Cathal O'Hanlon. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
RTE television is currently running a series, Ireland's Greatest Sporting Moments. The first programme centred on the 1980s, the second on the '90s. Viewers are asked to pick their favourite from a chosen five features, the one getting most votes declared the winner.
Eamon Coghlan's World Championship win figured prominently in the opener, as did Ray Houghton's winner against England and the roadblock mounted by Offaly in '82, scuppering Kerry's bid for an historic All-Ireland five-in-a-row.
Inside Track has some difficulty with the latter. Had Kerry won the game, we'd say, yes, that was one of the great achievements, if not exactly a 'moment'. But they didn't. It was Offaly's day, Seamus Darby's in particular. The Rhode clubman got the deciding late goal, outjumping half-back Tommy Doyle - with the help of the slightest of nudges? - to put his side one-point clear.
It's largely forgotten that Kerry had enough time to grab an equaliser and were given a great chance but didn't take it.
Jack O'Shea made an interesting point too a few years ago at a get-together organised by the Louth Supporters' Club. He said that had Kerry won the final, creating the record, they wouldn't have come back to do another hat-trick soon afterwards. A number of players would have quit, happy to have been part of history, he opined.
I thought the Meath and Dublin four-match saga was worthy of at least a spot in the 1990's top five. This was about the most evenly matched pairing there's been in football, with not only four games, but also two bouts of extra-time. And on the day the tie was eventually decided just one-point divided them, Meath winning by 2-10 to 0-15.
The Down/Kerry All-Ireland semi-final later in the year attracted a crowd of just over 40,000 – the aggregate attendance for the Leinster tie was just under 240,000.
Just a year before that there was Italia '90, and the penalty shoot-out, giving the Republic of Ireland a win over Romania and a place in the World Cup knock-outs, was voted RTE's second winner, ahead of World 10,000 metres champion, Sonia O'Sullivan, and Olympic boxing champion, Michael Carruth.
Michelle Smith, triple Gold medal swimmer at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, with a Bronze thrown in for good measure, wasn't given a look-in. A case may have been made for her when the panel of sports journalists and RTE reps gathered to choose the top five, but all she got was a mention, programme presenter, Des Cahill, explaining the process by which the quintet was chosen.
But Inside Track is not ignoring Michelle. She's included in Inside Track's top five Best Forgotten Episodes Of The 1990s. And here they are, as chosen by your writer with the help of absolutely no-one.
The Grand National Winner That Never Was
Jockey John White, second on The Tsarevitch in 1986, thought he had gained compensation when he crossed the line in front of all others in the great race seven-years later, riding the Jenny Pitman-trained 50/1 chance Esha Ness. You can only imagine his disappointment when told soon after pulling up that the race had been declared void. The start had been a false one; in fact there were two false starts. But due to a number of errors, chief among them the Starter being unable to unfurl his flag, White and a number of other jockeys continued on their way, covering the entire four-and-a-half-mile course.
The running of the Aintree spectacular was coming under pressure from animal rights activists, and there were several of them down around the start - though not on the course - their aim to disrupt the race. There was a suggestion the starting mechanism may have been tampered with.
Starter Keith Brown's first attempt to get the big field away was foiled by technical fault at the tapes. After a considerable delay in getting them back to the start, the horses were again ready to go. This time Brown hastily sprung the tape and while some of the horses got away, others became entangled. The starter immediately raised his red flag - a signal to the flagman further up the course to stop the runners. But the flag failed to unfurl, and the flagman remained unmoved as the horses charged by, Esha Ness among them.
There was another episode four-years later, an IRA bomb scare causing the National and other races to be abandoned. But the race was run on the following Monday, Lord Gyllene prevailing.
Offaly's Sit-Down Pays Rich Dividends
One that Clare, Kilkenny and Galway referee, Jimmy Cooney - but not Offaly - will want to forget. Refereeing the '98 All-Ireland semi-final between Offaly and title-holders Clare referee Cooney blew the final whistle, satisfied he'd played enough time and left the field. However, anyone in the Croke Park attendance keeping a watch on things, knew there were still a few minutes to play.
As the unfortunate Jimmy, explained later, what happened was: there was a stoppage in play in the second half and he knocked off his stopwatch, but forgot to restart it. When he realised his mistake he resorted to another watch, which wasn't a stopwatch, and quite obviously took a wrong reading from it.
Offaly officials immediately protested, and while they mightn't have been responsible for supporters making their way on to the field in their hundreds, they didn't make a huge attempt to get them off, and might even have become involved in a sit-down, which was designed to prevent the second match on the programme from going ahead. The protesters sat on long enough for the second game to be called off.
