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Furlong, Sheehy and Lowry reflect on the famous Kerry-Offaly game from 1982

In an extract from Pat Nolan’s new book ‘The Furlongs’, the 1982 final is put under the microscope.

Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

THAT ALL-IRELAND final was Martin Furlong’s 56th senior championship game for Offaly. By then, he was straining every last drop of experience he had accumulated over the years. He knew Croke Park and how it played.

“Croke Park wasn’t a level field,” he says. “If you were in the Hill 16 end, the side of the square on the Nally Stand was higher than the side of the square on the Cusack Stand and Hill 16 side. And if you were down the other end, it was higher on the left hand side than it was on the right hand side. I always felt the forward coming in from the high side had the advantage. You were sort of running up a hill like. It wasn’t a hill but every inch counts at that stage.”

Penalties

His record at saving penalties was good. He didn’t exude confidence in terms of how he carried himself as a person generally but in this setting he was sure he wouldn’t be beaten. He had a simple but informed theory on penalty-takers.

“The pressure’s on the other guy, isn’t it? He’s expected to score. I had a philosophy of watching the ball. Fellas can throw shapes this way and that way. I always found that watching the ball was the best logic.

“A penalty-taker would normally kick the ball where he felt was his strongest point so if a left-footed guy is kicking it, nine times out of 10 he’s going to try and put it to his right-hand corner. And a right-footed kicker is going to go in the other side.”

Strike

Mikey Sheehy was right-footed, therefore he was most likely to strike to his left and Furlong’s right, he reckoned.

“Very seldom I scored a penalty to my right-hand side,” says Sheehy. “I got a good few of them for my club but I’d say 90 percent of them were that side.”

Sheehy didn’t fancy this penalty, though. He didn’t believe that penalty-takers should be pre-ordained, feeling that a player’s form in a match would dictate the likelihood of scoring too much. In the 1979 final he was in flying form and lamped one past Paddy Cullen. In ’82, though, Mick Fitzgerald stuck to him like a leech and he couldn’t work his way into the game.

“I wasn’t playing well that day and I would have been quite happy if someone else wanted to take it. Fellas were saying to me, ‘Why did you take it?’ Fuck it, because nobody else wanted to take it! There was plenty of volunteers a week or two later when they were having a couple of pints inside in Tralee! But nobody would volunteer to take it.

“Jacko would have been a good kicker now. Egan would have been a fella who was good but John never wanted to kick a penalty. The rest of the lads didn’t.”

Mikey Sheehy Kerry's Mikey Sheehy Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Furlong screamed at his defenders to watch the rebound as Sheehy lined up the kick. He struck it to the side Furlong expected him to, about four feet off the ground. Furlong advanced off his line and palmed it away. Pat Fitzgerald picked up the rebound and Offaly swept down the field. Soon, Johnny Mooney kicked a point and the sides were level.

“That was our chance,” says Sheehy. “I felt when I missed that penalty, there was something in my head saying, ‘We’re going to lose this game’.”

‘Great Feeling’

“I remember banging me fist, banging me fist, banging me fist,” says Furlong. “It was a great feeling, Jaysus, to save a penalty in an All-Ireland. Not that you’d have thought about it at that stage. We were still in it.”

A goal at that stage might have seen Kerry shift into turbo mode and blow Offaly away, as they had often done before. They still had the better of the game and moved four points clear in the final stages. But they weren’t out of sight.

“I felt we were in trouble alright,” says Furlong when they drifted four behind. “I don’t think I’d ever say it was gone but we needed a score. Matt scored a couple of points from a couple of frees.”

Martin Furlong Kerry's Martin Furlong. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

In Michael Foley’s Kings of September McGrath insisted that both frees were fair awards, though it could certainly be argued that they were soft. “I thought mine was dubious enough,” admits Seán Lowry.

“But I’d say PJ McGrath thought that we were beaten. I remember I hopped the ball and it must have hit a divot or something and it went sideways on me. Someone kind of came across and I fell then but the ball went from me.”

“That’ll happen,” says Sheehy philosophically. “We often got soft frees.”

By then, Kerry were retreating fast as they attempted to hold their lead and ensure history and the five-in-a-row. The Offaly half of the field was largely a vast expanse left idle in front of Furlong. Rather than being in position to kick the insurance scores, Sheehy and Co had drifted back into defence.

“Micko got blamed then, that we went back defensive after missing the penalty. We didn’t. It was just a subconscious thing. That’s exactly what it was. Everybody went back and I could see it coming.”

Mick O'Dwyer 17/6/1983 Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

With seven minutes remaining Séamus Darby replaced John Guinan and went straight in at corner-forward. With a couple of minutes to go and Offaly two points down, they won a free around midfield after Liston barrelled into Pat Fitzgerald.

He clipped the ball to Richie Connor, who transferred it to Liam O’Connor, up from full-back. His long and hopeful delivery was dropping between Tommy Doyle and Séamus Darby. Doyle appeared to mistime his jump, Darby peeled off him, caught the ball and arced a beautiful left-footed shot into Charlie Nelligan’s top left-hand corner.

“That was a brilliant goal,” says Furlong. “It was going away from Charlie Nelligan all the way. Charlie couldn’t be blamed. It was a tremendous shot that dipped down to the corner of the net. Hardest shot for a goalkeeper to save.”

