Thursday 18 January 2018

Graham Geraghty's flying visit to Navan still one of the GAA's greatest dramas

Royal legend Graham Geraghty. Photo: Damien Eagers / Sportsfile
Royal legend Graham Geraghty. Photo: Damien Eagers / Sportsfile

Michael Verney

The sporting summer of 2002 was dominated by the events of Saipan and Ireland's World Cup odyssey in South Korea and Japan but one story happening closer to home at the time could rival the soccer team's drama, the latest chapter in Meath and Louth's storied rivalry.

Since the controversy of the 2010 Leinster SFC final, which saw the Wee County pipped at the post by a Joe Sheridan 'throw', their Round 2 Qualifier clash eight years previous is often brushed over despite easily matching its cinematic drama.

As Hollywood scripts go in the GAA, they don't get any more spectacular than a player leaving his best friend's wedding, where he was best man, via helicopter and popping up to score the decisive goal deep into injury time.

But that's exactly the dream script which Royal legend Graham Geraghty wrote when another Meath hero Ollie Murphy floated an inviting ball across the Louth goal and, with time up. Geraghty caught, Geraghty shot, Geraghty scored.

A heaving Páirc Tailteann, where the throw-in was delayed by 15 minutes due to crowd congestion, was in thrall as the man who left the top table at a wedding in Wexford and arrived at the Navan ground by chopper decked in tails and shiny shoes was the saviour.

Based on who you talk to, up to 30,000 spectators produced a carnival atmosphere on a balmy Saturday night with chaos on the way to the Meath venue as Louth boss Paddy Carr was forced to stop traffic or risk his side arriving late.

When the action got underway nothing could separate the sides at the break, 0-6 apiece, but gradually Louth got on top and looked certain to dump out the 2001 All-Ireland finalists in their own back yard as they led 2-9 to 1-8 as injury time approached.

Recalling those final minutes on LMFM Radio's Sunday Sport show 15 years later, Carr spoke of his efforts to get a substitute on the pitch and how his side froze, allowing Richie Kealy and Geraghty (left) to hit the net as the Royals prised the game from their grasp with the finishing line in sight.

"I was trying to get a sub on and I remember the linesman saying, 'No Paddy you're alright, it's over, it's over' and I said, 'you need to tell that guy out there' because I just felt the referee Brendan O'Gorman was a bit spooked," Carr recollected.

"It was an incredible atmosphere. You could sense it and I think he was nearly afraid to blow the whistle and then Graham changed the script completely and I think he couldn't wait to blow the whistle then.

"Louth players were seized by that moment of wishing and waiting for it to happen and there was a type of paralysis that hit the team in the last couple of minutes because we stopped doing what we had been doing very well up until then and we paid very dearly for it."

The leadership which underpinned Sean Boylan's quartet of All-Ireland wins shone brightest that night with Carr left to rue what he could have been "an enormous turbo boost" for Louth football as injury time far exceeded O'Gorman's allocated minutes.

"Two miracle goals", as Boylan described them, left Louth heartbroken with the Meath maestro claiming "the Gods were against Louth" as Geraghty's class proved the unlikely match-winner with the last kick of the game.

"I'd say 99 per cent of footballers would have fisted it over the bar to equalise but he rolled the ball into the net. It broke our hearts," Carr reflected, while Geraghty's former Meath team-mate Evan Kelly spoke of how "Graham would only kick a point when he couldn't score a goal".

As the Royals lept, Louth supporters openly wept as one of the GAA's most energy-charged occasions reached its crescendo.

The next chapter awaits on Sunday in Parnell Park, but only something special will match that drama.

Irish Independent

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