Tuesday 17 September 2019

Seamus Darby: How my teammates saw the shot heard around the world

Seamus Darby's name is etched in GAA history. His goal, in the dying minutes of the 1982 All-Ireland final killed Kerry's dream of five All-Irelands in a row. In his new book, About That Goal, Darby recalls that famous strike, and the highs and lows of a life changed forever by that one moment

Seamus Darby. Photo: Mark Condren
Seamus Darby. Photo: Mark Condren

Seamus Darby

I've had the chance to go back on the video and listen to Mícheál O'Hehir's commentary which I think was the best he ever did. It was as if his intuition told him there would be late, late drama. To see how others involved felt, I've asked some people both on and around the team for their views as the clock ticked down on that Sunday afternoon, September 19.

'Nine minutes to go - Charlie (Nelligan) comes out to take the free . . . it's 0-15 to 0-12 in favour of Kerry, but they're not out of the woods yet . . .'

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Seamus Darby, on the extreme left, scores Offaly's lastminute
goal past Kerry goalkeeper Charlie Nelligan in the 1982 All-Ireland final. From the left, the other players in the photo are Paudie Lynch and Mikey Sheehy (Kerry), Gerry Carroll (Offaly) and Jack O'Shea (Kerry). Photo: Colman Doyle
Seamus Darby, on the extreme left, scores Offaly's lastminute goal past Kerry goalkeeper Charlie Nelligan in the 1982 All-Ireland final. From the left, the other players in the photo are Paudie Lynch and Mikey Sheehy (Kerry), Gerry Carroll (Offaly) and Jack O'Shea (Kerry). Photo: Colman Doyle

(RTÉ Commentator, Mícheál O'Hehir)

Leo Grogan (Offaly selector 1982): I have a clear memory of what happened on the sideline before we made the substitution because I was involved with Eugene (McGee) and Paddy Fenlon in making it.

A few minutes before we sent Darby on, Eugene had turned to us and said: 'We'll have to do something lads, the forwards are drifting out too far. Look there is no one staying in near the goal.'

We decided that we would make a change. Paddy reminded us that at our eve-of-the-match meeting we had agreed to bring Martin Fitzpatrick on first in the forward line simply because he was flying in training. We had talked the night before about Seamus and what he could do but we still had a concern over his fitness.

Seamus Darby and Charlie Nelligan, the Kerry goalkeeper that day, share a joke many years later. Photo: Sportsfile
Seamus Darby and Charlie Nelligan, the Kerry goalkeeper that day, share a joke many years later. Photo: Sportsfile

He was the leading scorer from play in Offaly club football that year. Paddy and I had initially approached Eugene in June and said: 'We can't ignore what Darby has to offer' and his immediate response was: 'Ok so, let's get him in.'

It was a great move because Seamus was Man Of The Match in the Leinster final where he scored 1-3 in the first half. Then he got injured and missed the semi-final against Galway and there was a doubt remaining over the hamstring for the final.

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In the huddle on the sideline in Croke Park with Paddy and myself and despite what we had decided on the previous night, Eugene piped up: 'What about Darby?'

I said: 'I'd agree totally with that. He'll know what you mean about lying in around the goal and he'll get the other lads to stay in as well.'

Paddy, Seán Foran and PJ Mahon (the other selectors) all nodded their approval.

Eugene then called Seamus and had a private few words with him that I didn't hear but I distinctly remember seeing him pointing towards the Railway End goal as if he was emphasising that Darby should go right in towards the Kerry goal.

Despite popular belief, there wasn't a 2-2 vote on the sideline with Eugene having the casting vote. The amazing thing about our group of selectors was that we never once put anything to a vote; we did everything by consensus.

Nor was there anyone from outside telling us what to do. I accept that Eugene Mulligan, who was at the far end of the dugout, may have shouted in our direction to bring on Seamus. There was so much noise coming from the stands that I certainly didn't hear him say that and Eugene has said previously that he didn't hear him either.

We did what we always did; we considered our options. Eugene put forward a player (Darby) and we made a judgement on the merits of the situation in which we found ourselves. We were happy to reverse our decision from the night before because now there was a different set of circumstances.

With only seven or so minutes left, the risk of Darby's injury recurring was much less a factor than if we had made a substitution in the forwards in the first half. And that's how we came to change our minds and he came to make history.

'Seamus Darby has come on now as John Guinan is fouled . . . he (Darby) is now taking a position, we will see who is going off . . . and John Guinan is going off as Matt Connor kicks it over the bar and the score is now 0-16 for Kerry and Offaly 0-13 with what, about six minutes to go . . .'

