Offaly's famous win of 25 years ago

September 11, 2007
It was the most sensational goal in the long history of Gaelic games and yet it only got third place in the Top GAA Moments series on television in 2005. Twenty-five years ago this month Seamus Darby crashed the ball to the net at the Hill 16 end of Croke Park to give Offaly their third All-Ireland senior football title and deny Kerry what would have been an historic fifth triumph in a row. In 1974 an exciting Dublin side had emerged from the doldrums to lift the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time in 11 years. Twelve months later Kevin Heffernan's team went down to another rising side with Mick O'Dwyer's young outfit beginning a wonderful era for the Kingdom. Although the Dubs recovered from a seven points drubbing to win the All-Irelands of 1976 and '77, Kerry then took over to reign supreme at the end of seven of the next nine football championships. Kerry had an array of talent with players like John O'Keeffe, Paidi O Se, the late Tim Kennelly, Jack O'Shea, Pat Spillane, Mikey Sheehy and Eoin 'Bomber' Liston helping to build up the first four-in-a-row since the Kingdom representatives of 1929 to '32 achieved the feat. With Dublin unable to match the rampant men from Kerry, Offaly took over as the leading challengers from Leinster. The men from the Faithful County won three provincial titles on the trot, they lost to Kerry by a flattering five points in an All-Ireland semi-final clash in 1980 and by eight points in the '81 final. Offaly believed they were closing the gap rapidly on Kerry and according to team manager Eugene McGee, they were adamant that the 1981 final held the key to the Sam Maguire Cup decider of 12 months later. "In 1981 Offaly had lost their brilliant midfielder Johnny Mooney a few weeks before the game when he fell off a load of turf and broke his collar bone. The second midfielder, Tomas O'Connor, was less than 100 per cent fit in '81 and had to leave the field when his injury acted up. "Offaly did their homework over the winter months and they knew, that with a full panel, they would be very close to Kerry should they meet in the 1982 final," wrote McGee in his Classic Football Matches book. After winning the All-Ireland SFC title for the first time in 1971 with a final victory over Galway, Offaly retained the title in '72 when defeating Kerry in a replay. Then they were in the doldrums for a few years but began building another successful side when McGee, previously successful with UCD teams, took over as manager in 1978. Martin Furlong and Sean Lowry of the great team of the early '70s were still representing the Faithful County and their experience was a big asset. On a Friday evening in early summer McGee attended a county championship match in Daingean and saw Seamus Darby score a dramatic late goal from a difficult angle to earn Rhode a draw. McGee told his fellow selectors that any player capable of doing something like that should be included in the Offaly panel in case of emergencies later in the year! Offaly left no stones unturned in their efforts to go one better in the 1982 All-Ireland championship. They went on a two-week training holiday to Spain and there were stamina-sapping training sessions in Rhode under Tom Donoghue, a PE teacher in Tullamore who was on All-Ireland hurling winning team in 1971. A third Leinster title in succession was comfortably annexed with nine points to spare over Dublin but then Offaly only just scraped past Galway, winning by a point. Meanwhile Kerry trounced Cork by 2-18 to 0-12 in the Munster final before a 3-15 to 1-11 win over Armagh suggested that a fifth All-Ireland in a row might be a formality. Jimmy Deenihan, one of the strong men of the Kerry defence missed the entire championship after breaking a leg in training on June 1. Around the same time Offaly captain Richie Connor sustained a knee injury but returned to action for the All-Ireland semi-final, only 33 days after having an operation! The talk of the five-in-a-row was reaching hysterical proportions although Kerry manager Mick O'Dwyer was trying to play down such talk and on one occasion 'ran' a man selling five-in-a-roe tee-shirts outside the training ground. There was definitely an air of over confidence in the Kingdom that went so far that there was some debate as to whether the 'victorious' team should arrive back at Killarney or Tralee railway station on the Monday night after the final. Also a Cork-based pop group spent £5,000 on a Five-In-A-Row song! While all that was going on, Offaly were quietly preparing for the game, Eugene McGee remarking that they were so low-profile in their preparations as to be almost invisible. In the Classic Football Matches, he noted that with the exception of Liam Kelly in the Sunday Independent, all the previewers in the national papers went for Kerry, suggesting the Kerry forwards would be too good for the Offaly backs and Offaly depended too much on the brilliant Matt Connor for scores. Denis 'Ogie' Moran was in the centre forward position on eight All-Ireland winning teams but had a wing forward role in the 1975 final against Dublin and again in '82 against Offaly. McGee had feared that Moran would prove a difficult opponent for Sean Lowry and described the decision to play him on the wing as extraordinary. Tim Kennelly had been dominant at centre back in the 1981 final and Offaly opted to play Richie Connor at centre forward