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The stories behind this iconic photo of Sean O'Shea's match-winning free

Inpho photographer James Crombie took one of the standout images from an epic semi-final.

Updated Jul 21st 2022, 8:50 AM

A PICTURE PAINTS a thousand words. But when the picture is the perfect summary of a prized point that stunned a nation, you might excuse a few more.

Sean O’Shea stood over a 55-metre free that would hand the Kingdom their first championship victory over Dublin in 13 years. He was facing a stiff summer breeze and a bouncing Hill 16.

With a textbook strike reinforced by thousands of hours kicking in Kenmare, he summoned a wonder boot and sent the ball curling over the bar. Kerry were back in front with all five minutes of added time elapsed.

The iconic photo isn’t of the post-point celebrations, although that is what ran on the front page of the newspapers the next day. It isn’t the strike itself or the flying O’Neills. O’Shea is scarcely visible in Inpho sports photography snapper James Crombie’s shot.

The picture is hundreds of faces, each bearing their own distinct expression, all mesmerized. A tapestry reflecting every corner of the emotional rollercoaster that is watching the crucial kick in Croke Park.

Inpho had three different photographers at that semi-final. There was a time early in his career when Crombie would pray the decisive score would not occur at his end. Miss it and it meant trouble. Now the 2021 & 2022 Irish Press Photographer of the Year thrives in moments like this.

“Straight away you know this could be the pivotal moment. Then it is, how can I best represent it? You know the context of the kick,” he explains.

“He took 30 or 40 seconds, in sports photography that is a long time. We deal with milliseconds, 40 is a lifetime. You could feel the crowd. I’ve done sports the last 16 years, there is always one or two moments when it is just there.”

joe-canning-looks-on-as-his-late-point-wins-the-game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

This is a tried and trusted formula. The same photographer captured that iconic Joe Canning point in 2017. That too was a last-gasp semi-final score. A genius player sent the crowd into raptures. The photo got to the heart of this maddening sport. At its core, it is about what it does and what it extracts from people. You don’t need to record the goal or the ball to reflect that.  

Crombie has a specific sense of the game when he is working. Conveyed thanks to the crowd and an Analogue radio he uses to keep track while looking at his camera or laptop.

That is not to say he had any idea of what he had just captured. It wasn’t until 24 hours later that the photo in all its glory was recognised.

“I put that out on Sunday night except it didn’t get that much attention. See initially it was wide. I left the advertising and stuff in it. The ground, his feet, it was messy. We redo stuff. On the Monday morning, I cropped it differently with a stronger frame. Then it went like wildfire.”

fans-look-on-before-kerrys-sean-oshea-kicks-the-last-point Source: James Crombie/INPHO

What of the central characters? A wide palette made better by the fact that there are few phones. The stand held and present. Charged with belief and disbelief.

All-Ireland winner Emma Duggan was immediately identified alongside her Meath team-mates Vikki Wall, Aoibhín Cleary and Katie Newe. “It was incredible to be going into Croke Park and actually experiencing the whole atmosphere,” she recalled after. “It’s a change from being on the pitch, especially a Dublin and Kerry match — you can’t beat it!”

The others? Already they were entrapped by the semi-final’s spell. Then Paddy Neilan awarded the final free. Here are some of the stories behind that shot.

Ian O’Brien

IAN

Ian is a cab driver from Liverpool, and he wasn’t supposed to be there. It was his first ever GAA game. He has been evangelising about it to anyone who will listen ever since.

Having watched televised matches infrequently over the years, in early 2022 he took a trip to Derry and got chatting with some locals. Inevitably, the talk turned to ball. Ever since he has tracked Derry’s progress and planned to attend their semi-final the day before.

“Flight times were against us, so chose to go the Sunday game instead,” he explains.

“I have to admit, the atmosphere and passion was something I wasn’t expecting. I’m a soccer fan so I judge things against that. The hum of noise around the ground beforehand was extraordinary.

“I’d never been to a sporting event as a neutral and it was surprisingly relaxing! That moment in the photo and the subsequent 30-60 seconds was easily one of the best I’ve experienced in a stadium.”

He can’t wait to come back.

Lauren Fox

LAUREN

Aged nine, this was her first All-Ireland campaign following the Dubs. Lauren joined Na Fianna in 2020 and fell in love with Gaelic football. Alongside her father, Gavin, they went to every Dublin game in Croke Park this year.

He acts as an intermediary and charts her instant reaction. 

“She felt suspense before the kick and that Kerry was going to miss and a draw was a fair result. It was the best game she has been to because the other games have been too easy for Dublin. When the kick went over, she felt sad but both teams deserved to win as they were very good.”

In this Dublin fan’s eyes, O’Shea deserves extra credit for kicking the score into the Hill. While disappointed, Lauren left longing for a similar spectacle in the future.

“She can’t wait for next year already and thinks Dublin will come back stronger and hopes every game is like the Kerry game and not like the other games she saw.”