(Mícheál O'Hehir)

John Guinan (Offaly forward): After going off, I headed towards the dugout and because it was raining, I put on Seamus's tracksuit to keep me warm. Myself and Mick Lowry sat down together outside on the side line, just talking and watching the game.

Did we know there was a goal in Offaly? We didn't know for sure but we'd seen the forwards who were still out there, especially the likes of Seamus, Brendy, Matt and Johnny, score all kinds of goals in training and knew anything was possible.

Matt Connor (Offaly forward and free-taker): To me, it was all about staying in the game . . . if we could keep the scoreboard ticking over, then there was always the chance that we might conjure up a goal.

Richie Connor (Offaly captain): I don't believe Seamus was brought in to play left corner forward because Brendy was the best corner forward in the country and he knew how to take a chance if it fell to him. I'd say it would be more accurate to say that Darby went on instead of John Guinan at half-forward but was told to push in and stay close to goal. I think it just happened that he ended up in there one-on-one with Tommy Doyle. Mind you, I'm not complaining because, he's very skilful, he'd a reputation of knowing how to stick one away and it was no surprise to me that he delivered the goal when he got the ball.

'A free to Offaly and will Matt Connor be satisfied with the point? He is, he taps it over the bar? And now the score is 0-17 to 0-14 with less than four minutes left . . .'

(Mícheál O'Hehir)

Matt Connor: Pointing the frees was just to keep us in the game. That mentality I suppose came from often winning late with Walsh Island back in Offaly or in Leinster club games. We had this thing of always trying to hang in there by doing the right thing to give the team the chance of winning. At the club, we'd often win a game in this fashion and that was all I was trying to do here.

Richie Connor: We were two points down . . . we had to hope that a chance would come along. We threw caution to the wind in those last six or seven minutes.

'And again I wonder is there a goal in the game somewhere? Time ticking away . . . Charlie Nelligan with the kickout…'

(Mícheál O'Hehir)

John Guinan: That was the thing McGee drilled into us - that we might need a goal. Every night in training he'd drive (Martin) Furlong mad by having Matt and the boys taking shots on him at the end of a session. Looking back now, it was marvellous foresight on his part to get us used to the idea that we just might need a goal.

'A line ball for Offaly and about three minutes left - three minutes, three points. Richie Connor to Liam Currams to Seán Lowry and the referee awards a free in to Offaly dead straight in front of the goal . . . on the 20 metre line and surely Matt Connor will try, and I underline the word try, for a goal. Yes he is, he is standing back . . . no he's not, he taps it over the bar . . . two points between them. Just under three minutes left and is there still a goal left in the game?'

(Mícheál O'Hehir)

John Guinan: You could notice that Kerry weren't playing like Kerry. They never had a team coming at them like we did in those last 10 minutes and I suppose they didn't know what to do when they went behind because it was years since they found themselves in that position in Croke Park.

Stephen Darby: I was wedged to John Egan. We moved up under the Hogan Stand on the 50 yard line on the left hand side. He was talking; I said nothing, just tried my best to concentrate fully on marking him. He was such a danger. A minute or so before the goal he said to me when Kerry were in front by two points: 'I think the ref's been a bit harsh on you lads today.'

I think he must have thought Kerry had it won and maybe it was his way of mellowing the defeat for me. There were decisions going both ways but I think he felt they had it.

'There is a free to the Offalymen with two minutes left in the game. Kerry leading by two points. And it looks as if they are winning, the way the Offaly men are just diddling and dawdling there . . .'

(Mícheál O'Hehir)

John Guinan: Eugene had kept telling us in training that we needed to be still close to them in the last 10 minutes - if we were, then we could pounce. We had gone through it so often that we didn't worry; it was as if we knew something would happen.

Richie Connor: When Seamus came in, it improved our chances of getting a goal. We already had lads there who could get you one - Matt, Brendy and Johnny.

'And here they come, this is Liam Connor, the full back. A high, lobbing, dropping ball, in towards the goalmouth. A shot - a goal, a goal, a goal for Offaly! There was a goal in the game. A goal, oh what a goal. And Offaly lead in the dying moments. Here it is again, the ball coming in . . . And the ball is buried into the back of the net by the sub who came on, Seamus Darby and the score now is . . . one point in it . . . Sensation of sensations'.

(Mícheál O'Hehir)

Stephen Darby: John (Egan) and myself were still down underneath the Hogan Stand. There was a cluster of players in front of me - Mick Fitzgerald was up there as well, and I didn't see who scored the goal. When I looked up again I could see Brendy celebrating with Seamus so I deduced it must have been Seamus who had scored it. But I didn't know for sure that he had.

