Willie Maher did the official Croke Park tour once and, among the assorted tidbits he took from the experience, was the fact that there are 34 steps from the bottom of the Hogan Stand up to the spot where silverware is raised to the heavens.
He remembered that as he bounded up those same concrete slabs again on Saturday night, having persuaded and cajoled the rest of the Kilcummin management to follow their players up the incline to share in the glory of an All-Ireland intermediate football title.
Minutes later and he was pressing pause, apologetically, on some media interviews so he could sprint for the field where the team and assorted family and friends were posing with the trophy and for a picture that will adorn their walls for the rest of their days.
This did not square with the behaviour of a man who admits to being a reluctant manager. A man who was one-third of the committee actually tasked with finding the next team boss a year ago and then ended up accepting the gig himself.
“I had no interest in the job whatsoever. As they tell me the whole time, I am a blow-in to Kilcummin but I will be there 30 years on the 15th of April,
“There is no team I haven’t trained some time, like, but it is a step-up to train the senior team and I had two young fellas involved as well, which was one of the reasons I did not want to do it,” said the man from Castlemaine.
It’s no wonder he echoed his captain and goalkeeper Brendan Kealy in describing this amazing run of county, provincial, and now national titles as “surreal” but then he wasn’t exactly at a loss to understand how it all became possible either.
He paid tribute to the likes of Kealy and the half-dozen or so others who began the rebuilding process early last year by organising training before he had signed on. And he mentioned the handful of other players who had returned to the fold in the club’s time of greatest need.
There’s no doubting that he had talent to work with: from Kealy whose three second-half point-blank saves did so much to thwart Naomh Éanna at one end here, to Kevin McCarthy whose 3-7 — all of it from play — was a symphony of sheer brilliance at the other.
McCarthy was a late addition to the line-up, his contribution on the day in some doubt until near throw-in due to the broken hand suffered in the Munster final win over Fermoy which had all but reduced him to the role of spectator for the All-Ireland semi-final. The Ulster champions tried three defenders on him — though never two at once — and none of them could prevent the hugely talented Kerry panellist from wreaking havoc at will.
If this was McCarthy with one good hand then the mind boggles as to what he could manage with two, but Kilcummin knew what they had in him. The plan was simple: give it to McCarthy. And, while others shone, the No.23 was the lightning rod.
Kilcummin had 2-3 on the board without reply by the seventh minute and, while Naomnh Éanna would squeeze that back to two points by the 20th, the men from Belfast would spend the evening on the chase. That it wasn’t to be Naomh Éanna’s night was apparent when they lost goalkeeper Paddy Flood to a black card, defender Conor McAuley to an injury and, to cap it all, a goal from the penalty spot off the back of the one incident 10 minutes before the break. Their refusal to lie down saved the game as a spectacle and it allowed them to return north with their heads held high. And it meant that the first-half was riotous fun, with the Kerry side 3-6 to 2-4 to the good when the break came. A 13-point loss was a tad harsh but it’s the 3-7 that people will remember.
And, maybe, the 34 steps.
Scorers for Kilcummin:
K McCarthy (3-7); K Murphy (1-1, 1-0 penalty); M Keane (1-0); G O’Leary (0-2); J McCarthy and I Devane (0-1 each); N Duggan (0-1 free).
Scorers for Naomh Éanna:
O Eastwood (0-7, 5 frees); R Scott (1-2); E Nagle (1-0).
B Kealy; P Casey, D Maher, S O’Leary; C O’Leary, D Moynihan, W Maher; K Murphy, K Gorman; S McSweeney, G O’Leary, P Nagle; N Duggan, K McCarthy, M Keane.
M McCarthy for P Nagle and D O’Leary for W Maher (both 44); I Devane for Duggan (54); D O’Leary for G O’Leary (55); K Teahan for Murphy (58); M O’Shea for Keane (61).
P Flood; K Jennings, D Gault, M McNamee; C Lyttle, J McAuley, C McAuley; P Curran, J Maskey; P Healy, R Scott, K Healy; E Gibson, E Nagle, O Eastwood.
C O’Neill for Curran (20); M Morgan for Flood (23); C Thompson for C McCauley (25); C Eastwood for Gault (43); N McKeown for Gibson (54); R Kennedy for Scott (58); D Walsh for Healy (60).
J Molloy (Galway).