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Moments in Time: Fitzgerald's moment of magic separated him from the rest

Maurice Fitzgerald's unique point Croke Park: Kerry 0-13, Mayo 1-7 September 28, 1997


Special talent: Maurice Fitzgerald strikes a familiar pose during the 1997 All-Ireland final victory against Mayo

Special talent: Maurice Fitzgerald strikes a familiar pose during the 1997 All-Ireland final victory against Mayo


Special talent: Maurice Fitzgerald strikes a familiar pose during the 1997 All-Ireland final victory against Mayo

If confinement has reaffirmed anything about the GAA community over the last two months, apart from generosity of spirit and the pockets of its constitutents, it's the levels of skill out there in the games at present.

Sorcery from hurlers like Patrick Horgan that compel you to watch like it's a three-card trick, shots into basketball hoops, bins, complete with rollovers and flicks have deluged social media.

Here's one to take such skill to the next level though. Plant a ball on the ground 13 metres out on the sideline of a GAA pitch - when they reopen of course on July 20 - take a few steps back and kick it over the bar. With your weaker or 'other' foot!

Sounds easy and maybe lacks the gloss and nuance of some of what we have seen over the last few weeks. But if it was, every free-taker would be at it. And they're not. And they never have been, for very good reason. It's almost impossible for the ordinary mortal, no matter how comfortable they are with so many other skills of the game.

How about trying it in an All-Ireland final when your county, so accustomed to being All-Ireland champions, hasn't won a title for the previous 11 years? Their longest ever stretch without it.


Add in an incident, just a few minutes before it, where an accidental collision with a team-mate results in him being stretchered off the field with a suspected broken leg. The trauma of that.

It was the background that, for me, stands out for its technical ability above any score that I've seen in Croke Park.

Maurice Fitzgerald had begun the 1997 All-Ireland final quietly, converting an early free but failing to make any telling mark.

Then that collision with fellow forward Billy O'Shea which led to a delay of up to five minutes as he was carefully removed.

Not long after Fitzgerald was standing in the corner of the old Hogan Stand and Canal End, lining up a free at an angle that suited the left.

We'd seen it before. In the closing stage of the 1992 Munster final in the Gaelic Grounds, when Clare made their memorable breakthrough, he put one down and swept it over from his left late on, as Kerry chased the game. But not from that angle, not in an Croke Park and, especially, not after what had happened just minutes before.

Rattled? Disorientated? Unsure? Not a bit of it. From connection to flight to destination, there wasn't a hitch.

Some scores over the years have defied geometry. Anyone recall Stephen O'Neill on the night that Tyrone and Dublin played an opening league game to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the GAA? Or the couple he steered over at the end of a 2013 league semi-final against Kildare?

Cork's Colin Corkery was one of the few others who had the dexterity to convert off the ground with either foot. Diarmuid Connolly has stood up and kicked frees with his left out of his hands, while he remains one of the greatest two-footed exponents the game has seen.

Fitzgerald's kick from the corner off his left lacked the drama of some of Croke Park's other iconic scores - Stephen Cluxton's amazing winner in 2011, nervelessly absorbing the pressure of the moment to leave the stands shaking, Dean Rock six years later in somewhat similar conditions, Fitzgerald's own sideline conversion to level an All-Ireland quarter-final in Thurles four years later or even back to Kevin Foley's goal for Meath against Dublin in 1991 at the end of their fourth game and of course Seamus Darby's late intervention in 1982.

But from a purely technical perspective, Fitzgerald trumps everything. Because on top of any mental challenge standing over a ball like it, it is just such a hard thing to do off what is supposed to be a weaker side. And it triggered an individual performance that to this day hasn't been surpassed.

He scored nine points in all, three from play (five players scored four from play in last year's All-Ireland final) but for three of the frees he converted he was fouled himself. The last score with the last play of the game, for many, was his signature score of a memorable day for him and Kerry, if not a memorable game - outside of the right foot, 45 metres out hugging the right-hand sideline just as he would do in Thurles four years later. But sidelines and scores from that territory are more commonplace, what he did in that 22nd minute is not.

Mayo had their chances, getting closer to Kerry than they would in two subsequent finals. But ultimately, Fitzgerald was the difference.