Richie Connor: I knew it would take a moment of magic to win the game. I was one of the troopers and wouldn't have been capable of doing it but the lads inside were. It was Darby who provided the moment of magic for us in the end.

Matt Connor: I was waiting for the rebound (laughs)! It was a long ball, I was in around the goal but a bit to the right of the square. If it came in my side, I would have been on it. But it came in more across and I left it to Darby when I saw him going for it. He didn't need any help because he was as good a finisher as there was playing that time.

John Guinan: The goal was something else - all I remember is Mick and myself jumped up and bear-hugged each other. It was such a great feeling. Then shortly after the final whistle I saw my mother on the pitch and the two of us embraced. A stand-out memory to last a lifetime for sure.

Padge Dunne (Offaly midfielder): I didn't even think of celebrating. I never went near Darby, I was close to him but I didn't have time to congratulate him or anything like that. I remember thinking that someone better get back quick so I sprinted as fast as I could towards our own goal and said to myself that we've got to defend now. I didn't know exactly what we had to defend but I felt it was best if we could stop them from scoring. I should have been looking for my own man but at that stage, I didn't even know where he was.

'Offaly taking a free on the far side . . . and they are in no hurry whatsoever . . .'

(Mícheál O'Hehir)

Richie Connor: I got terrified the second the goal went in. I knew we were a point up and I estimated there were two minutes or so left but I was absolutely terrified we'd blow the lead. We should have managed our possessions better when we got it from the kick out after the goal. Matt should have been allowed to take a free but he wasn't. He was capable of keeping the ball in Offaly hands and I was surprised he wasn't called over for that free. Then we were sloppy in possession and Kerry did get the chance I was dreading.

I was actually back there alongside Furlong when he came out along the end line and then tried to fist the ball. I thought he'd pop it to me and I feared the worst when Mikey Sheehy intercepted the handpass to Stephen Darby and kicked it high in across our goal.

Padge Dunne: I don't have much memories of the game except for those last few minutes. And I wasn't thinking anything like . . . now we have scored the goal that is going to beat Kerry. My thoughts were - we still have a job to do. I remember Mick Fitzgerald was up right beside Seamus and he was totally switched on because he only focused on following Mikey Sheehy wherever he went. I can see him immediately after the snap of the goal staring into Sheehy's face. I said to myself . . . "If Mick is up here, who is minding the house?"

Stephen Darby: My mind clicked into a different zone. With the goal in the bag, I had to keep doubly close to John Egan if that was possible. I knew they would get down the field and try to equalise or score a goal and win it. I remember Furlong came out along the end line and his fist pass to me was intercepted. The ball went in from there to our square.

'It drops into the hands of the waiting Seán Lowry . . . the game is over . . . what a game . . . what a game . . .'

(Mícheál O'Hehir)

Padge Dunne: No one on the team knew how much time was left except Lowry. Jack (as we called him) knew because he had been there before on All-Irelands and he kept one eye on the big clock over the scoreboard.

After the goal, I burst a gut to track back and when Tom Spillane got on the ball I was about 30 yards away. I was praying 'please don't pass it' because Bomber was on his own and screaming for the ball. Then when I got closer, I kinda thought: 'You can pass it now if you want.'

I went straight back into our square. Then I watched the ball coming in from Mikey Sheehy's delivery and I saw Lowry was under it with his eyes transfixed on the ball. I shouted to him: 'You're all on your own, Jack'.

About 20 years later, he asked me out of the blue one night if I remembered what I'd said to him before he got possession.

'Perfectly,' I replied.

'Padge, they were the sweetest words I ever heard in an All-Ireland final,'" he said with a big smile on his face.

You see he had just glanced at the big clock, knew time was up and once he got the ball in his possession, he said he wasn't going to let it go until he heard the final whistle.

And that's how the game ended with Seánie charging out with the ball over his head in triumph.

Stephen Darby: When the whistle blew, I turned to John (Egan) and could see he was shell-shocked. He was captain of their team that had just lost an All-Ireland in the most dramatic circumstances. We shook hands but he couldn't say a word. I remember thinking how cruel sport was - here I was overjoyed and the man beside me was totally devastated as the pair of us lived through the same moment.

I didn't get to meet Seamus after the game until we got to the steps of the Hogan Stand. He'd been hoisted up on shoulders with people carrying him this way and that; that wasn't such a problem for me. We embraced there and it was a special moment - one for the ages.

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