A few moments after Mick Monahan blew for full-time in the 2004 Leinster football final at Croke Park, Shane Power spotted a gap between two stewards and darted through.
The 14-year old was one of the first Westmeath supporters to invade the pitch after their historic maiden provincial triumph.
Power didn’t plan it but as he neared the 21-yard line, the match ball rolled his way and, embracing opportunism, he met it with a kick into space before gathering it up.
Somehow among the thousands of maroon clad supporters that subsequently spilled onto the pitch, the youngster managed to keep hold of the ball.
Over a decade on, there are intriguing tales to tell about both ball and boy.
“I couldn’t believe my luck, I just picked it up and ran off with it,” recalled Power.
“Eventually I met my friends that I was with and got the train back to Mullingar. I remember kicking it around one of the roundabouts that evening, just laughing that it was the same one they’d been using in Croke Park.
“The following day I brought it into the Greville Arms Hotel and met the players and Páidi Ó Sé and Tomás Ó Flatharta. The place was absolutely wedged with people but I got around and got them all to sign it. Gary Connaughton was saying he wanted to keep it but I wasn’t having any of it. I’ve kept it ever since.”
The Westmeath Examiner wrote an article on Power’s youthful endeavour at the time, labelling it the ‘Snatch of the Day’.
The passing of time confirms that one of the most precious pieces of memorabilia in Westmeath GAA history went to a good home. If Power’s name is familiar it’s because the engineer by trade was Man of the Match last weekend for the Westmeath hurlers in their All-Ireland qualifier tie against Limerick.
His expert man marking job on rising Limerick star Cian Lynch, who was eventually substituted, contributed to Westmeath being just four points behind the 2014 All-Ireland semi-finalists with 64 minutes on the clock.
Westmeath couldn’t push on for one of hurling’s great upsets, though there was considerable consolation for Power in just being involved.
You see he was also the player that hit the news when he was knocked clean out by a sliothar to the face guard in the warm up for the Leinster championship tie against Wexford. Initially, he feared he’d lost the sight in his left eye but made a full recovery.
Anyhow, more about the ball which is currently locked away in a safe place with his match ticket and train pass for that 2004 final.
“I don’t think I would sell it, no matter how much I was offered,” said the Clonkill hurler.
“I’d definitely have a chat with anyone who wanted to display it somehow to the public, I don’t know, in a pub or somewhere like that. It’s something I treasure but I also like the idea of genuine GAA people getting to look at it.
It’s difficult to say how much the ball is actually worth, potentially thousands to the right bidder. Mind you, if Westmeath do the unthinkable and beat Dublin in Sunday’s Leinster final, Power may find his piece of precious memorabilia has a rival.
“I doubt I’d get the chance to get the ball this weekend as well,” smiled Power.
“We probably weren’t meant to be on the pitch in 2004 but you definitely wouldn’t get away with it now.”
If not this weekend, then perhaps Power will get his hands on a match ball from a provincial triumph the legal way at some stage, by actually becoming a Westmeath footballer.
He plays senior football for The Downs in Mullingar and after a stand-out season with the hurlers a call up to Tom Cribbin’s county football panel cannot be ruled out.
“I’d love to pursue the football if I got a chance at all with Westmeath,” said Power.
“I’d be very good friends with John Connellan and Darragh Daly who are part of the football panel so it would be nice to join them.”
Power has his ticket purchased for Sunday’s decider and his transport sorted, the Westmeath hurlers are all travelling together. It’s difficult to envisage a positive outcome for them considering Dublin have trounced all opposition in Leinster.
Power shrugged: “They’re a fair outfit all right, going for five-in-a-row and Westmeath, I suppose, are more building a team up but this will be great experience for them whatever happens.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved