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'The place just erupted': Maurice Fitz and one of the most iconic points in Gaelic football history

Dublin and Kerry head back to Thurles on Sunday, 20 years on from their unforgettable championship double-header.

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IT IS EASY to imagine a scenario where the kick never happened.

There was an alternative ending, a different levelling point to save Kerry on that Saturday afternoon in August 2001, during that pulsating finale in Semple Stadium.

Late on Johnny Crowley, Kerry’s in-form forward that day and that summer, rose to catch a delivery, turned and raced clear of the Dublin defence. Perhaps he could have shot a fraction earlier. By the time he did pull the trigger, he had reached the 13-yard line and as Shane Ryan rushed in from his left, Crowley’s shot skewed right and wide.

It was a rare misstep for Crowley in a season where he was rewarded with an All-Star for his efforts and he repaid any outstanding debt a week later when raiding the Dublin defence for two goals to fashion a replay win.

But to get to that juncture he and his Kerry team-mates needed a saviour.

After Crowley’s miss, the subsequent Dublin kickout was pulled off course by Davy Byrne and when Peadar Andrews couldn’t grasp the ball, it spilled out for a sideline to Kerry.

***

“Maurice Fitzgerald, kicking it…dropping it in towards the goal…dropping it in…a magnificent point by Maurice Fitzgerald…on the 50-yard line and Maurice the immortal has sent it over the bar.”

  • Micheal Ó Muircheartaigh, RTÉ Radio.

***

“Johnny was probably Kerry’s best player that day,” recalls Barry O’Shea, a member of that Kerry squad.

“It suited Johnny playing the Dublin players with the physicality and the hard hitting. The harder you’d hit John, the better he’d get. So the battle really suited him and he had a great game.

john-crowley-and-jonathan-mcgee-digital John Crowley in action for Kerry against the Dublin defence. Source: INPHO

“Look, he missed an easy chance but I suppose he was lucky Maurice atoned for it afterwards.”

Atonement came in the form of that swipe of the right boot from the St Mary’s Cahersiveen man, his shot a draw on the ball before it carried in on the breeze and over the crossbar.

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Dublin had one final chance to win it but Wayne McCarthy’s kick lacked the heft and it fell into the arms of Darragh Ó Sé in the goalmouth.

That rounded off the first championship meeting in 16 years between the counties, a long interlude in a storied rivalry.

Including that 2001 replay, they have met 10 times since in championship. The league meetings have been routine but the setting makes next Sunday’s game a novelty.

It took a pandemic and a training session breach to create the conditions for Semple Stadium to host Dublin and Kerry once more.

And evoke memories of one of the most famous points in Gaelic football history.

Source: Kerry Franchise/YouTube

***

“We have heard for years how Kerry cannot finish teams off without Maurice Fitzgerald and this was proven yet again on Saturday.

“I do not think there was any other player in the country that would have kicked that equalising score from that position and in those circumstances.”

  • Liam O’Flaherty, Irish Examiner

***

The stands and terraces will be empty this weekend in Semple Stadium, the roads around the ground devoid of fans in transit.

Two decades ago was different, the achievement for those attending was making the game in the first place. Back then Ireland didn’t have the motorways emerging from Dublin like spokes in a wheel. Travelling to summer inter-county games was an expedition, a test of patience as towns and villages were choked with matchday traffic.

“I remember hearing a lot of the Dubs weren’t going to make it,” says Tony Davis, who was on co-commentary duty for RTÉ that day.

“They ended up watching it on telly in the pubs around Urlingford and places like that on the way down. But it was still a great atmosphere, just brilliant.”

Some had been warned about the potential for getting caught in the traffic jams. Galway’s Michael Curley was the referee, Brian Crowe from Cavan and Michael Daly from Mayo his linesmen.

It was not the first Dublin-Kerry experience of the year that Daly had tasted. That April he refereed their league encounter in Killarney which Kerry won by five points.

When it came to his sideline duties in August, he headed off early that morning from the west in the direction of Tipperary.

“The crowds were just unreal, they were hanging off the stands in Thurles,” remembers Daly.

“It was a beautiful day. Going into Thurles, there was only one road in so we were told to go early by Croke Park that week because of the traffic. You had to be prepared.

“I remember afterwards, we were parked out the road and I went to my car. I met these two old men, two Kerry fellas, and I said to them, ‘Are ye far to go?’

“They said they were only (parked) out the road and I said, ‘Hop in and I’ll bring ye.’

“It must have been six miles out the road.

“I said, ‘Jaysus ye’d a fair walk.’

“They said, ‘Ah we’d have walked it alright.’ ”

Come throw-in there were sufficient numbers in attendance to have whipped up a storm. In the Kerry dressing-room there was excitement at getting to partake in such an electric occasion.

“Dublin brought the colour and the noise that they always do, Kerry the same day had fantastic support as well as you can see when you watch the old footage,” says O’Shea.

“Thurles was hopping, it was as good as a Munster hurling final day. Páidí had his history with Dublin, he was lapping it up, loving the fact we were playing Dublin. There was a great buzz about the whole thing.

“There’s excitement any time you got to play Dublin, maybe the modern Dublin team, there’s apprehension because they’re dominating everyone. But definitely no apprehension at that time, we were looking forward to it.”

***

“With the Kingdom teetering on the brink Maurice Fitzgerald strolled up, Clark Kent-like, and whipped out his cape and tights. It was a kick suited to a left footer, but he hit it with his right anyway.

“You could almost see the ‘S’ on his chest as the umpire’s white flag was raised.”

  • Kevin Kimmage, The Sunday Independent

***

Here’s the nuts and bolts of the build-up. Kerry entered the match on the back of a clean sweep through Munster, accounting for Tipperary, Limerick and Cork. Dublin saw off Longford and Offaly but were then felled by Meath in a Leinster final. It didn’t spell the end of the road.

A new system offering a second chance to defeated football sides was introduced in 2001. Dublin thrashed Sligo in a qualifier and were pitted against Kerry in the last eight.

The match unfolded as a tale of Kingdom superiority for long stretches. They had sailed clear 1-13 to 0-9 with ten minutes left. By that stage Barry O’Shea had seen his old Kerins O’Rahillys team-mate Vinnie Murphy pressed into the Dublin attack to outmuscle the Kerry defence.

vinnie-murphy-digital Source: INPHO

“I was earmarked to come on to mark him when he was coming on the field because obviously I would have known him.

“I actually wasn’t going great at the time myself, coming back from injuries. I was struggling with my game, it was a thing maybe Páidí felt might get it out of me, marking somebody that I know. Put a target on a fella for me.

“Vinnie was like a lot of that Dublin team, physically very strong. They’d a lot of hard nuts on the team, they were the old-fashioned Dublin kind of football.”

Murphy’s goal kick-started a revival that had looked improbable. As the game seemingly moved out of Dublin’s reach and even as they hunted Kerry down on the scoreboard, emotions spilled over in a highly-charged atmosphere.

It was represented most vividly by Dublin boss Tommy Carr who didn’t fall into agreement with all of the decisions by the officials.

tommy-carr Tommy Carr with referee Mick Curley. Source: INPHO

“They were incensed, they were really in your face at times with decisions but you just had to keep cool,” remembers Michael Daly.

“They (inter-county managers) always liked to get the edge but if you said nothing, then they’d walk away. I think that day there wasn’t too many off the ball (incidents), there was bit of tussling alright. Mick was a good level-headed referee, he would never take a card out unless he had to.”

Into that fiery showdown entered Fitzgerald for Kerry in the 64th minute. He saw his team hit with a wave of Dublin pressure, forced to be a peripheral figure until Kerry were awarded that sideline in the dying moments.

“I remember Tommy Carr came up to challenge me but it was obvious, it was a Kerry ball,” recalls Daly.

“Maurice was cool as anything. It wouldn’t bother Maurice if there was 150,000 there, he’d do the same thing. A class player.

“I told Tommy, ‘Just stand back please.’

“You have to give every player a chance and your man slotted it over the bar.

“There was no doubt when he kicked it that it was sailing over. The place just erupted.”

***

“The goals from Murphy and Darren Homan left Kerry reeling. All that remained was for Maurice Fitz to remind us that men may age, but their greatness doesn’t rust.”

  • Vincent Hogan, Irish Independent

***

High up in the gantry, there was no sense of uncertainty for Davis over whether a white flag would be soon raised when the sideline was awarded.

Their playing careers had intersected, Fitzgerald starting out with Kerry at a time when Davis was part of a conquering Cork team.

In 1988 Fitzgerald shot 0-10 as a teenager in Páirc Uí Chaoimh as Cork squeaked a one-point win over Kerry in the Munster final.

“He was a once in a generation player really,” outlines Davis.

“Marking him was probably the wrong way to describe it, you shadowed him. Maurice had the ability, a bit like John Egan, if you were running with them, they’d solo and the distance between you and the ball was about six or eight foot because you couldn’t get near the ball.

“John was the same when he was an older man playing for us (Cork Garda) in inter-firms. Not a hope in hell of getting the ball.”

O’Shea didn’t need time to wrap his mind around the audacity and execution of the kick. It was just an extension of the work he’d witnessed on the training ground.

“We used to have kicking competitions after training. We were all young lads, we didn’t want to go home at all. Maurice would only use his weaker foot, whether it be off the hand or off the ground. Maurice would win every night, no matter what way you played it with his weak leg. You could tie his hands behind his back and he’d still beat us.

