The moments are seared in Charlie Redmond’s memory. Both times Tommy Sugrue awarded the penalties, both times Dessie Farrell won them. In the 1992 All-Ireland final, Redmond’s spot kick flew high and beyond Donegal goalkeeper Gary Walsh’s left-hand post. Two years later and at the other end in front of Hill 16, Down’s Niall Collins guessed wrong to his right but had the dexterity to stop the kick aimed towards the centre of the goal.
Penalties are rarely saved, so often missed, and for Redmond that latter denial was more brutal than the miss against Donegal, coming with less than 10 minutes remaining and Dublin suffering a second final defeat in three years.
There was redemption for Redmond in 1995 when his goal helped Dublin to All-Ireland glory but not without him having to sit out most of the second half having been sent off. Final anguish is a friend of his but he fears a graver fate will befall a player later this year should he miss a spot kick in an All-Ireland final penalty shootout. For that is how the Championship will be decided should two 10-minute periods of extra-time fail to separate the teams.
“If we have to do that with an All-Ireland final, I think it devalues that All-Ireland final. If you won it that way, I think it’s devalued. I have missed penalties that lost All-Ireland finals but to lose it in a penalty shootout, for it to be the final act… I think it’s wrong. I think it’s a way of putting a square peg in a round hole.
“You’re asking players to do something they’re not familiar with. We don’t play the ball on the ground in our game anymore. Stephen Cluxton and goalkeepers do it and a couple of freetakers but that’s it.
“I know the penalty is taken a couple of yards further in than in my day and that’s a great help but as I know to my fault you can practise all the penalties you want and your percentage of finding the net in training can be 80% but nothing can prepare you for taking a penalty in an All-Ireland final and nobody ever has taken a penalty in a penalty shootout in an All-Ireland final.
“To win an All-Ireland on penalties, your first thought would have to be for the team that lost it on penalties and the person who missed the penalty as opposed to feeling elated for the winners.”
Before Redmond, Liam Sammon had one saved by Paddy Cullen in the 1974 final. In 1953, Armagh’s Bill McCorry kicked a penalty wide against Kerry. It was a history Oisín McConville sensed he was going to repeat in 2002 only to make up for his penalty with a second-half goal as Armagh claimed their first All-Ireland title.
In 1982, Mikey Sheehy didn’t want to take that second-half penalty but there were no other takers. Three years earlier, he had converted one past Cullen but on that fateful day against Offaly he was unhappy with how he had been playing. When Martin Furlong dived to his right and pushed the ball away, the Kerry forward felt his team were destined to lose the game.
Sheehy became the catchall villain for penalty misses after that. He laughs recalling his phone buzzing with messages a few years ago from friends who were at a pub quiz down the town in Tralee.
The question was ‘who missed the penalty in ‘86?’ Jacko hit the bar early on against Tyrone but the lads swore it was me, that the quizmaster got it wrong. It’s bad enough that I get blamed for costing us the five-in-a-row that they add the one in ‘86 to it!
Sheehy is very much with Redmond and against penalty shootouts. “It would be a shocking way to decide a game, an All-Ireland final. Go for the next score or an extra five or 10 minutes but the man who misses the penalty will carry that baggage for the rest of his life. I know because I’m still carrying a bit of it still from 1982.”
Crucial penalty misses have certainly defined more football finals than hurling deciders. Off the top of his head, Nicky English can’t recall one. He himself pointed an additional time penalty in the 1988 All-Ireland final defeat to Galway but Tipperary were five points down and before he took it referee Gerry Kirwan had a word in his ear. “He told me the game was over. There was no way back for us and it didn’t matter a damn.
“Nobody would have taken any notice of them being scored or saved when there were three men on the line because the chances of them being converted were low. Until it became one-on-one, they weren’t considered important.”
English too hopes it doesn’t come to penalties as much as he admits it would be intriguing.
“In the year that’s in it, if it gets to that stage it’ll just be another first in 2020, basically. It will be hugely exciting for the person on the winning side but the danger is it could get pinned on one person. You think of Chris Waddle and all those England players who missed penalties down through the years. It’ll be hugely exciting for us if it comes to it. I’d love to be scoring one but I’d hate to be missing one and that’s the bottom line.”
English was Tipperary manager when Davy Fitzgerald’s late penalty goal earned Clare a Munster semi-final replay, which they won six days later. Fitzgerald’s conversion in the Banner’s historic 1995 provincial final win is another famous one although he was denied in the 2004 All-Ireland quarter-final draw with Kilkenny and he has had more green flags raised against them. As Wexford manager now, he hopes it’s only a temporary measure.
“You have to accept it with the year that’s in it. It’s not ideal but there are exceptional circumstances. Missing a penalty is not something you would like to go through again. It’s hard to take, that’s hurling though and you have to accept what comes your way. You’re gutted obviously but after a while perspective kicks in.”
However, Redmond worries that the proximity of the All-Ireland final to Christmas won’t allow that period of reflection and catharsis. He would prefer to see the inter-county season cancelled than put players through torment.
“I don’t think it’s right to play an All-Ireland final at that time. I’ve lost them and I know how sick you are after you lose them and I know it takes a long time to recover from such a loss. I just question why we would ask amateur players to play in an All-Ireland final six days before Christmas.
These guys who lose an All-Ireland final are going to have their worst Christmas of their lives. There’s no other way about it. I don’t know how many players today are fathers but if they are can I can imagine how tough it is going to be for them with their children on Christmas Day and trying to be upbeat for them?
“The other question I would ask is how many members of Central Council have lost an All-Ireland final? How many of them know what it is actually like knowing what it is to come off that pitch having lost?
“Maybe the players are happy to go ahead with it but I know that feeling. There’s not too many still playing that do, maybe Donegal, Kerry, Mayo, and Tyrone lads but that’s it. They know how hard it is. It’s going to be even harder.”