because of his power and strength. It was decided in the spring of '82 that such a course of action would be taken if they again met Kerry in the final but the team captain would not fill the number 11 berth in the earlier games. "Offaly came to Croke Park determined to play Kerry at their own game and to stay with the Munstermen to the bitter end. Drilled and trained to perfection, they went at the champions from the throw-in and were decidedly unlucky not to have been more than a single point (0-10 to 0-9) at the change of ends," stated the match report in the Irish Independent. The sides were on level terms on six occasions in the first half before Offaly sneaked into a three points advantage. In a free flowing contest, remarkably the three Offaly half backs had scored from play by the break with Liam Currams, Pat Fitzgerald and Sean Lowry shooting points. Kerry wing back Paidi O Se did likewise. During the break Eugene McGee did not feel the need to say much to his players, telling them they were as good as Kerry if not better and to go back out and finish the job. Meanwhile Mick O'Dwyer and his assistants decided to take off Ogie Moran and bring on Pat Spillane, who did not start because of a knee injury. When the teams returned to the pitch the rain was lashing down but the quality football continued. In the 17th minute of the second half John Egan was taken down for a penalty but Mike Sheehy's kick was saved. A goal would have left Kerry four points to the good but instead a point from Johnny Mooney had the sides level for the ninth time and as manager McGee put it, for the first time Offaly fans began to believe the 'miracle' was on. But then Kerry put over four points in a row, from Sean Walsh (two), Tom Spillane and John Egan, and they looked to on the road to a history-making feat. However, the Kingdom also missed a few point opportunities around that time Offaly's last three points were from Matt Connor frees and after the first of them Seamus Darby was brought on for John Guinan and was told to stay close to goal. "Now an indescribable and a wave of emotion and expectation swept around the rain-drenched stadium. There were less than two minutes left to play, Kerry were leading by two points but yet the crowd seemed to sense that something sensational was a real possibility. "The demeanour of the Offaly players may have inspired this as they were playing calm, controlled football at a time when most teams in a similar situation would be doing irrational things in a desperate attempt at getting a victory," wrote their manager in Classic Football Matches which was published 11 years later. Pat Fitzgerald took a short free to Richie Connor about 70 yards from the Kerry goals. Full back Liam O'Connor ran down the pitch to take a pass from the team captain and sent a delivery into the left corner. Eugene McGee described what ensued as follows: "As the ball was dropping, Seamus Darby was behind Tommy Doyle. Doyle went to jump for the ball, Darby jumped behind him and made contact with Doyle. The ball went over Doyle's outstretched hands and into the hands of Darby. "He spun around and let fly with his left foot from about 12 yards out and about five yards to the left of the goals. Charlie Nelligan had spotted the danger and was about to dash off his line. Too late. The ball went over Nelligan's outstretched arm and dipped into the right-hand corner of the net. It would have been a classic score in any game. "It was one of the most dramatic moments ever witnessed in a stadium that had seen its fair share of drama. The score now read Offaly 1-15, Kerry 0-17. The Kerry players, not to mention the mentors and supporters were in a state of shock." Both sides had chances after but there was no further score and Seamus Darby became a national celebrity with that sensational late goal. Just as the 1953 FA Cup final won by Blackpool was labelled 'the Stanley Matthews final' the 1982 All-Ireland football decider has often been called 'the Seamus Darby final.' Eugene McGee felt that the best way to beat Kerry was to hit them in the last five minutes and Seamus Darby recalled being told to stay close to the goals with Matt Connor and to send Johnny Mooney out the pitch. Five sets of brothers contributed to the famous victory, Fitzgeralds, Connors, O'Connors, Lowrys and Darbys. Liam Curran completed a notable double, becoming the 14th player to win All-Ireland senior hurling and football medals on the field of play. Following that famous triumph, Offaly lost to Dublin in the 1983 Leinster final and were in the doldrums for a number of years after that. Kerry recovered from the disappointment to win three more All-Irelands, from 1984 to '86. The teams in the 1982 All-Ireland SFC final were: Offaly - Martin Furlong; Michael Lowry, Liam O'Connor, Mick Fitzgerald; Pat Fitzgerald, (0-1), Sean Lowry (0-1), Liam Currams (0-1); Tomas O'Connor, Pauric Dunne; Johnny Guinan, Richie Connor, Gerry Carroll; Johnny Mooney (0-2), Matt Connor (0-7), Brendan Lowry (0-3). Subs - Stephen Darby for M. Lowry, Seamus Darby (1-0) for Guinan. Kerry - Charlie Nelligan; Ger O'Keeffe, John O'Keeffe, Paudie Lynch; Paidi O Se (0-2), Tim Kennelly, Tommy Doyle; Jack O'Shea (0-1), Sean Walsh (0-2); Ger Power, Tom Spillane (0-3), Denis 'Ogie' Moran; Mike Sheehy (0-3), Eoin Liston (0-2), John Egan.(0-3). Sub - Pat Spillane (0-1) for Moran. Referee - P. J. McGrath (Mayo).

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