Moment in Time: ‘It could have kept going for another 30 yards after going over’

It's June 15, 2003. Laois are three points to the good against Dublin with two minutes of normal time to go in their Leinster semi-final when Pádraig Clancy takes to the skies. Brendan O'Brien takes up the story for the second instalment in our 'Moment in Time' series
Moment in Time: ‘It could have kept going for another 30 yards after going over’

It's June 15, 2003. Laois are three points to the good against Dublin with two minutes of normal time to go in their Leinster semi-final when Pádraig Clancy takes to the skies. Brendan O'Brien takes up the story for the second instalment in our 'Moment in Time' series

The first thing to say here is that Pádraig Clancy’s jaw-dropping 68th-minute point wasn’t the only score for the ages that Laois produced that day. Tommy Lyons could only shake his head afterwards and rue how Mick O’Dwyer’s lads had fired them over from all angles.

Unlike his own.

Dublin signed for 16 wides in a game they would lose by two points. They spurned three gilt-edged goal chances in the first-half and Alan Brogan missed another after the break that, as yours truly wrote at the time, his then 49-year old father Bernard Snr would have put away from his sofa.

People forget this sort of stuff.

Everyone expected a contest. The papers that day and 24 hours earlier had singled it out as a game that was likely to be the highlight of the weekend but the common consensus was that Dublin, reigning provincial champions and All-Ireland semi-finalists in 2002, would pull through.

Laois? This was seen as a year too soon. They had been torched by Meath in a qualifier in Portlaoise that previous summer but O’Dwyer arrived and planted new seeds and, in his first team meeting, told his charges that three of them would be All Stars by the year’s end.

He was right. Another three earned nominations.

The midland side had accounted for All-Ireland champions Armagh in a league semi-final before a heavy beating at the hands of Tyrone resurrected old doubts that weren’t fully dispelled with a Leinster quarter-final defeat of an unlucky Offaly after a replay.

Part of the perceived problem against their neighbours was a midfield axis of Clancy and Noel Garvan that punched a tad too much high ball for some people’s liking in the drawn game but this was a tandem that that had danced together plenty of times.

Two strikingly tall men in a side heavily populated with smaller souls, they had already tangled with the likes of Paul McGrane, Kevin Hughes and Ciaran McManus that season and they were sensational against a Dublin side brimming with engine-room muscle and talent.

Lyons had Ciaran Whelan, Darren Magee, Johnny Magee and Thomas Mulligan operating around the centre. Darren Homan came off the bench. Laois failed to win any of the first half-dozen kickouts but staked territorial rights from there on in.

The Dublin manager admitted as much later so it was only appropriate when, with the underdogs three points to the good and the 70th minute just around the corner, Clancy claimed a kickout, turned on his heels and launched the mother of all points over the bar to seal the win.

He remembers it like it was just yesterday.

“It was the end of the game and I was wrecked,” he says. “Bollixed. I always jumped with my knee up and I’d have a leg stuck out a bit as well. I learned it off Sean O Domhnaill who caught me one time in a game at O’Moore Park. My whole back was marked after it.

“Fergal Byron had a huge boot on him and I caught the kick underneath the Hogan Stand. I just nudged Darren Magee on the hip as he was going up and he must have gone three inches under the ball. I knocked it down to myself and turned and thought, ‘here, I’ll chance it’.

“It could have kept going for another 30 yards after it went over.”

Two things to note about that score.

The first is how that sort of man-on-man aerial battle between Clancy and Magee, and the wider contest between the two midfield units, seems almost quaint now in an era of short or strategic kickouts, fluid formations and tactical nuances.

The same could be said for the Hail Mary that followed. Shots from that sort of distance just aren’t the percentage option in an era when possession and stats of all kinds of king. Clancy, who manages in Laois at club level now, has seen this for himself.

“The game has changed. For the worse, I believe. It’s gone so tactical now but it was better back then. You can have structure and you have to have lads tracking back as well but there has to be some off-the-cuff about it as well. You still have to be able to score.”

Clancy’s point, his second of the day, stands strong in the memory not just because it was such a thing of beauty but also because it was the most emphatic of declarations that, after so many years failing, this was to be their day. Their time.

This was Laois’ first championship defeat of Dublin since 1981, and a first big championships scalp of any hue in over a decade, but a rivalry that would span much of the decade had already begun to bubble over at underage levels and this tempestuousness was evident as the sides made for the tunnel at half-time in 2003.

Fists flew as the teams funnelled towards the enclosed walkway and subs leapt into the tunnel from their seats in the stand. Danny Lynch, the then GAA PRO, suggested they were simply sourcing a quicker path to the changing-rooms. “More sizzle than steak,” he called it.

Clancy knew only too well that there was more to it than that.

“Myself and Alan Brogan ended up on the ground at the end of the half and he said something smart when he was getting up. We were all running in when Ciaran Whelan shouldered Joe Higgins in the back and I was about two yards behind. Well, I flew into Whelan and all hell broke loose.”

Dublin would exact their revenge in the 2005 and 2007 deciders but Clancy’s was the score that set Laois up for a first Leinster title in 57 years and an all-too-brief period of time when anything

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