Everything changes for an All Ireland final replay except the prize at the end of the road

Don’t be surprised if the best players for Cork and Clare the next day are the ones making amends

Myself and Galway’s Seán Ó Domhnaill exchange shirts after the drawn All-Ireland final in 2000. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Myself and Galway’s Seán Ó Domhnaill exchange shirts after the drawn All-Ireland final in 2000. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Wed, Sep 11, 2013, 12:00

A friend of mine is halfway to a fortune after the hurling final. Whatever notion took him, he managed to back the double on both All-Ireland finals ending in draws and he got it at 150/1. He’s sitting pretty enough now. Obviously, it wouldn’t be any sort of huge shock to see Dublin and Mayo end level.

I played in the last drawn final and replay, against Galway back in 2000. Funny enough, it was the second replay we had that year because we drew with Armagh in the semi-final as well. And actually, it was the second All-Ireland final replay for a lot of us because five years earlier we drew an All-Ireland under-21 final against Mayo.

It’s a unique situation when you draw a final. You spend so much time and energy building up to the game that afterwards you feel at a loss to know what to do with yourself. The Cork and Clare lads will find this an odd week. Plenty of them would have taken time off work and now they’re at a loose end. You can’t plan for it so you have to just play it by ear.

In some ways, it’s easier to know what to do if you’ve played badly the first day. After that under-21 final in 1995, the mood wasn’t great heading back down the road. We had played some fairly shocking stuff, myself included. I was marking David Brady but I didn’t get into the game and was subbed before the end.

I wasn’t as badly off as Killian Burns though, who was taken for two goals by David Nestor. He cleaned him out, so much so that we took to calling Killian “Peanut” for a while afterwards because of the dry roasting Nestor had given him.


Subdued atmosphere

Páidí was the manager at the time and he was driving the car back down the road from Tullamore with four very quiet boys in it along with him. There was myself, Dara Ó Cinnéide, Diarmuid Murphy and Jack Ferriter. And the mood Páidí was in meant a word barely passed between us.

The final was at the end of August that year so it was the last week of festivities in Tralee. We had a fortnight until the replay and so there’d have been a general feeling that maybe a few hours in among it wouldn’t do us any harm. But nobody wanted to be the man who’d bring it up.

As we came into Tralee, Páidí put it out there and said, “Do any of ye want to get out lads?” The only problem was, he seemed to speed up as he asked it. The implication was more or less that if any man wanted to get out and go for a pint, he’d have to duck and roll out of a speeding car to do so.

We kept our mouths shut.

Of course, by the time training came round on the Tuesday night, Páidí had got word back that a fair few of the rest of the lads had gone into Tralee on the Sunday night. Well, he was nearly delighted to hear it. “All I can say lads,” he said, “is that in the west Kerry car, there was no fella who wanted to go for a pint when the offer was there for them”.

To be honest, a draw in an All-Ireland leaves you with an eerie feeling, throws you from the minute the final whistle goes. I remember after we drew with Galway, I wasn’t sure how to shake hands with them.

I know that sounds a bit silly but when you’re after pucking the heads off each other for 70 minutes, there’s a difference in the handshake you’d give a fella you’re not going to see for 12 months and the one you’d give a fella you’re going to be pucking the head off again in a fortnight. It’s only a small thing but it was in my head at the end of the game that day.


Peculiar feeling

Afterwards, we went to the function as normal. A bit like in ’95, we hadn’t really played all that well and we felt that Galway had maybe left it after them. Only for Séamus Moynihan, we’d have lost. And again, I had a poor game myself.

It was a strange kind of evening. We were going through the motions a bit in fairness. We dressed up in the suits, came down, had the dinner, chatted to supporters and sponsors and all that stuff.

It was a subdued atmosphere. In a way, nobody wanted to be there. You could see a bit of it with the Clare and Cork lads on Sunday night. They were in no man’s land. The Clare lads put on their suits, the Cork lads didn’t. Last year, Kilkenny and Galway didn’t even stay in Dublin.

The worst thing is having the cameras there. You’re already in a situation where you’re not sure of your ground and the last thing you want is for a big cheer to go up from the back of the hall to make it look like everybody’s delighted with themselves. There’s so many bloody mind games going on.

But once the cameras went away, we let our hair down for the night. We all had a good few drinks and we got the whole thing out of our system. I probably had more than I should have, but after a bad game you do that kind of thing.

A few drinks on a night like that is no harm. You’ve been living like a monk for a couple of months with this one big day in mind. Now the day is over, you need to destress a bit.

Back then, they still had the lunch for the two teams on the Monday. They can be tough enough to sit through at the best of times but when you add in the replay and the fact that a few on both sides were a bit worse for wear after the night before, it wasn’t all that enticing an idea. In fairness to my father, he could see I had no great desire to go along so he said, “Jump into the car there and we’ll go home.”

My price for ducking out of the lunch was that we discussed the game the whole way down the road. By the time we reached west Kerry, we had every player on the pitch ranked and rated at least once and maybe twice. Any time it came to my performance, I explained that he wouldn’t know the pressure of playing in an All-Ireland final and I’d move it on to the next lad.


Can’t wait for replay

In a way, you’re in the ideal position if you played badly in the drawn game. I’m no hurling expert but I know this for certain – a handful of the lads who played on Sunday are chomping at the bit and can’t wait for the replay to come around. The best thing they can do is admit that they were bad and get stuck into training. Bottle it and use it the next day.

Watch out for it in the replay. I’d be very surprised if some of the lads who didn’t play well last Sunday aren’t among the best players the next day. The hurt of having an All-Ireland final pass you by is a killer. Once you get a second bite at it, the relief is massive.

Because now you have the chance to rectify the situation. Instead of spending the winter being known as the guy who couldn’t perform on the big day, you have a couple of weeks to make everybody forget the first match. There’s nothing worse than having to wait a year to put things right.

And often a year is the best-case scenario because most teams never make it back. Play badly in a final and for all you know, that could be your lot. What was that? That was the All-Ireland final – were you not paying attention? That was the game you were looking forward to all your life – did you not enjoy it?

That’s why I’ve always said it’s a big advantage for footballers that the hurling final is on first. Even for the lads who have little enough interest, it’s always good to watch it and to see the mistakes that people can make. It’s no guarantee that you won’t make them but it’s a small bit of warning.

The build-up to the replay is different. It’s much better from a players’ point of view – there’s fewer nerves, less hype, it’s far more like a normal game. Training is different. You’ve made your mistakes and you’re damn sure you’re not going to make them again.

Even the weather is different. It might only be a couple of weeks but at this time of year, the seasons are on the turn and you can feel it when you go to training. For the first time since the league, it will be getting dark before you’re finished. I remember the air being different in Killarney than it had been before.

The whole thing feels that bit more wintry. You have to be careful not to go out with a layer too few on you because the worst thing that could happen would be to catch a cold in the week of the game. You have to be more conscious when you’re warming up that you do it right and you don’t tweak something. You’re more cagey about everything you do.

Even the pitches start to get that bit heavier and the grass that bit less green.


Last opportunity

When they run the mower over it, there’s no sun to catch it and bring up its colour. It all just reminds you that this is the last chance and that everything you’ve done since January will soon be over and done with.

If anything, a replay makes you more focussed. There’s a bit more desperation and a bit more determination. Everything changes except the prize at the end of the road.

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