‘I was probably as good as the lads...’

Jack McCarron’s audacity last Sunday has re-opened the debate about the great Croke Park Gaelic football goals. 

‘I was probably as good as the lads...’

Colman Kennedy’s winner for Tipperary in the 2011 minor final must be a contender. Owen Mulligan’s in 2005 is the obvious choice and there was a timely reminder of it on Mickey Harte’s Laochra Gael tribute on TG4 during the week.

Technology isn’t as kind to John “Scan” Concannon’s in an All-Ireland minor semi-final 24 years ago but it was just as good if not better than those three.

Like those scores, it came against Dublin and at the Davin (Canal) End. The Galway prodigy slalomed his way through the Dublin defence and then provided his piece de resistance, a bullet of a shot to the top corner from nigh on 20 metres. Irish Examiner columnist John Divilly, a close friend of Concannon’s and a team-mate that day, still marvels at the score. “Unreal. Pointed to his friends in the crowd after it too.”

Concannon laughs hearing that: “Don’t mind Divilly - he exaggerates everything.”

As it turns out, Divilly was right. People will tell you the score, to which he added six points, was pure Concannon but his celebration was just as much as you’d expect from the brash teenager.

“A few of the Milltown lads had me backed to score the first goal,” he recounts. “That was before the gambling went the way it has gone now. I was playing with the senior team and a few of the older lads were in the Canal (End) and I think that was the main reason why I pointed up to the boys.”

If you’ve seen the goal, you know how good it was but this was no one-off. Last year, former Donegal midfielder John Haran, a boarder at St Jarlath’s College and school-mate of Concannon’s, recalled his back-heeled goal in the 1994 Connacht Colleges final. “He did it in Tuam Stadium, he was phenomenal.” Again, Concannon demurs. “He doesn’t forgive me for ‘95 (they lost the final to St Patrick’s College, Tuam). He blames me for that so don’t mind him!”

But the message is always the same: Concannon, a senior club footballer at 14, was a magician. Those Galway and Jarlaths teams boasted Michael Donnellan and Pádraic Joyce but it was their friend who was tipped to be the next big thing. “They were brilliant footballers,” said Haran. “The best of the lot was probably Concannon, it just never worked out for him.”

In the 1994 Hogan Cup final, Concannon scored 1-4. His jink, his dummy solo were things of deceptive beauty, his eye for goal peerless. “When you’re a young lad, we’d be all trying to get goals,” he says. “We were playing every week, so many matches between club minor and senior, colleges, county. Maybe I’m not being too modest but we used to score a lot of goals. We’d a great team at the time and sure we’d nearly be in competition to see who would get the best goal between ourselves.”

When he wasn’t selected on the St Jarlath’s Hogan Cup All-Stars 15 years ago there was uproar but Concannon doesn’t look back in anger. “There have been loads of cases like me. Maybe I got a few nice goals here and there but the only reason I’m held in that regard is because of the team I was on. If it wasn’t successful, nobody would have even heard of me. I was lucky to be on great teams with players who turned out to be great players.”

His first senior game for Galway saw him bag a brace of goals against Sligo in the FBD Connacht League and he appeared in the league and was on the Championship panel in 1996 but commitment had been a concern for managers. A broken ankle in ‘97 set him back before John O’Mahony, in that famous All-Ireland winning year, dropped him after an FBD game against Roscommon when he had missed a goal opportunity.

In an excellent interview with Christy O’Connor seven years ago, Concannon recalled how a lack of application let him down but then he also neglected to nurse his ankle and there were other distractions like working in the bank and socialising.

“It was wasted talent,” he admits now. “I was as good as the lads but you know yourself I enjoyed life too much. I went into a job when I was young and I’m still there when I could have easily gone down to (IT) Tralee with Padraic and the lads. Things mightn’t have turned out well for me after that, though.”

Concannon’s contribution to Galway football doesn’t amount to just echoes of his youth, though. Eleven years ago, he guided Milltown to their first senior county final since 1987 where they came up two points short against Joyce’s Killererin. Under Pádraic’s brother and former Galway forward Tommy, he was a minor county selector for a couple of years and the likes of current senior forwards Shane Walsh and Ian Burke passed through their hands.

“Johnny Heaney too,” he points out. “He was on and off the minor team but he’s progressed so good now even further than I would have thought. Shane used to practice more with his left foot. He’d be there for hours after training kicking frees and at that stage he was thinking he was Maurice Fitzgerald. To me, Shane Walsh is the closest thing to Michael Donnellan that we have. He’s a great lad. Ian’s so unselfish; sometimes too much.”

He knows the current brand of football Galway are playing complements athletes like Walsh, Damien Comer and Eamonn Brannigan but is not so sure it’s the recipe for ultimate success. “Is it enough to win an All-Ireland or will win them an All-Ireland? I don’t think so.”

His point is it needs to be more offensively-driven. He anticipates Galway will put it up to Dublin tomorrow, his optimism partly founded in the All-Ireland champions being without a number of key players. But Mayo and May 13, he insists, must be the primary focus. When his home is so close to the counties’ border and plays his golf in Claremorris, it certainly is for Concannon.

“It’s the first time we’ll be scrambling for tickets for a Galway-Mayo match for years because of what happened in Pearse Stadium a few weeks ago and Galway winning the last two years. Galway, this time it’s different for them. They’re on a hiding to nothing compared to the last two years when they were underdogs. Mayo are underdogs now and they’ll give it everything.

“Last year, Galway improved definitely after winning Division 2 but you still thought Mayo wouldn’t let it happen a second time with the performances they have produced in Croke Park over the last few years. I just thought Mayo didn’t perform at all especially in the first half but they had chances to win and draw it and their old failings came home to roost.

“There is serious rivalry and sometimes it goes over the top but it’s absolutely brilliant. We are only three or four miles away and there are an awful lot of friends of mine living in Milltown who are serious Mayo men. It’ll be mayhem coming up to May 13. Even though we’ve beaten them the last two years, we haven’t been contenders for national titles but hopefully we’re getting there.”

Another moment of genius in front of the Davin Stand tomorrow would go some way to ensuring that.

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