Like Padraic Coyne in ’83, Paul Durcan got stuck between a Rock and a hard place

Goalkeepers suffer fate of having no control over redemption following errors

Donegal’s goalkeeper Paul Durcan gets above  Eamonn McGee and Kerry’s  Kieran Donaghy to clear the ball during the All-Ireland Football Final at Croke Park. Photograph:  Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Donegal’s goalkeeper Paul Durcan gets above Eamonn McGee and Kerry’s Kieran Donaghy to clear the ball during the All-Ireland Football Final at Croke Park. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

When TG4 first started broadcasting, one of the most eye-catching shows on their schedule was GAA Gold, re-runs of old hurling and football matches from the 1970s and 80s. Within weeks, they had shown the 1983 All-Ireland football final. This was the moment that all of us Galway fans had dreaded . . . and it was as bad as the county had remembered.

I didn’t ever have to be told about what happened in that match – the fact that Galway had lost to 12-man Dublin, and the fact that a fellow Milltown man Padraic Coyne had been lobbed from 45 yards out by Barney Rock for the decisive goal of the game.

Looking back on the goal, it was hard for me to understand just why exactly Coyne had gotten so much stick. He had kicked the ball out to a player 40 yards away, who had managed to score what looked to me like one of the great goals of all time. If fault certainly lay with him, the majority of the reaction should surely have focused on the brilliance of Rock’s finish.

Nevertheless, the stain of it remained. I imagine it will be something similar for Brazilian football fans after this year’s World Cup. You’ll never forget the moment you found out your country lost 7-1 to Germany at your own World Cup – it will be seared into your consciousness at around the same time as the startle reflex, in the weeks and months after birth. Maybe it’ll be transferred through the umbilical cord before birth . . . who knows.

Anyway, it didn’t take long for me to think of Padraic after Paul Durcan’s fatal error in the second half of last week’s All-Ireland final. The situation is different in many ways of course. Put simply, Paul has his All-Ireland medal. And Padraic’s mistake happened to come in a game which was effectively (one drawn All-Ireland semi-final against Cork aside) Galway’s last word at the top table of Gaelic football for 15 years. That’s a lot of time for blame to be apportioned.

And there is an excellent chance that Durcan will end the year as an All Star, which is a fair indication of his standing in the game. When Jim McGuinness was asked about the mistake after the match, he was quick to apportion blame to the group as a whole. I even felt his criticism of his team was a little more strident than it would otherwise have been if there hadn’t been such an obvious scapegoat – protecting his player by laying the blame at the feet of his team-mates.

It’s what you do when you know one of your players is going to get some grief, and the scene in the Donegal dressing-room isn’t hard to imagine – people going over to Durcan to tell him they wouldn’t have been there without him, to forget about it, to move on, none of which would mean a damn to him I’m sure.

The day will come, and soon maybe, when a cheeky club team-mate will replicate it in training, and Durcan will have no option but to laugh and consign it to history. Dressing-rooms are harsh places . . . Oisin McConville was telling me that he was in charge of a Crossmaglen training session a couple of nights after Armagh’s one-point defeat to Donegal in the All-Ireland quarter-final, and he made sure he was nonchalantly stroking over 45s in his tracksuit bottoms as Tony Kernan (who had missed two frees from that distance in the dying moments) jogged out of the dressing-room. Harsh, sometimes cruel, sometimes funny, places.

The nature of goalkeeping dictates that you are an individual in a team sport. The chance to make the save that would redeem him never came for Durcan. You can’t redouble your efforts, you can’t play your way back into the game. You have to sit and wait for the game to give you the chance to make it right. It didn’t come in the last 18 minutes of this year’s final . . . so he will wait ’til next May and redeem himself then.

Galway’s All-Ireland final win in 1998 seemed to immediately lance the boil of ’83, and whatever lingering sour aftertaste just dissipated. Our videotape of the game – labelled as politely as possible, “Galway Dublin 83”– could be displayed on the cabinet again, not hidden away like some kind of GAA snuff movie.

And Coyne is now thought of as he should be; as a great goalkeeper, and, in Milltown, as a relentlessly upbeat, effervescent character who carried whatever burden from that September day a lot more lightly than the dozens of goalies who have unfortunately had their worst day on their biggest day.

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