Historical

“Fuck it, the finish was unreal,” Sheehy adds. “It was a great goal. It was a historical goal and it’ll be spoken about forever and ever.”

Gerry Carroll had a chance to double Offaly’s lead but kicked wide. Yet, Kerry still had time to retrieve the situation. Tom Spillane set off on a run down the Hogan Stand sideline but Seán Lowry stripped him of possession.

Furlong raced out and collected the loose ball before directing a handpass towards Brendan Lowry only for Sheehy to intercept. He looped the ball back across goal. Seán Lowry waited for it to drop.

Tim Kennelly 1982 Action from the 1982 Kerry Offaly final Source: ©INPHO

“I remember thinking if I catch it over my head and the Bomber comes in and drives it into the back of the net, it’s all for nothing. Imagine all these things came into my head. I was catching it in my chest and just then, when it was still a good bit up, ‘You’re on your own Jack’, someone behind me shouted.

“Paudie Lynch was nearby. Never came. Never jumped. Eoin Liston could have got there no problem. They were just shell shocked.”

“When the head goes…” says Sheehy ruefully. “It isn’t as though we didn’t have our chances. We had two or three chances to level it. We had no pot at goal but we could have engineered a chance to do it.”

Celebrate

The final whistle sounded with Lowry sauntering out of defence with ball in hand. The crowd soon engulfed the players. Furlong was chaired by Offaly supporters, pulled and dragged this way and that. He didn’t mind a bit of it.

“It was like a lorry load of bricks was lifted off you. The elation. The relief. The relief that you finally got there and it was over. Ecstasy and relief, that’d be about right. You were so close to losing it and then to win it. Mind-boggling.

“The fact that we were such, such outsiders, to pull that win off against a team that was going for five-in-a-row, hard to beat that satisfaction.”

inpho_00242346 The match programme from that game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

In the dressing room afterwards he was interviewed by reporters. “We beat one of the best teams of all time,” he told them. “We mustn’t be too bad ourselves so.”

As long as football is discussed, the debate will rage as to whether Darby pushed Doyle in the back before gaining possession. Again, McGrath always insisted that he made the right call. It’s reasonable to conclude that if he had given a free out, the uproar would have been much greater.

“Who ever went for a ball that didn’t get nudged or shoved or pushed?” asks Furlong. “Come on, let’s be honest about it. Football is not played like that. It’s a contact sport. Pushing and shoving you’d see anywhere, in any game.”

Free?

Some Kerry players are adamant that it should have been a free out. Others are more magnanimous about it. Sheehy falls into the latter category.

“The goal was the goal. People say that there was a nudge. We often got away with nudges. It was innocuous enough.”

When the Offaly team arrived back in Tullamore the following night to be greeted by thousands, they knew they’d achieved something special. Once again the local crowd chanted “we want Furlong”.

“To be coming down the street with the cup… it’s one of the greatest feelings of all time,” he says.

Pat Fitzgerald is hugged Offaly players celebrate their victory. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

On the Tuesday morning Tom Furlong put his suitcase in the boot of the car, intending to head to the Listowel Races to hook up with Mickey Moynihan and Brendan O’Donnell as he did every year. By Thursday, his mother advised him to take the suitcase out of the car – he still hadn’t made it out of town.

The following day he finally resolved to make his way for Kerry. As he drove away from the family home on O’Moore Street he met Martin walking on the street. He was in ribbons.

“Where are you going,” he asked Tom.
“Down to Kerry,” he replied.
“Do you want company?”
“Why, what’s the matter?”
“I have to get out of this fucking county, it’ll kill me with brandy!”

They hooked up with Moynihan and the boys in Tarbert and were chatting in a bar when they noticed a young boy of about 10 or so peering around the corner at them. It was clear he recognised Martin. The lads thought maybe that he wanted an autograph. Eventually he approached them.

“Are you Martin Furlong?”
“I am.”
“Well, Charlie Nelligan’s a better goalkeeper than you!” he said, before scampering away.
They roared laughing at the good of it.

Bowing out at that stage would have made for a glorious ending to Martin’s magnificent career. Again, with Noel McGee’s words from years before still ringing in his ears, he still felt he had something to offer. And while the team had been on the road quite a while, its age profile was generally young.

However, they would never scale the same heights again. Kerry regrouped from absolute devastation to win a few more All-Irelands that Sheehy and others felt they wouldn’t have had the appetite for if they had won the five-in-a-row.

“It took a long, long time to get that defeat out of our system, I’ll tell you that,” he says.

“It took Micko longer than any of the players but it took us a long time to get over it. We were mentally scarred for a while. Then, in fairness, the majority of the team won in ’84, ’85, ’86, which was a good achievement again.

“We were up a few years ago in the Bridge House in Tullamore. They had a reunion. We had a great night altogether. Typical Offaly. We would compare Offaly with ourselves, country lads, enjoy the game and enjoy the craic.

“That night now, they gave us a fantastic night. We got a great ovation from the lads. We wouldn’t have said it straight after the game but, in years after, if you wanted to be beaten by anybody, you’d be quite happy to be beaten by a team like Offaly.”

**********************

This extract is from The Furlong’s: The Story Of An Incredible Family by Pat Nolan and published by Ballpoint Press Limited. See here for further details.

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