The fisted goal from Benny Coulter in the All-Ireland semi final in Croke Park in 2010. Photo: Adrian Melia
The division two league football final finished in defeat for Kildare. Only it’s not a defeat that will live long in the memory. The disappointments that live longest happened when the team turned up, the stakes were way higher and there was always one player to steel our thunder.
Here are the worst offenders from the last 20 years.
Kildare versus Meath, Leinster semi-final replay, Croke Park, July 1997
If Jody Devine ever did anything else as a footballer than I’ve yet to hear of it.
But his four points from play against Kildare during extra time in that summer’s Leinster semi-final replay remain a vivid memory even after all this time.
It was £3.50 into the Hill and someone launched a bottle over the netting when Trevor Giles lined up a late penalty. The missile almost worked because Meath only scored on the rebound.
The atmosphere was toxic by the time Meath manager Sean Boylan sprung Jody Devine from the sideline.
I can see him no, untangling his legs from his tracksuit, Boylan talking in his ear and then sending him out to kill.
The sun had baked us red for more than 80 minutes by then. Our arms were burned below the elbow and we watched in astonishment as Jody kicked point after impossible point. There were people on their knees praying, and others on their knees crying.
Somehow Kildare found a way and Paul ‘Knuckles’ McCormack popped up to fist home the equaliser. It was a truer hand-of-God moment than Maradona’s against England.
Kildare versus Galway, All Ireland Final, 1998
Unlike the above contest in ‘97, there was no sun but tears fell in the rain and Michael Donnellan blew white hot. He was brilliant that afternoon and impossibly fast.
It felt then, and still feels now, like he ran our All Ireland dreams into the ground. Sprint after searing sprint originated in the starting blocks down the Canal End. Each finished with a Galway score into the Hill.
That was only the first half. Kildare led, but Galway found an even higher gear.
I met a Galway publican in London recently who told me he lent Michael Donnellan his dickie bow the same night at the after-match in The Berkley Court.
“It was the only time that day any f***er managed to tie him up,” he said.
Kildare versus Down, All Ireland semi-final, 2010
I’d a Polish friend then who got caught up in Kildare’s journey that summer.
We’ve lost contact, but I’ve absolutely no doubt if we met again and I mentioned Benny Coulter, she’d scowl and shake her head. That his name endures in the parish of Bydgoszcz in the north of Poland is some kind of tribute.
It’s not just the fisted goal he scored while camped in the Kildare square, but the incredible point he kicked from the outside of his boot so close to the sideline on the Hogan Stand side he may as well have been in The Auld Triangle on Dorset Street.
My abiding memory at the final whistle was the Kildare press troupe looking ashen faced in the Press Box.
I wondered would Tommy Callaghan ever recover.
Then we’d to relive every minute again, hours later in the front bar of McCormack’s in Naas.
Someone put it on the TV. We needed sounds by Phil Coulter but we got Benny, again.
Kildare versus Donegal, All Ireland quarter-final, 2011
In some ways this was worse than Down, but only because of the cruel footballing fate that befell Kildare the year before.
In my mind, the death of an All Ireland dream remains a memory saved in slow motion.
With the game drawn, time up, purple faces and hoarse voices everywhere, Kevin Cassidy gathered the ball around the 40 metre line and hit what looked like a speculative punt towards the Hill.
I don’t know at what point on the flightpath I realized Kildare were doomed.
The law of the universe had fooled me to understand that after the Benny Coulter show, and Jody Devine and so many others, this simply couldn’t happen again.
But it did.
No one spoke on the way home, only Clem Ryan on the radio who always seemed to revel in these dark postmortems.
I’m sure he said ‘next time’, but that night on the old dual carriageway no one could bring themselves to think of next year.
There was no forgiving Kevin Cassidy either.