Kevin Nolan: 'It was such a special time in my life'
Kevin Nolan talks about the excitement of the build-up to the 2011 final, the late drama and what victory meant
KEVIN NOLAN grew up in Monkstown. He went to school at Holly Park. A feeder school for Kilmacud Crokes. Kevin joined Crokes.
He was a fine soccer player with St Joseph's Boys, Sallynoggin. He had trials with Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers.
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Then came a fork in the road. He was playing for the Dublin minor footballers. The future President of the GAA, John Horan, was the manager.
It was becoming more difficult to juggle both sports.
"I had to pick. And since I was with the Dublin minors, I said I'd give it a chance and see what happened. And, thankfully, it worked out well," explains Kevin.
He went on to have wonderful times at Kilmacud Crokes and DCU – winning the All-Ireland title with Crokes and the Sigerson with DCU.
But the biggest day of all came on September 18, 2011 when Dublin won Sam for the first time since 1995.
"It was such an important thing to do. The enormity of it all. Dublin hadn't won the All-Ireland in 16 years. And the fact that we beat our great rivals, Kerry, added to it.
"It was such a special time in my life. It would be hard to beat a day like that."
Kevin remembers every minute of it. Every second. He slept well the night before.
"It was an All-Ireland final, but we tried to treat it as another game. That's what I had in my head.
"Despite the obvious excitement, it was all pretty calm. There were a few nerves. That's only natural. After all, it was the All-Ireland final.
"But our approach was that every footballer in the country would love to be playing in the All-Ireland final, so there was no point in worrying about it.
"We did a lot of visualisation stuff. We even did a dress-rehearsal of the pre-match parade and the hand-shake with the president.
"Ger Brennan was walking in front of me in the parade and I just concentrated on looking at 'áth Cliath' on the back of his jersey.
"You try to focus on yourself and the task in hand. And at the same time, you try to take in some of the atmosphere.
"We met up that day. Our usual routine. Just repeating it over and over. You know what is going to happen. That's when lads get into their mental space.
"You'd have the pre-match meal. Fellas would be listening to their music, or having a bit of a chat. Things like that. Nothing major.
"At that stage, your thoughts are turning to the game. We had two tough matches before the final, the quarter-final against Tyrone and the semi-final against Donegal."
The bus journey to Croke Park will always remain with Kevin.
"I have the fondest memories of that part of it. I can still remember the music that was playing on the bus.
"I was there as well when 'Pillar' Caffrey was manager. The bus would go down by Fairview Park. You'd drive by some of the pubs in Fairview. There would be people out on the streets cheering you. The hair would stand on the back of your neck.
"Then the bus would go down Clonliffe Road. You'd see people you know. Members of your own family. You'd feel like shouting out to them or waving at them, but you couldn't because you were trying to zone in on the game and what lay ahead."
Nobody could have predicted how that All-Ireland final was going to finish. Stephen Cluxton's jackpot shot.
"When I came onto the Dublin panel, I used to see Stephen hitting the frees before training with Mark Vaughan. Stephen wasn't taking them for Dublin back then.
"Then you'd see him first to arrive. Out with the bag of balls. And all that practice came down to the last-minute free that won the All-Ireland. All the work that he had done over the years came down to that. Stephen got us over the line that day.
"It was just phenomenal how it turned out. A goalkeeper kicking the ball over the bar in the last minute to win the All-Ireland.
"We were so happy to get the win. It was such a tight game. It mightn't have been our greatest display, but we got the result, and we were thankful for that."
Kerry were four points ahead with 10 minutes left. Kevin McManamon scored a dramatic goal. Nolan hit the equalising point.
Bernard Brogan edged the Dubs ahead. Kieran Donaghy levelled before Cluxton's golden shot.
Nolan was selected as the 'Man of the Match.' And was rewarded with an All Star.
But those accolades don't linger in his mind.
"It was nice to win them alright, but the main thing was winning the All-Ireland. I only got those awards because of the team.
"I played in the half-back line with James (McCarthy) and Ger (Brennan). You are trying to help each other out. I got Man Of The Match but it could have gone to anybody that day.
"Pat Gilroy and his management left no stone unturned. He had Mickey Whelan there. A legend of the game. A lovely man."
Kevin was also delighted to have his Crokes colleague, Paddy O'Donoghue, in the Dublin dugout, and the great David Hickey.
Bryan Cullen collected Sam. A blue-letter day for the chairman of the Dublin County Board, the sadly missed Andy Kettle.
These days, Kevin is living in Monaghan, just outside Castleblayney. He got marred to Lorna last April. He played his last game with his beloved Crokes last year.
He's now playing with Cremartin.
"Just across the road from the house. Lorna's (Kevin's wife) brothers play for the club.
"It's such a change from being with a big club like Crokes with such a huge membership. It's a much smaller club here, but it was great for me to help me get to know people and to settle into the community."
He works as a PE teacher. He enjoys the job. Sport has always been a favourite friend.
"I am constantly encouraging young people to get involved in sport. It doesn't matter what sport it is. Sport is great. It's important to keep people interested and active in sport."
In quieter moments, Kevin can hear the music of Big Tom drifting down the streets of Castleblayney. The King of Country.
Kevin met the Queen. And in the heartland of Kilmacud and Dublin, he will be always considered footballing royalty.