GAA Championships Week 13: Seanie O’Shea’s big boot

by | Jul 16, 2022

Those of us who use the GAAGO streaming website will be over-familiar with a commentary segment which gets periodically replayed, among other sounds and images, during the TV adverts; RTE’s main GAA commentator Ger Canning, saying “he’s moving in there, and he’s got it.”

It’s no “they think it’s all over,” is it? But on Sunday, at 5.14pm, Canning screamed “he’s got it” over the noises of a 73,000 crowd and co-commentator Kevin McStay’s trademark excitability at such times. And THAT “he’s got it” will forever be very…evocative…indeed.

The ”he” was Kerry’s Sean O’Shea. The “it” was a 55-metre free. The “it” was into a strong wind. “It” was into Croke Park’s ‘Hill 16’ terrace, packed with blue-bedecked Dublin fans, bar a distant blotch of green-and-gold garbed Kerry fans, high and to the right of the posts as O’Shea looked. “It” was the last kick of a near-epic All-Ireland semi-final between inter-county Gaelic Football’s ‘big two.’ And if “he” scored “it,” Kerry would have their first Championship win over Dublin since 2009, and be favourites for their first All-Ireland title since 2014, their second-longest-ever title-less stretch.

Kerry should have won without the theatre. They were six-up on 44 minutes. And Dublin weren’t in it until Kerry’s David Moran fumbled Dara Moynihan’s minimally underhit pass and Dublin netted 17 seconds later. But O’Shea possibly shouldn’t have been on the pitch, after braining Dublin goalie Evan Comerford when trying to convert a first-half penalty rebound with more force than the penalty itself. On such things do matches turn.

O’Shea also scored Kerry’s first point, inside two minutes, after Dublin newbie Lee Gannon had fired Dublin ahead on 67 seconds. Inside two minutes later, Moran’s high punt to the edge of the square caused defensive confusion, O’Shea reached it near the end-line, and as defenders rushed out to deal with on-rushing danger, he nipped in behind them and slid the ball into the net.

Then Kerry’s mercurial David Clifford awoke, scoring points with both feet, from open play, from a free, from a mark, from football heaven. Dublin’s John Small was back-carded for dragging Kerry’s Paul Geaney to the ground yards off-the-ball (arguably sin-binned for stupidity). And on 27 minutes, Clifford hit the post with another audacious point attempt, the dropping ball landed in Gavin White’s lap and before he could shoot, Dublin’s Lorcan O’Dell tapped him impolitely on the shoulder. Penalty.

O’Shea had the chance to put Kerry seven-up from the spot. Not for a bit, though. Comerford sped off with the ball as the spot-kick was given. But on his return, he decided to lie-down in front of goal, to get treatment for an out-of-nowhere right-leg injury, which made O’Shea wait and handily (cough) ate into the black-carded Small’s ten-minutes in the sin-bin.

O’Shea powder-puffed the spot-kick. Comerford comfortably saved it and made a brilliantly brave save when O’Shea reached the rebound first. Dublin players were incensed when O’Shea wasn’t carded for left-footing Comerford’s face on the follow-through. And handbags ensued, overshadowing Comerford’s surprise recovery from his surprise injury to leap a yard-and-a-bit off his line before O’Shea ‘struck’ the spot-kick. Then, in the stoppage-time started by Comerford’s siesta, Clifford wrong-footed and pinballed off various defenders before exquisitely pointing with his “””weaker””” right-foot.

Kerry’s five-point interval lead became six when Clifford landed another classic, before Cormac Costello’s stunning eye-of-a-needle 20-yard finish to a slick 80-yard move changed the afternoon’s dynamic. The perma-excellent Ciaran Kilkenny followed that with a point. And suddenly Dublin were only a point behind, with 25 minutes left.

Kerry defended superbly and went three-up after a three-minute keepball session which culminated in a point for Paudie Clifford, whose growing influence was in inverse proportion to brother David’s; as if the family were only allowed a certain overall impact between them. The keepball was so straight from Dublin’s six-in-a-row team playbook that Dublin fans…booed. But the sense that the game might hinge on whether Kerry scored from it produced more compelling viewing than three minutes of keepball should.

Dublin were one-down again after two 62nd-minute points, James McCarthy landing an outrageous score from near the right-hand touchline, catching the resultant kick-out and starting another attack, which Kilkenny converted. Broadcasters disagreed over which Kerryman was man-of-the-match. Mine was the ubiquitous McCarthy. On 69 minutes, effective Dublin sub Paddy Small found Kilkenny, who landed a wonderfully photogenic over-the-shoulder equaliser. Then O’Shea reinstated Kerry’s lead, winning and pointing a close-in free with 110 stoppage-time seconds left.

But Dublin patiently engineered room for Brian Fenton to find Small, who took a majestic advanced mark. It wasn’t an easy kick, even without the scoreboard pressure and the 15 seconds within which he had to take it. But some unwarranted Kerry dissent made it a close-in free, which free-taker Dean Rock could take. This season, Rock has been near-anonymous from open play, but hadn’t missed ONE free. He still hasn’t…and won’t now.