Ellen Downes

ELLEN

Prior to this year, the last game Ellen was at was Dublin vs Kerry in the 2019 All-Ireland final. Then the pandemic landed, she spent some time abroad and watched from afar.

The fixture has a special place in her heart. Her mother is from Kerry and typically the rest of the family row in behind the green and gold. “I’m the only one who stands up for the Dubs,” she says with a laugh.

She was there when her household kicked off the ticket scramble. ‘Three o’clock. They are on sale. Go, go, go!’ The exhilaration was infectious and she ended up following suit.

“I had FOMO really, so I actually bought tickets for me and my boyfriend.

“He is from Mexico. It was his first ever GAA experience. I said I’d give him no prep. You know that you will see what it is about when you get there. We arrived as they were playing Amhrán na bhFiann. The atmosphere was amazing.

 “I was supporting Dublin, so I said to my boyfriend these are the colours. Here is the story. We live in Dublin. We support them.

“But my dad said you are not going unless you support Kerry. Of course, out he comes in his green and yellow t-shirt sucking up to my family! In that moment, people were so nervous. From where we were standing it was hard to judge how far it was. I saw Kerry lining up and I said, ‘That’s it, they are going to score.’ I had my arm around Abraham bigging him up. ‘Oh my god, ye have it. Ye won.’

“When I saw the photo, caught rapid laughing while everyone was so intense. Personally, I was just loving the craic. My family are from Kerry, I was thinking about my mam in the stadium and hyping up my boyfriend for the excitement of it all. Isn’t that the beauty of it, you don’t know what way it will go? I was in that position when Cluxton came up and beat Kerry.

“I was like, ‘You know what? Today isn’t our day but at least I can be happy for my family.’”

Kevin Lynch

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KEVIN

Prior to the free, Kevin had his hands clasped in prayer. When it went over, he was euphoric, grabbing the stranger to his left in a headlock of pure ecstasy before he realised what he was doing.

He hails from Newbridge, his father is from Kerry and he has supported them all his life. It caused plenty of slagging and heated arguments in school. Every weekend he goes to a game, club or county.

“When I saw him lining up the free, it brought me back to a stat my friend said to me after the two games between Kerry and Dublin in 2019. O’Shea kicked 15/15 in those two games which was remarkable at such a young age for someone playing in their first All-Ireland final.

“I had confidence from that, that he could do it but I remember seeing the wind blowing the flag against him and thinking surely he can’t get the distance from there especially after playing 75 minutes of intense championship football.”

Then it sailed high into the Dublin sky.

“When he kicked it over it was relief more than anything. It felt like the changing of the guard between both counties. To be honest, when Dublin got back to a draw my confidence in Kerry getting a result was reduced.”

He expects a tight and cagey first half in the final. Ultimately, he thinks Kerry will come out on top in the end by 4-6 points.

Rob Landers

ROB

Born and raised in Listowel, Rob has spent the past 20 years living in Waterford where he works as a pathologist. He went to the game with his three sons and ended up sitting by himself.

“We had three tickets and one other loose one. I let the three boys sit together in the Davin and I took the other one. They are kicking themselves they missed out on the sports photo of the year!

“Somebody said I was the calmest Kerry man in the frame, but I was just soaking it up. The atmosphere was incredible. No matter what happens here it is such an occasion.

“I couldn’t believe the tension in the crowd as he was lining it up. That is what you go to live sport for. Those kinds of moments. The almost cruel tension, the game hanging in the balance. Helped by the fact I knew Kerry weren’t going to lose. If it went wide, it was extra time.

“One thing I would say, the graciousness of the Dublin supporters in defeat. I was amazed at that. People around me and coming up Clonliffe Road afterwards. It was an eye opener, the number of people who wished me well. I was in a sea of Dublin supporters coming out, the craic and banter was something special.”

For Rob, the main takeaway is what that moment did for people, both in the ground and watching on.

“My mother is in her late eighties at home in Listowel glued to her TV. To see what that result meant to people of that age…

“There was just something special in the air for the last ten minutes. I’d never experienced anything like it. I’ve been to Anfield, Thomond Park, the Aviva. Jesus! There was just something different.

“I was trying to explain but… my wife is a Kerry woman and she missed the drama of the day. We were trying to tell her that night and she said, ‘Lads, ye are high.’ We were. It is difficult to put words around it.

“Maybe it was everything, the weather, the Hill packed, the colour, the singing, the rivalry, the last few years, people trying to put him off, all the incredible skill. I mean, Dublin’s goal was amazing. He had six inches there and he did it. An incredible goal.

“The atmosphere was better than many finals I was at. Sometimes in finals, you get ticket allocations to neutral counties or sponsors all that, this wasn’t the case. 73,000 people committed to the cause.

“The quality of play, everyone absorbed, on the edge all the time. It was something special, it had everything. The perfect storm.”

Enshrined in a single photo forever more. 

About the author:

Maurice Brosnan

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