herald

Friday 9 December 2016

Eamon Carr: We could be set for a goal rush in Croker

Kevin McManamon
Kevin McManamon

"TAKE your point" - three words of pragmatic advice that every young Gaelic footballer hears every time they bear down on goal with the ball in possession.

And, sure, isn't a well-taken point one of the great glories of the game. Not just precision rockets from impossible angles but also those magnificent stratospheric satellites launched from out the field that soar high between the posts.

But how many times has it been a goal that's settled important games? These are the scores that live in memory, even without the benefit of television replays or YouTube hits.

It was your man Shakespeare, not commentator Ger Canning, who said: "But when they seldom come, they wished for come."

How many afternoons in Croke Park have we prayed for a goal to save the day? Too many, is the correct answer. But, if truth be told, we've had our fair share of decisive goals. Sometimes ones that are well worked, expertly constructed. Others that defy the laws of logic, gravity or rational credibility. (Are you listening Joe Sheridan?)

On Sunday we'll be back on the road again for a pair of Leinster SFC semi-finals that, despite perceived critical wisdom, have the capacity to land a sucker-punch. Westmeath and Meath, Dublin and Kildare, whatever their relative strengths and weaknesses, have shown one thing in common this summer. They have players who can find the net.

Looking back to last summer, Dublin delivered seven goals on the way to winning the Delaney Cup. The team they beat in the final, Meath, had totalled ten, seven of which had been scored against Carlow in the quarter-final.

This year Dublin stuck four past Longford. Meath netted twice against Wicklow. Kildare decided their replay against Laois with the help of three goals. And Westmeath scored three against Louth and another against Wexford.

Mindful

It often seems that when teams take to the pitch at Croke Park they seem particularly mindful of the mantra, "Goals win matches".

Of course, most players are only too well aware of how a well-timed goal has changed the course of a match or broken the spirit of the opposition by putting a victory out of reach.

Take last year's All Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Donegal for example. Super-efficient Dublin went out clear favourites with Donegal regarded as also-rans by everyone except themselves.

Dublin were five points ahead and appeared to be in cruise control when Donegal mounted a fightback. A goal from Ryan McHugh a few minutes before half-time gave Donegal a lifeline.

When he unexpectedly added another four minutes in to the second half, Donegal had clambered aboard and were taking charge of the ship. They finished the match with three goals that had made all the difference.

What puzzled many Dublin supporters was how this had happened against a team that appeared to have learned how to snuff out goal chances.

It's not all one-way traffic when it comes to scoring winning goals.

It still seems like yesterday when super-sub Kevin McManamon collected a pass from Alan Brogan, slipped around Declan O'Sullivan and rifled a right-footed low shot into the net for the goal that brought Dublin back into contention with seven minutes left on the clock in the 2011 All Ireland final.

Kerry had seemed home and hosed but, energised by McManamon's strike, Dublin added the points necessary to win their first Sam Maguire in 16 years.

Goals can break hearts. I saw grown men cry bitter tears the sunny afternoon Meath's unlikely goal poacher Kevin Foley rescued the day for the Royal in the final match of the historic four in-a-row in 1991. That he made extra-time time a possibility knocked some steam out of Dublin and allowed David Beggy to pick off a winning point to end the most memorable first round saga in Leinster senior football.

But that was then. This is now. And on Sunday four teams will be aiming to get supplies to their snipers in the hope that they'll deliver the coup de grâce.

Kildare won't be taken lightly by Dublin. Their metamorphosis in the second half of the Laois replay suggests they've discovered a killer instinct that they hope will stop a potential five Leinster titles in-a-row for Dublin.

Most players will testify to the vampiric qualities of a great goal. Taste one and you'll crave more.

Eleven Dublin players got on the scoreboard against Longford with Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly, Dean Rock and Bernard Brogan finding the net. And Dublin have fiercesome firepower in their ranks. So we could be looking at goals on Sunday.

Meath will endure an onslaught from a Westmeath that has two Championship matches under the belt. Callum McCormack, Shane Dempsey, Ray Connellan and Kieran Martin have scored the Westmeath goals so far. But Meath will need to be wary of the influential John Heslin too.

Intuition tells you that, once there's an umpire with a green flag, Meath can't be written off.

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