‘If that goal was allowed to stand we’d have been goosed at that stage’ - Mick O'Dwyer reflects on Kerry v Kildare clash of '98
Fortune favoured the brave when Micko's Kildare took out his native Kerry in 1998
Johnny Crowley allowed himself a smile when the allegation of 'plámásing' referees for more beneficial decisions was levelled against Kerry before the recent Munster final replay.
Don't they remember '98?
Crowley does, all too vividly. Maurice's Fitzgerald's arcing free whipping in ferociously from near the Hogan Stand sideline, Denis Dwyer leaping highest between Glenn Ryan and Davy Dalton. The net shaking.
And then the commotion. Kerry were three points down (0-13 to 1-7), chasing hard with just five minutes left. Mick Curley was referee and consulted his umpires behind the goals.
Glancing through the net Ryan made a last-ditch appeal for leniency. And then the flags were crossed to signal a disallowed score. Acquittal.
"Glenn had his hands on his head begging them. In terms of leadership he was dead right because their whole year was on the line," recalls Crowley, scorer of the goal that breathed life into Kerry after they trailed by 0-9 to 0-4 early in the second half.
"It was cuteness, leadership, plámásing if you want. A genuine appeal for mercy. He'd put Darragh (Ó Sé) in the shade for it! But we should have been inside there as well, giving our tuppence worth on it."
To this day Crowley is not sure whether Dwyer even got a touch on it. As he recalls it, the umpire was ready to reach for the green flag.
"They were horrified because they were actually in full control. Normally 100 times they'd deal with that (high ball), no problem," he says.
"I always regret that I should have been in there beside them lobbying. I don't think I'd have been listened to anyway. But they were too cute. And anyway they were better than us that day."
Seventeen years on Mick O'Dwyer re-opens the case file on the goal that wasn't and sees no ground for a re-trial.
"Kerry people are still talking about it," he reflects. "They often mention it to me. That we got a goal disallowed that cost Kerry an All-Ireland final. I think Denis was in the square, anyway. Just about."
Ryan, his captain, can't be so sure. He still remembers that sinking feeling.
"My first reaction was that it was a goal. It was more a desperation plea than anything. 'Jesus please don't.' Because we should have been more up in that game," he remembers.
"We had a couple of chances and we didn't take them and it was like we were just waiting for Kerry to come back almost. If that goal had gone in we would have been goosed at that stage."
Ryan embraced Dalton when Curley called for the flags to be crossed. They had got away with it.
For O'Dwyer, the match had resonance because of the presence of his son Karl on the team more than his own situation facing Páidí Ó Sé on the sideline the afternoon.
Karl O'Dwyer had transferred up to Kildare earlier that year in a 'recruitment drive' that also brought Brian Lacey from Tipperary on board.
O'Dwyer's transition wasn't easy at first, leading to quite a bit of "barracking", as his father recalls.
"In the first couple of games he didn't do too well. Of course there was pressure on. But I didn't give a damn about pressure. Let them talk away, that was my attitude.
"He played in the 1992 Munster final the day that Clare beat Kerry. There were two players dropped and he was one of them. He said to me year later 'would there be a teaching job in Kildare?'. So we got him a teaching job.
"I knew his ability from underage football in Kerry and South Kerry. He had everything going for him. It was only a matter of putting a bit of steel into him. We managed to do that.
"He said to me that day 'I'm going to prove to these Kerry fellas that I was good enough to be picked'."
O'Dwyer scored three points and was fouled for the last free from Padraig Brennan that was effectively the insurance score.
At the other end Lacey successfully smothered the influence of Fitzgerald.
"Lacey rarely kicked a ball in a game but he did a great marking job," recalls Micko. "The best player in any county, we'd always put Lacey on them. A marvellous marker. Like a leech. The most annoying man you could ever have playing on you."
For Ryan, the placement of Ken Doyle, previously corner-back when he broke an arm earlier in the campaign, as a half-forward to track Seamus Moynihan, was a "masterstroke that won the game."
Kildare took out the three previous All-Ireland champions that summer but fell short in the final against Galway.
O'Dwyer feels the hype got to his players and regrets not shielding them better from it in the build-up.
Ryan argues they had to live through it, embrace it properly. And anyway hype had been prevalent since they toppled Dublin in a replay earlier that summer.
Four years later, after a 10-year stewardship over a 12-year span, O'Dwyer called time on his involvement with Kildare after a qualifier defeat in Thurles to Kerry. Revenge for '98? "It was no good to them by that time. They were a bit late," he laughs.
Karl O'Dwyer's Kildare career ended that day too, a shuddering challenge from Darragh Ó Sé forcing him off.
"Darragh capsized him," Micko recalls. "Karl dislocated his shoulder. He was taken away on a stretcher. Darragh hit him hard. He'd got physical by then, like the uncle."
Ryan recalls that evening as the first time Colm Cooper made an impression on him. Páidí had marked his card about him earlier in the year when the counties had played one of their regular challenge matches.
"Every so often Micko and Páidí would organise it, you wouldn't know where it would be. This one was down in Limerick. Whatever way the showers were set up afterwards, Páidí was in with us. I was showering beside him.
"'What do you think of the little red lad?'," he asked me.
"He had come on but sure we wouldn't have known he came on. 'I didn't pay much attention to him,' I replied.
"'Well you should because he's the best footballer Kerry are going to produce for years.'
"When we played them in Thurles, I got a chance to have a rattle at him. And I thought I did. I got him and I thought 'that's that job done.'
"But it took more out of me than it did out of him. He just hopped up off the ground and got a score just a couple of minutes later."
It surprises both Ryan and O'Dwyer that Cooper still finds himself in reserve for tomorrow's quarter-final.
"He could have one leg and he'd be starting in Kildare," figures Ryan. "I'm surprised they're not trying to get more football into him."
To O'Dwyer, he'd be "automatic" in any county, even Dublin at this stage. "He mustn't be right. But Fitzmaurice isn't afraid to make big calls."
Ryan would like Kildare to be meeting a Kerry side which hadn't played in four weeks rather than one which has had the benefit of a second tough game just two weeks ago.
O'Dwyer is looking forward to seeing Niall Kelly and Paul Cribbin go at Kerry.
"But Kerry are still too strong. It looked good the last day for Kildare, encouraging. But Cork couldn't have been worse. They were terrible," he says.
The Cribbin-Tommy Moolick midfield pairing reminds Ryan of the '98 Niall Buckley-Willie McCreery axis, one for the heavy lifting, the other for the flair.
They agree that Kildare must be fitter than the best teams to have a chance of beating them.
"If Kildare are to succeed they must use the Curragh," declares O'Dwyer, mindful of his own preferred method of getting his players mentally and physically right.
"Braveheart Hill," recalls Ryan. "Micko used to say if it was good enough for Dermot Weld it's good enough for us.
"To me those methods stood the test of time, they're still hugely beneficial. I ran the marathon last year. I wouldn't have been able to do it only I had that base. But if you do that now you're old-fashioned, you're not up with the times.
"I know this, though, there is no way Kildare can beat the top teams unless they are fitter than them."