My Favourite Game: Byrne’s solo run a great example of sport’s ability to deliver unexpected
Dundalk (2) v St Pat's (0) League of Ireland Premier Division November 24, 1994, Oriel Park
Confession time. Today's offering for this series had drifted from the memory until last week.
It was stumbled upon almost by accident, in one of those lost hours on YouTube that have become the norm in this bizarre month. But in an instant, the grainy footage of a November night in 1994 transported the mind back to a different place and time, where the excitement was much more authentic than anything experienced from a privileged press box view.
Don't get me wrong. It's possible to acknowledge the perks of the gig without becoming the fan with a typewriter.
A prime seat for major tournaments, box-office Ireland games and incredible days on the European road with history-making League of Ireland club sides - Belgrade 2011 (Michael O'Neill's Shamrock Rovers) and Alkmaar 2016 (Stephen Kenny's Dundalk) stand out - is mixing business and pleasure.
But if you're deriving child-like joy from a working day, then you're doing something wrong. Or not filing on deadline anyway.
The 12-year-old sports fan tends to be savouring a story rather than telling it. And that's why the genuine nomination is one that has aged from the glass half-full perspective. Truthfully, the Oriel Park meeting of Dundalk and St Patrick's Athletic was entertaining rather than a classic. Yet it was elevated by a moment which, if the mind isn't playing tricks, ended up on 'A Question of Sport'.
Tom McNulty had put Dundalk ahead in the first minute, and they would have taken the whistle then. Dermot Keely had put together a side that mastered the art of the 1-0 win. They would go onto prevail in a dramatic race for the title despite scoring fewer goals than the seven sides that finished below them.
Their triumph was against the odds. At the start of November, the club nearly went bankrupt. Budgets were cut. In an attempt to arrest a slide in attendances, a legacy of complacency planted by a period of success, home games were moved to Thursdays.
The recall is that Oriel Park was darker and even more unappealing than it is today. Logically, it's because it was a winter season but then again it's equally possible the floodlights were just failing.
And yet, there were glimpses of light. Brian Byrne tended to be the torchholder. Google had to be called upon to check what age he was then. Turns out he was 22 when Keely signed him from the Leinster Senior League just three months earlier. Once of Huddersfield, the Dubliner had somehow found himself at Glenmore Celtic. On his debut, the substitute was subbed by the ruthless manager.
However, the talent was obvious, a number 11 with the ability to glide past players with ease on a good day.
Through impressionable eyes, this was Ryan Giggs wearing white.
He was stationed at the edge of the box when Brian Kerr's Saints, frustrated by a string of misses, pushed for an equaliser and sent their goalie Tony O'Dowd up for a corner. Giddiness ensued.
The delivery was poor and hooked to safety and all of a sudden Byrne was controlling the ball with his head, 70 yards from goal with one defender ahead of him and O'Dowd leading an undignified pursuit.
Byrne was skilful rather than speedy, and the muddy pitch added a layer of unpredictability to the dribble but he maintained balance, dropped the shoulder and skipped around the last man on the halfway line as the volume grew.
He shunned the temptation to take a pot-shot so he was now a flagging long-distance runner on the last lap, with O'Dowd gaining ground. Alas, the 'keeper's desperate attempt to launch his body at either man or ball at the edge of the box fell short. Another Pat's defender had caught up too but he only succeeded in knocking Byrne off balance and the local hero just about stayed upright to poke the ball into the net before the battery power emptied and he collapsed in celebration. The chase seemed to take an eternity but YouTube confirmed it was around 12 seconds.
There probably wasn't even 2,000 people there but the roar made it feel like there was 200,000.
If this was the buzz that live sport could deliver, the natural solution was to keep going back for more.
My father, a teacher, had decided to take in a trip to a Dundalk game two years previously because a former student was involved. An idea to pass the time turned into a labour of love for my patient parents, especially after 1994/'95.
Jaunts to Oriel every second week were followed by selfish demands to be taken around the country for away games, including a long drive to Cobh and back on a day when the natives weren't even motivated to cross the road. Byrne had departed for Shamrock Rovers by then.
Nostalgia is a natural comfort now, especially when the earliest sporting experiences are inextricably tied with the people that brought you there, the keyholders to the kingdom, many of whom now find themselves cocooned in these strange and unsettling times.
But the cloud will lift, and the beautiful distraction will return. Today's kids will experience untainted thrills that might just set their life off in a particular direction.
The greatest sporting moments can sometimes happen when they are least expected.