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The greatest game? Last weekend's Kerry-Mayo replay was a classic but Offaly's win against the Kingdom in '82 is still No 1 for me


The defining moment of the 1982 All-Ireland final... Offaly's Seamus Darby, extreme left, watches his shot for a goal sail over Kerry 'keeper Charlie Nelligan. Photo: Colman Doyle

The defining moment of the 1982 All-Ireland final... Offaly's Seamus Darby, extreme left, watches his shot for a goal sail over Kerry 'keeper Charlie Nelligan. Photo: Colman Doyle


The defining moment of the 1982 All-Ireland final... Offaly's Seamus Darby, extreme left, watches his shot for a goal sail over Kerry 'keeper Charlie Nelligan. Photo: Colman Doyle

I have been fortunate in a long career of managing, watching and commenting on football to have seen some remarkable games.

Last weekend's games between Kerry and Mayo in the All Ireland semi-final replay and the following day's shock win by Donegal over Dublin has got people recalling the great games they have witnessed in their time.

Gaelic football needed such great occasions and the two semi-finals have set up a mouthwatering final between the traditional kingpins, Kerry and Donegal, who have brought a strange kind of beauty to the game with the marriage of skill and science.

Great games have been spread across different eras and different competitions in the GAA but it is the ones that are most recent in the mind that normally stand out clearest.

I've been watching games since the 1950s, been involved since the sixties at club level but it is from the seventies onwards where I have gone to come up with a putative Top 10 list here.

I am mindful that it is a fairly academic exercise to rate one game ahead of another but obviously my own No 1 will always be the 1982 final when I was manager of Offaly.

On reflection, I will go with the Kerry-Mayo match from last weekend as my No 2 because it had everything but after that I am opting to go chronologically with the best matches and I'll leave it to you, dear readers, to decide which ones were best.

Here are my top 10 football games from the seventies to the present day...

1. Offaly v Kerry, All-Ireland Final 1982

While this All-Ireland final is now copperfastened in GAA history because it prevented the Kerry five-in-a-row thanks to Seamus Darby's goal, what is often overlooked is that the overall game is recognised as being one of the best finals for half a century in terms of the quality of the game and high quality of scores in wet and windy conditions.

The dramatic finale tends to overlook the high standard of play from start to finish and the tension which surrounded that whole afternoon, making it one of the best games of that period.

2. Kerry v Mayo, 2014

This replayed game last Saturday in Limerick was one of the greatest games I have ever seen.

It had all the best components of Gaelic football, outstanding personal duels, a game that ebbed and flowed as each team in turn held superiority, extra-time which is always an attraction, controversial decisions, really everything that goes to the heart of Gaelic football.

And despite grim forebodings by experts, the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick added hugely to the atmosphere of this marvellous sporting contest.

3. Meath v Offaly, 1970

This game is arguably the most exciting Leinster final ever played. Because of the phenomenal scoring rate and the incredible second half. Meath 2-22, Offaly 5-12 was the final score.

The half-time score was Offaly 4-7 to Meath's 0-9 and many fans left the ground at that stage. Meath fought back to score an amazing 2-13 and win by one point while Offaly were shellshocked when they realised they had scored 5-12 and lost in what was then an 80-minute game.

4. Cork v Galway, 1973

New Cork manager Donie O'Donovan produced possibly the best ever football team from the county in 1973. In the Munster final Cork had scored an astonishing five goals against Kerry after just 23 minutes.

In the semi-final, they rattled in 5-10 against Tyrone and then 3-17 against Galway in the final. Both teams played brilliant football in one of the best All-Ireland finals of pure football of that period, highlighted by that remarkable final score of 3-17 to 2-13.

5. Kerry v Cork, 1976

The replayed Cork-Kerry Munster final of 1976 still stands as one the best games between these teams. Cork led by 0-6 to 1-2 at the break with the goal being a brilliant effort from Pat Spillane. Cork had a great team in those times and would have won but for two bizarre decisions by referee John Moloney and his umpires. First when Cork's Brian Murphy fielded a ball but was adjudged to have crossed the line and the goal was allowed. Then when a high ball went into Cork's Declan Barron and he tipped it to the net, the goal was disallowed, a nett loss of six points to Cork.

The final score was Kerry 3-20 Cork 2-19 after extra-time.

6. Monaghan v Kerry, 1985

An often forgotten semi-final was the nail-biting finish between Kerry and Monaghan in 1985.

There was only a handful of Kerry fans there for what was meant to be a formality but Monaghan thwarted many of the Kerry superstars in a dramatic encounter that all hinged on a free from 54 yards out near the sideline to Monaghan who were behind by a point with time virtually up. Eamon McEneaney took the kick and with half the Kerry team in the goalmouth floated the ball high over the crossbar to scenes of uncontrolled euphoria from Monaghan fans. One of the greatest high-pressure kicks of that decade.

7. Meath v Dublin 1991

This was a series rather than just one game but despite that the overwhelming feeling still among those of us lucky enough to watch all four games was of passion, fearlessness and drama.

In every game those commodities stood out and who could have anticipated the final act in the drama with that incredible length-of-the-field goal by Meath scored by Kevin Foley. Over 240,000 people paid to watch the four games that electrified Gaelic football for years to come.

8. Down v Derry, 1994

In Ulster football circles where there are so many close and exciting games, this meeting between then All-Ireland champions Derry and Down in Celtic Park still stands out as one the really classic encounters.

Full of powerful physical but fair battles, wonderful scores and the dethroning of All-Ireland champions in their own ground made this a very special game. And Down went on to win the 1994 All-Ireland final later in that year.

9. Tyrone v Armagh, 2005

This All-Ireland semi-final was an excellent game notable for the fact that both counties had just won their first All-Irelands but now free of some of the tensions of previous games between the counties. In a dramatic last quarter, it was Tyrone who won by 1-13 to 1-2 and they went on to win the All-Ireland.

10. Dublin v Kerry, 2013

It is easy to remember but hard to forget this brilliant Dublin-Kerry game in the 2013 semi-final, which probably set the ultimate seal of approval on the brilliance of Colm Cooper. However the Dublin team was not over-awed and came back to score in one of the most skilful games of football we have seen in an All-Ireland semi-final.

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