Within twenty-four hours the authorities declared the Croke Park result – which went Clare's way - null and void, the re-fixture to take place at Thurles the following Saturday. If there was a Clare protest, it didn't become public.
Under the guidance of Michael Bond, who had taken over as manager from Michael 'Babs' Keating a short time earlier, Offaly won in Semple Stadium, but more than that, went on to beat Kilkenny in the final, the same Kilkenny team that had beaten the Faithful in the Leinster final.
Diana's A Good Singer, But Don't Ask Her To Take A Penalty
It was always likely the Americans would go for a bit of razzmatazz when they were awarded the right to host the '94 World Cup finals. This was the first time soccer's biggest tournament was staged in the USA, a country whose only claim to fame in soccer was a surprise – no, make that shock - win they scored over England in the 1950 finals.
Playing in the finals for the first time and calling on some of the country's greatest names, the likes of Billy Wright, Tom Finney, Alf Ramsey and Stan Mortenson, England were on to a glorified walk-over when they went to play the USA in Belo Horizonte, a small city about 300 miles from Rio de Janeiro. Or so it seemed. There was only one goal in the game and it was scored by Larry Gaetjens, a native of Haiti, playing up front for a makeshift United States team.
It was the beginning of the end for the Three Lions. Stanley Matthews was recalled to the team for the remaining qualifying match with Spain, but this was another outing that ended in a 1-0 defeat, and soon afterwards, the first-timers were on their way home from Brazil.
Fast forward 44 years to a tournament best remembered by this country for the goal Ray Houghton scored to give Jack Charlton's Republic of Ireland team a win over Italy at New York's Giants Stadium. But before a ball was kicked, a very glitzy opening ceremony took place and the star turn was Diana Ross.
Diana belted out a couple of numbers, none of them, thankfully, lasting as long as the one Lionel Ritchie sang at the closing of the Los Angeles Olympics a decade earlier. Remember it, “All Night Long”? It seemed that's how long Lionel was going to go on warbling.
It would have been grand had Ms Ross been allowed to exit stage left after she had finished what she was paid to do, but, no, nothing would do the organisers but to get her down on the pitch to take a peno. Perhaps still wearing her stage footwear, Diana shanked her kick Not by any means a Supreme effort.
When All Hell Broke Loose In Croke Park
There never was much of a 'history' between Louth and Laois up until '91, and, indeed, since then. There'd been many meetings in championship and league over the years, and none of them was noted for anything but the football they produced. The 1975 clash, which Louth had to win by double scores to qualify for the league play-offs, was recorded on this page a few weeks ago, and thirty-two years before that, the counties met in the Leinster final, Louth winning by 3-16 to 2-4.
What happened in '91 was, you could say, out of character, All but a player from either side, the respective goalkeepers, were involved in the ugliest of brawls, and after a recording of it had been shown a number of times on RTE television, the BBC got in on the act, featuring it on its Fantasy Football programme.
A place in the Leinster final was at stake when the counties met in the first of two meetings at Croke Park on July 7th, Louth having beaten Longford and the Mick O'Dwyer-coached Kildare to get that far. Louth had chances of grabbing the winner, but had to be satisfied with a draw.
The replay took place a week later and fielding without the injured Colin Kelly, Louth were further weakened when Cathal O'Hanlon had to go off injured after nine-minutes. But the Frank Lynch-managed side did enough to be on terms at the interval. Laois had the better of it in the second-half and two-goals from left-winger, Michael Lawlor, had the midlanders comfortably in front.
It's not known what sparked the row coming towards the end, but what followed was much more serious than just a row. A fearsome brawl, on par with the one in the Meath/Mayo All-Ireland final replay five-years later? More like a running battle, because what began near the Laois goals didn't end until the protagonists got to the middle of the field. It lasted for about three or four-minutes, but ask anyone who was there and they'll probably say it went on for an hour.
Both counties were fined and the Louth team apologised to supporters, team management and the Leinster Council. The teams met again the following year and there were no incidents. Louth won this one.
Mixed Reaction To Michelle's Four-Timer
We were nearly all on Michelle Smith's side after she'd made such a splash in Atlanta. Those who weren't queried how she could have come from an hugely unsuccessful outing in the Barcelona Games four-years earlier to reap such a reward.
Inquiries followed, and at the end of them all the girl from Rathcoole in Co Dublin was allowed to keep her medals, but was handed a four-year suspension from the sport for doctoring a urine sample.
Her achievement and all surrounding it continues to divide. There's a majority which probably includes many who've changed sides.
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