Whatever chance there is that Bryan McLoughney may know of Anthony Davis — the LA Laker, whatever about the former Cork footballer and Sunday Game panellist — it’d be fair to assume that the man commonly referred to as AD wouldn’t be familiar with McLoughney.
With an annual salary of $27m (€22.9m), Davis is listed among the 50 richest athletes on Planet Earth and has just been just voted one of the best five basketball players of 2020.
McLoughney, a student in UL, has played a bit of underage hurling with Tipperary, but even were he to play senior with them his income or profile will hardly approximate Davis’s. Seamie Callanan, now, Davis may have heard mention of him before, but McLoughney, nah.
Last Sunday though McLoughney was one of the few mere mortals who was floating in same rarefied air as Davis after both men within only hours of one another served up and pulled off that most thrilling of sports feats — the buzzer-beater.
Depending on who you were supporting in Thurles and Florida last Sunday, Davis and McLoughney either lifted your heart or applied a dagger to that heart, reaffirming sport’s — but especially their respective sports’ — capacity for the dramatic and magical.
These weren’t merely go-ahead scores a la Stephen Cluxton’s immortal point in the 2011 All-Ireland football final: As the Dublin goalkeeper would admit while offering a rare soundbite, if he missed that free, it wasn’t as if Dublin had lost. The same with Dean Rock in 2017; while it’s hard to think of a score or a defeat that was more torturous for a support to endure as what was inflicted on Mayo that day, it still wasn’t quite as sudden and tumultuous a shift as what Davis and McLoughney were responsible for on Sunday.
In each case, their respective teams were trailing before their lethal intervention: Only seconds earlier it had appeared as if an opponent was the hero of the hour. In Thurles, John McGrath had just iced the kind of long-range deadball that both Cluxton and Rock would have admired, giving Loughmore-Castleiney a one-point advantage entering added time of extra time of the Tipperary senior county hurling final.
Part one of the double — they’re in next week’s football final as well — looked as if it had been sealed.
In Orlando, a remarkable seven-foot Serbian called Nikola Jokic had scored 11 consecutive points for the Denver Nuggets to give them a late lead against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Two of the NBA western conference finals. With three minutes to go, the Lakers had been up by eight before Jokic caught fire and even when Davis temporarily restored LA’s lead with 26 seconds to go, Jokic came right down and scored in Davis’s face only six seconds later to put Denver up again, 103-102.
Jokic and John McGrath: they’d been the men for the dramatic. Pure clutch.
Yet within seconds, they’d been each upstaged.
With probably the quickest restart in the history of Gaelic Games, Kiladangan pucked the ball back out and within 13 seconds it was in the opposing net.
McLoughney, who had been earlier substituted but reintroduced, could have settled for a point to bring the game to penalties, just as plenty of his fellow countymen often have said John Leahy should have opted for a point in the 1997 All-Ireland final to force a replay against Clare. But like Leahy, McLoughney went for the bolder option and this time fortune favoured the brave.
It was as close a thing as another sport other than basketball can get to a buzzer-beater. The ref did allow Loughmore to puck the ball out but after they quickly turned over possession, he blew it up.
Just 40 seconds after McGrath had nailed the free to seemingly secure Loughmore another county title, Kiladangan were celebrating their first-ever county title.
In Orlando, poor Denver wouldn’t even get to puck the ball out after a McLoughney-like intervention from Davis. After Jokic’s last basket of the evening, it had appeared as if they had held out against the Lakers, with the latter’s Alex Caruso missing a three-pointer and then the Nuggets blocking a shot of Danny Green’s with just 2.1 seconds to go.
But there were still those 2.1 seconds to go. And from Rajon Rondo’s inbound pass, Davis was able to run to the wing, collect and get the shot off from outside the three-point line, the ball flashing through the net as the buzzer sounded.
In just two seconds, the Nuggets had gone from winning a game and drawing level in the series to losing, and most likely, the series itself. Just like poor Loughmore-Castleiney.
At least though the McGraths still have the football, just as Jokic and the Nuggets still have a Game Three in a possible seven-game series.
Few sports can replicate such drama. Even in soccer teams usually either go from a draw to a win, or a draw to a loss, or a loss to a draw; only in something like a Champions League semi-final, when Lucas Moura struck for his side’s third goal against Ajax right on the stroke of the last second of added time has a team gone from defeat to victory in just a second.
Basketball more frequently throws up such a scenario. In these playoffs in the bubble in Orlando it has happened numerous times, such as when Luka Doncic pronounced himself as a proper playoff player with a three on the buzzer to give the Dallas Mavericks a Game Four win over the LA Clippers.
While Dallas would ultimately lose the series, it will form part of Doncic’s legend, for a legend he will be.
It’s a common point of conversation in basketball: Game on the line, last possession, who would you have take the last shot? Larry Bird was famously clutch. Xavier McDaniel, a one-time opponent with the Seattle Supersonics, has spoken about how in one game with the sides level in the closing seconds, Bird came out of a timeout and told his marker, McDaniel, not only that he was going to get the ball but where he was going to get it and what he was going to do with it: I’m going to shoot in your face. Which is what he did, sinking a shot with two seconds to go. Only Bird wasn’t fully satisfied. “Damn,” he told McDaniel, “I didn’t mean to leave anytime left!” Which in turn left McDaniel shaking his head, going “Damn!” too.
A brilliant study and article by ESPN upon Kobe Bryant’s death would show that Bird would shoot four buzzer-beaters, leaving no time on the clock, through his career, something only bettered by 10 other players. LeBron James, Davis’s current team-mate, was one of them with seven. Bryant was joint second, with eight. And the most was Michael Jordan with nine.
Upon swishing that shot to break Denver’s hearts, there was no sudden explosion of noise from the crowd, the way there would have been in the Staples Centre whenever Bryant made all his match-winning shots at the death. But there was a roar, from not just Davis’s team-mates who rushed to engulf him, David O’Leary-like, but from Davis himself.
“Kobe!” he shouted, and later he’d talk about how Bryant’s Mamba mentality had inspired his mindset taking that shot, just as his tragic death is fuelling the Lakers to honour his memory with another championship.
And it was pure Kobe. And pure McLoughney too.