“He had the temperament as well. Shouting into his face wasn’t going to rattle Maurice too easily at all. He’d the perfect balance of skill and temperament for that particular kick.

“It’s one of those that keeps getting shown over and over, an iconic score. The fact that it was Maurice as well, maybe if it was some other player, it mightn’t have that same aura about it.

“But Maurice just has that something about him that attracts that bit more attention.”

It wasn’t the first act of scoring heroism late in a game that Fitzgerald had produced for Kerry. The previous year he had held his composure in front of Hill 16 to nail the free that dragged Armagh back to Kerry for a draw in the All-Ireland semi-final.

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“I think the Kerry public at times didn’t appreciate what they had in Maurice,” states Davis.

“They had one of the best players that ever played the game. He was one of the best players I saw. I love watching nice players play football, the kicking, the catching, the sidesteps and the movement. He was tough as well, there was nothing soft about him.

“People talk about winning medals and longevity and all this kind of stuff, I prefer to watch a beautiful footballer play football. Some people say you need all these All-Ireland medals. I’d much rather go watch someone like Maurice play than a fella with six or seven All-Ireland medals.”

As the man in the middle of the pitch or patrolling the sidelines, Daly got to witness some of the best footballers in action around the country.

“Look it, there was never any trouble with Maurice, he was an amazing footballer. Gooch was class as well. I actually did linesman the day the Gooch made his debut for Kerry, they were in Division 2 at the time in Limerick, it was against Laois. The same day you wouldn’t put a dog out with the hailstones and everything else.”

“I think it (the sideline) was the classiest thing I saw in football. Gooch got good goals, even today the Dublin team get good goals, but that was a pressure kick and you didn’t see any pressure on Maurice.”

paidi-ose-and-maurice-fitzgerald Páidí Ó Sé with Maurice Fitzgerald after the Kerry-Dublin replay. Source: INPHO

***

“Thankfully, we salvaged a draw with the game about to tick into over-time and once again we are eternally grateful to the most gifted player in the land, Maurice Fitzgerald, for making it possible’

  •  John Barry, The Kerryman

***

The score has endured in the collective Gaelic football consciousness.

“Back then this felt special and rare,” reckons Davis.

“Now I was watching the Clare guy Eoin Cleary (last Sunday), what a ball with his left leg. Absolutely beautiful.

“There’s a few that stand out since like Mugsy’s goal against Dublin, Ciaran McDonald off his left leg in Croke Park, Colin Corkery and Padraic Joyce got some beautiful scores as well.

“There’s a certain artistry about all those players, they did it naturally and with grace. Last Saturday I tuned in to watch Shane Walsh and David Clifford, similar type of players. That’s why people watch the game, they don’t watch it for mass defences or tackles, they watch it for entertainment.”

The significance of Fitzgerald’s score was obvious that day, the timing of it in his career less so.

He grabbed a point in the replay win over Dublin as well and that one would prove his last in Kerry senior colours in championship.

His final appearance came the following month when Kerry suffered a hiding at the hands of Meath. By the following April he formally exited the stage after a winter of speculation over his future.

***

“The man, who can kick with the right or kick with the left. The breeze is behind him but it’s blowing over his left shoulder.

“He’s got it! He’s put it over!

“It’s a magnificent kick by Maurice Fitzgerald from the sideline. Level for the second time. What a contest.”

  • Ger Canning, RTÉ TV.

***

Michael Daly never did interact as a match official with Fitzgerald again.

But there was a moment when their paths crossed on 1 March last year, a bumper crowd in Mayo for an afternoon of league football as lockdown lurked just around the corner.

“I thought to say it to him in Castlebar last year, he was with the (Kerry) senior team that day. He probably wouldn’t have recognised me or anything like that.

“I often see the score on TG4. My young fellas were only young at the time but I’d show it to them. ‘Look it, see this here.’

“It was amazing and I was there. It was an art. Some players have it.”

On a day of traffic congestion, there was one other standout incident on the road home as Kerry retreated home after a game they had almost thrown away.

“Páidí had a Renault Vel Satis at the time,” says O’Shea.

“You wouldn’t see one of them around now, we used to call it the state car, it was a high-end one. He was flying down the road after the game in Thurles and only hitting the road in patches with anger after almost losing.

“Then he was stopped by the cops for speeding.

“The Guard just looked at him and he looked at Darragh in the passenger seat and I was in the back with Tomás.

“He just said, ‘Go on away, that’s your second let-off today.’

“That summed up the day. We got away with it on two counts.”

Fitzgerald had bailed the team out at the precise moment when their campaign was in jeopardy.

As a scoring rescue act, it was as spectacular as they come.

And the bar is set high for any player taking on a shot next Sunday.

For more great storytelling and analysis from our award-winning journalists, join the club at The42 Membership today. Click here to find out more >

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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