Extra-time, and my advice to “expect penalties,” loomed, even when Clifford (D) was fouled 55 metres out, on 74 minutes 58 seconds. Kerry keeper Shane Ryan offered his services. But, McStay memorably said, “Seanie O’Shea will surely come out, hasn’t he the big boot?” Big, accurate and a great judge of conditions. Camera shots from behind the goals showed how his kick headed for the Kerry fans on the Hill, before curling in to split the posts 50-50, as if magnetised there. He “got it” alright. And it is GAA folklore already.

Dublin could highlight how much they missed injured forward Con O’Callaghan. Kerry could highlight Comerford’s cynicism and how Jason Foley was down injured when Kilkenny scored his late, over-the-shoulder number. Both sides could point to all kinds of everything surrounding Kerry’s penalty. There seems little doubt, though, that the scoreboard exactly reflected the, epic, day that was in it.

The gods alone know what the TV pundits would have discussed at half-time in the Galway/Derry semi, if it wasn’t for Croke Park’s Hawkeye-technological meltdown. Derry went into the break leading 0-4 to 0-3 after a half every bit as dreadful as that sounds. Galway came out for the second half level, 0-4 each. And the momentum shift all over Corker caused by that curious scenario arguably impacted the result. But Galway’s win was the right result. Eventually.

Derry started as Derry have started all championship. Remorselessly grinding their way into a lead. Yes, it was great that full-back Brendan Rogers got two points. But Niall Loughlin was the only forward on there with him when bulldozing Galway forward Damien Comer bulldozed his way to Galway’s first point, on 21 minutes. Though much the better side, Derry were only two ahead. And it was still 0-3 to 0-1 after 28 minutes. SOMEthing had to happen.

Mercifully, something did. Comer had two shots, the first blocked for a 45 which Shane Walsh landed, the second acrobatically pointed. In-between, however, Walsh’s effort was Hawkeye-d off the board, shocking all who’d seen the TV replays of his shot never venturing outside the line of the post, from boot to landing behind the goal. Even before the teams left the field, the ‘wide’ was shown again. And the actual football was a secondary issue for the half-time telly discussions.

The on-field officials quickly rectified matters, rendering un-necessary Galway’s threats not to restart until Walsh’s score counted. As the teams re-emerged, they were told that it was four-each. Hawkeye was turned off…for the weekend. As the ball was thrown-in for the second half, Galway’s fans roared at the new reality. And despite the paucity of their first 28 minutes, Galway led after 38 minutes, Walsh pointing a placed ball (“Do us all a favour and put it right over the black spot,” RTE commentator Darragh Maloney begged, as Walsh ran up).

Galway had the momentum. And, in the low-scoring circumstances, they took the fullest advantage. Walsh pointed two more frees, just as Maloney asked. And on 47 minutes, Comer nipped past Rodgers and drilled the ball low to the net. Derry needed a Plan B, or for Plan A to start working sharpish. The early second-half introduction of Emmet Bradley from the bench was an effective part of Plan A. And it was effective here. But only for a bit.

Derry didn’t have a Plan B. So, goalie Odhran Lynch was augmenting Derry’s attack as they chased the game. And on 62 minutes, he was caught upfield by a Galway turnover, Comer nipped in front of Rodgers, gathered John Daly’s pass, turned and fired into the empty net from distance, his 2-2 the actual difference between the sides when he was subbed to a fully-merited standing ovation. Galway conceded a trademark late goal. But neither that, nor the wretchedness of the game, took from their victory.

Saturday had started well. Westmeath’s four-point win over Cavan in the second-tier Tailteann Cup Final was an enjoyable affair, bar a few early second-half minutes, an entertainment/dross ratio which mirrored the whole competition.

Within 43 seconds, Cavan keeper Raymond Galligan overtook Derry in the imagination stakes, playing a short free for Gerry Smith to point rather than having a long-range shot himself. Westmeath butchered two early goal chances. But that exorcised their nerves. And scores flowed at both ends in the second quarter. Westmeath were two-up at the break thanks to Lorcan Dolan’s fabulously-worked goal, sweeping home Luke Loughlin’s handpass after a brilliant crossfield ball to Loughlin by Ronan O’Toole. Loughlin touched the ball on the ground, which you can’t normally do in Gaelic Football. But it was apparently OK here because he fell over.

Cavan edged a point clear on 52 minutes, marauding full-back Padraig Faulkner palming the ball to the net, after Westmeath keeper Jason Daly half-cleared James Smith’s skied point attempt. But the game turned back to Westmeath seven minutes later when Thomas Galligan saw red for a reckless shoulder-charge on O’Toole. Cavan didn’t score again. And on 67 minutes, Westmeath sub Kieran Martin burrowed through Cavan’s defence and rifled the ball high into the net, to put his side three-up.

Things nearly turned again in stoppage-time when Cavan’s just-introduced Conor Madden fired goalwards only for Kevin Maguire magnificently to block the shot. Ronan Wallace landed the ‘insurance point’ moments later, and sped off behind the goal in match-winning celebration.

Sunday is All-Ireland hurling final day, defending champions Limerick playing Kilkenny, the only team to beat them in Croke Park since their hurling dominance began in 2018. And that after Limerick were wrongly denied a straightforward 65 to take 2019’s All-Ireland semi-final to extra-time.

Sunday’s game throws-in at 3.30, live on Sky Sports Arena in the UK. And despite Kilkenny being more convincing semi-final winners, and STILL being managed by the legendary Brian Cody, Limerick are near-unbackable favourites. It could be a classic. But it might not be.