Monday 19 March 2018

The sporting moments that made 2012: Rare feat repeated thanks to one man's tour de force


Watson inspires Loughgiel

LIAM Watson has a loving mother who keeps scrapbooks detailing his career, from his early days as a young hurler in Loughgiel through to the present moment where, nearing 30, the end is no longer a remote consideration. The narrative has never been dull although rare talent can only take a player so far. He has been dogged by injury and a hot temper that has landed him in trouble on several occasions. His relationship with Antrim never truly settled.

When his mother opened those memoirs in the family home in January 2011, while he was being interviewed for this newspaper, Watson had played his most recent match for Antrim against Cork six months before. In an All-Ireland quarter-final he gave a classic performance of Watsonian ying and yang. Six points from play brilliantly illustrated the raw talent; his late red card for indulging in needless gimmickry was so contrived as if his reputation demanded some show of effrontery.

If Antrim presented no ready means of salvation, then his club was a place where dreams had no ceiling. In 1983, captained by Niall Patterson, Loughgiel Shamrocks won the All-Ireland. Over the years since then their near neighbours and rivals across the hills in Dunloy have been desperately trying to emulate that feat. Each time they came up short. In that time Loughgiel became fixated with simply winning an Antrim title but from 2003 to 2008 they lost six county finals in a row. Any hurler who came through that experience of repeated rejection had to be resilient and hard to dissuade.

And Loughgiel, like Watson, simply would not be dissuaded. After winning that All-Ireland in 1983, Loughgiel fell on hard times, adding a title in 1989, then had a long stretch without. Finally, they savoured their moment of release in 2010, a one-point win over Cushendall ending that county final curse. This year they completed three in a row but the pinnacle came last March when, with Watson inspirational, they repeated the feat of their predecessors in winning a second All-Ireland.

Watson scored 3-7, 1-6 from placed balls, and was the outstanding player on the pitch. His first goal was a follow-through, his second a free that duped the five men in the Coolderry goal, slicing it into the far top corner, the third came when he got a touch on a crossed delivery, guiding it into his path and finishing from close range. It was a tour de force from a player who hurled like the hand of destiny was on his shoulder. Peace at last.

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