-old said: "The pitch invasion was unbelievable. I'll never forget the stampede of people, sharing that special moment with all the supporters was something else."
As a sales representative with Roche's Feeds, he travels the road and is regularly reminded of his exploits - something which makes him feel both grateful and embarrassed.
He said: "There's not a day goes by that someone doesn't mention it to me. I'm awful lucky though because there were 16 or 17 other lads who deserved it more."
Much like Seamus Darby, Offaly's 1982 hero, he was inundated with well-wishers hoping to toast his famous green flag but when he was still playing he had the wherewithal to turn them away.
"I was never really a drinker when I was hurling. I was able to stay away from it but I still get the fella who wants to buy me a pint and at this stage I'm not going to turn it down," he said.
Many people draw parallels between Taaffe and 2013 hero Shane O'Donnell but he's thankful he didn't encounter the same media attention and he tips his cap to the way O'Donnell has dealt with the celebrity status.
"I don't know if I would have been able to deal with the fame like Shane has. To see how he's been pulled and dragged all over the place and he's still such a nice, level-headed chap who just gets on with his hurling. Fair play to him."