Monday 14 October 2019

Comeback kings break down the anatomy of a GAA revival

Positioning, panic and pressure - the keys to coping when everything around you is crumbling

Johnny Dooley. Photo: Sportsfile
Johnny Dooley. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

Nothing stirs the heart quite like a comeback story. There's something about a seemingly lost cause resurrecting from the ashes that toys with the emotions of those watching, never mind those on the pitch.

It may be just six weeks old but this year's championship has already provided its fair share with Tipperary making Lazarus-like recoveries in consecutive weeks against Cork and Waterford before the boot was on the other foot against Clare last Sunday and their season ended abruptly.

It poses an intriguing question: what is the anatomy of a comeback? How does it materialise? And is there any way to stop it?

While there are some extraordinary comeback stories, there is always an obvious starting point - the 'five-minute final' between Offaly and Limerick in the 1994 All-Ireland SHC decider. Buoyed by Johnny Dooley's ballsy goal attempt from a free, the Faithful overturned a five-point lead to hit the Treaty men for 2-5 without reply in the closing minutes to seal a famous win by six points.

Pat O'Connor lashed home their third goal as the three Dooley brothers - Joe, Billy and Johnny - accounted for 2-11 of Offaly's 3-16 total, with RTÉ appropriately filming 'Doolini - the Great Escape' later that year as the trio reflected on a remarkable sequence of events.

Describing it as "fairytale stuff" earlier this week, Johnny Dooley outlines how he "never felt that we were out of it" and went against sideline instructions to go for a goal from that famous placed ball.

"I was a bit cheesed off with how the day went and under normal circumstances, the game would just peter out and you'd lose by three or four points. What was the point in getting beaten by three points?" Dooley explains.

"At that stage it was win or bust, you might as well go down swinging. Maybe we still would have won the game even if I had taken that point, but maybe that goal created that little bit of panic. They were at sixes and sevens, it seemed, after it.

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"It was a combination of Limerick losing their shape and falling apart a little and everything just clicking for us. We had an inner-built confidence from winning minors and contesting three U-21 All-Ireland finals that no matter what game we played, we'd always feel we were going to win. Without that belief, these things won't happen."

Limerick goalkeeper Joe Quaid was on the other end of the spectrum, however, as balls flew past him at an incredible rate and he rubbishes any notion that he pucked out the ball quicker than normal following Dooley's green flag.

"You've idiots out here saying I should have pucked it over the Hogan Stand. You'd swear there was only one sliotar in Croke Park. If I pucked it over the Hogan Stand and a line ball came in and they got a goal, they'd be saying 'why didn't he puck it out to Ger Hegarty? He was standing out on his own'," Quaid reasons.

"The puck-out I hit went straight to Ger Hegarty and he got dispossessed but there were still a lot of bodies between Ger and the goals. Once that happened then, momentum just swung. It all happened so quick, we just couldn't stop the bleeding.

"By the finish I was hoping nothing would drop into me because your head was just all over the place. There was probably tears coming down my face, it's a hard thing to deal with. When you're playing in goals you feel the brunt of it."

Lessons were learned in '96 when they came from 10 points down at half-time against Tipp in their drawn Munster final, with Ciarán Carey refusing to let them sit down as they returned out on to the Gaelic Grounds after just five minutes.

Having edged back into it with a string of points, Quaid made a vital save from Aidan Ryan.

"If he had scored, the momentum was halted. But all of a sudden we were going from 'hold on now, we're in with a right shout here' to 'let's go and win this'," Quaid says.

Eoin Liston didn't taste a championship defeat in his first four years with Kerry but the 'Bomber' would be on the end of the most famous sucker punch in football history when Offaly's Seamus Darby dashed their five-in-a-row hopes in '82.

"When the goal goes in you start thinking, 'Oh, Jesus Christ' and what can often happen is you don't stick to the process. Everyone gets into a bit of panic, you lose your shape and fellas start trying to win it themselves," Liston explains.

"Lads start making totally uncharacteristic mistakes and we had too may fellas around the ball. Everyone was trying too hard. It's hard to stay in your position when everything is going wrong around you but you have to stay calm."

David Brady played his part in Mayo's famous All-Ireland SFC semi-final comeback against Dublin in 2006 as Ciarán McDonald silenced Hill 16 with an amazing winner to prevail after trailing by seven.

"You're always only one step away from creating momentum," Brady says.

"Five is the magic number. If you can get to five, you're within two scores and then it's game on."

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