WE didn’t know it then, but perhaps Shane Dowling’s last meaningful intrusion into the nation’s consciousness could have summed up him to so many, if not to the man himself.
For even as the net billowed and the stands tremored after his scorched-earth goal to temporarily ignite Limerick’s fading championship tilt against Kilkenny, its audacious author will have been keen to reflect where he began that day’s thrilling story.
He did so on the bench, from where, it may have seemed, his most significant impacts derived in a career that has been cut short so brutally, even if his retirement had been sign-posted by the debilitating interventions on his troublesome knee.
And yet in top-class sport, where so few are deemed capable enough of mind and body to thrive and survive, such self-reflection will hopefully not serve as his lasting legacy. For champions are defined not necessarily by when they make their impact. But how.
And Dowling, not always as slavish as some of his contemporaries to the often robotic appliance of soul-sapping conformity, was a hurler who seemed to at times defy convention.
For that, supporters, particularly of his club, Na Piarsaigh, and county, Limerick, should be eternally grateful. And without that, perhaps he might never have achieved his dream.
To win an All-Ireland final with that club and county. To score an All-Ireland final crowning goal into the Hill in front of his adoring fans.
We remember him after that final, too, bringing it all back home and reminding others, in case they had forgotten, there was in no sense for him a diminished glory, but one achieved on the back of great men.
Liam Kennedy was chief amongst those, a lighthouse of enthusiasm and guidance in his dual roles as a coach and mentor with Na Piarsaigh and in Dowling’s school, Ardscoil Rís, whose untimely death in 2017 meant he couldn’t see the near dozen of his former players and coaches end a yawning famine.
But Dowling ensured that his presence would be felt even in his absence, a characteristic nod to the good grace and humility that defined him.
That was not to say these traits could not co-exist with a fierce hunger and desire, or a stout defiance of the status that seemed so often to define him on the bigger days.
"I don’t want to be labelled as that," he said of what the owners aver is the most unwanted tag in sport, that of the 'super sub'. "You obviously want to start and that’s the long and the short of it."
Yet the more he sought to claim the label’s unsuitability, the more circumstances decreed the term would stick to him.
His impact screamed both a defiance and an acceptance of his place in John Kiely’s carefully nuanced plan of campaign.
It is the eternal fate of those like him; the more they seek to escape the typecast, the more they are defined by it.
In that stellar 2018 summer, he only started two games in the round-robin series – contributing 0-15 against Waterford in one of them, but his goal bursts from the bench franked his status as autumnal glory beckoned.
In the extra-time win against Cork, he nabbed 1-4 – the goal a typically ruthless penalty finish from the renowned dead-ball striker – before his late goal in the final served as insurance against a late-finishing Galway.
Against Cork, it was a verifiable case of cometh the hour and all that; just before the 60th minute, with the Leesiders six points up but, perhaps, already retreating into the defensive shell which would allow the victors to subsume them, Dowling came on for Seamus Flanagan.
His first touch reduced the gap to five with a 75-metre free. With two of his next three touches, he pointed from play, the latter reducing the margin to merely a point as regulation time-up loomed and Nickie Quaid’s heroics confirmed the extra drama.
In extra-time, he confirmed his impact, winning and converting a penalty as well as setting up two other scores.
And yet the irony remained that, as devastating as his impact had been, it would also confirm that he would again be held back in reserve for the final against Galway.
There was an implicit criticism that he did not offer enough graft to start the game, at least not to compensate for the amount of craft he could deliver if produced later in the piece.
As a teenager, he won an All-Ireland skills competition. He once scored 3-2 for his club in a minor final. He won a Munster U-21 title as an 18-year-old and almost made it to the senior panel ahead of his time.
His ability to change the outcome of games has always been marked; from Limerick’s 2013 Munster final win to his county’s epoch-defining renaissance.
Along the way, he gilded the journey with a lightness of touch, his individual style always dove-tailing with the team dynamic.
His dream may not necessarily have been to start an All-Ireland final on the bench. But it was certainly his dream to win one.
Though the pain of regret will sting now through his tears, his legacy will last so much longer.