DICK CLERKIN: The peaks in a summer of troughs

So there we have it, another season finishes with Dublin as All-Ireland champions...

Starting out in May when New York hosted Galway, 33 teams began the race for September glory. But when the 2015 championship is recalled in years to come, one wonders how many of those contests will have left a lasting impression. For most, this year’s Football Championship hasn’t been one for the archives. But considering our every heightening levels of expectation, will we ever be satisfied.

Yet when I think back on former seasons I struggle to think of any particular year that stands out from the rest. What does, and always will stand out in people’s memories are the individual contests and memories created during each Championship season. Go to any pub in any county in the country and they will recall favourite games and memories involving their own county. So what if those moments didn’t matter in terms of who finished victorious come the third Sunday of September. They mattered to those supporters on those given day. They always matter, and for all our sakes I hope they continue to matter.

So while we might not celebrate the 2015 season as being a vintage one we still had plenty of memorable contests that stand up there with the best of years go by.

Moments, players, and matches which created memories that will be discussed and recalled across the country for years to come.

Here are my highlights...

Westmeath’s defeat of Meath in Leinster Championship

The peaks in a summer of troughs

With 20 minutes remaining, I was heading for a shower. That was until Kieran Martin halted me in my tracks after scoring a goal, thus giving Westmeath an unlikely lifeline in a game that they were being totally outplayed in. From there to the final whistle viewers were transfixed by one of the most remarkable comebacks ever witnessed in Croke Park.

Let’s be honest, we all turned into Westmeath supporters for those final minutes, and when John Heslin scored the goal to seal Westmeath’s first championship victory over Meath, we all roared like he was one of our own. One of the unlikely highlights of the year.

Kerry v Cork in the drawn Munster final

The Munster finals’ reputation is built on contests such as that witnessed in Killarney this year. Considering where Cork were coming from it should have been a game that they could take much satisfaction from. Yet when we saw how the paths of the respective teams diverged after Fionn Fitzgerald pick-pocketed a draw, more than likely it will be a game that will haunt the Rebels for years to come. Regardless, it was undoubtedly one the games of the year and ranks up there with the best of the best of the pair’s provincial battles.

Monaghan v Donegal in the Ulster final

You’ll have to allow me a bit of bias here, and while it may not have been a game for the purists, in terms colour, noise, intensity and atmosphere, few contests rivalled our victory over Donegal this year.

An Ulster final in Clones should be on every GAA fanatics bucket-list. Up there with Munster SHC finals in Thurles, and Munster SFC finals in Killarney, it is one of the great occasions on the GAA calendar.

Prior to this year’s final I had the privilege to play in four deciders. But with only one win, a fourth final defeat was not something that I or my teammates could countenance. Thankfully we don’t need to worry about that now. After a nailbiting finish that saw us stretching for the line after dominating for most of the afternoon, we secured a second title in three years. If the Ulster final ever does end up moving to Belfast in the future, the GAA landscape will the poorer for it.

Fermanagh’s victory over Roscommon in the Qualifiers

The peaks in a summer of troughs

Often played in front of small crowds between teams who have no ambition of an extended summer, qualifier matches rarely garner much attention these days. Roscommon controlled this game for long periods in a fashion that justified their lofty ambitions. However in a dramatic finish, Fermanagh kicked the last six points to snatch what, for a long time, looked to be an unlikely victory.

For the few thousand Fermanagh supporters who invaded the Brewster Park at the end of this dramatic win, it was a game that will live long in their memory.

Dublin v Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final (and replay)

Aside from all the disciplinary sideshows that hung over both these games and its sets of players, no one can question the electric atmosphere these two contests brought to the 2015 championship. Reputations are forged in such occasions, and men on both sides came away with them enhanced.

It will be little comfort to Mayo that for the second season running they played their part in epic contests that will be talked about for years. But isn’t it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. As my wife Alison remarked as we sat down to watch the replay, anticipation in the air, stands packed and the Hill in full song, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to get playing in a match like that’. Great indeed.

Dublin defeat Kerry to be crowned All-Ireland champions

Regardless of the quality of yesterday’s game, All-Ireland finals will always be remembered for obvious reasons. Yesterday my brother Ben and I drove up together, 27 years after our first final when our parents lifted us over the turnstiles to watch Meath defeat Cork. I haven’t missed too many finals since, and like many, each contest created its own memories. The Mayo roar when Anthony Finnerty nearly lifted the net out of it against Cork in 1989. The rain sodden Johnny McGuirk as he kicked Derry to victory in their historic 1993 win. The Maurice Fitzgerald final of 1997, arguably the finest exhibition of scoring ever in an All-Ireland.

The defiant resilience of Kieran McGeeney’s Armagh in 2002 and subsequent euphoria when they defeated Kerry to win their first All-Ireland. The tactical masterclass of Tyrone’s 2008 victory over Kerry, and Sean Cavanagh’s second half tour de force.

The rocking of the hill in 2011 when Kevin McManamon crashed home that goal. Each year thousands of supporters who are lucky enough to get a ticket in the annual club draw are treated to their own unique set of memories.

Yesterday may not have been the classic we expected but I don’t think you will find too many in the Dublin camp complaining. For the players involved it must be an unbelievable memory to have. A memory I haven’t just yet given up on creating.

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