Seamus Darby with Kerry defender Tommy Doyle
As RTE screens the much-anticipated 'Players of the Faithful' documentary recounting the 1982 All-Ireland final, we too are going back in time to the day Seamus Darby rocked the back of the Kerry net to topple the Kingdom.
Offaly's win in 1982 is famous for the fact that the Kerry side of the day, one of the finest ever seen, were thwarted in their march for five-in-row by the Faithful County, namely the left boot of an ageing Rhode forward, Seamus Darby.
It's widely regarded as the best goal ever scored in Croke Park, certainly the most famous, but the story of how it was made in the hours beforehand, is one of a thoroughly different generation, a bottle of brandy, and some divine intervention.
The late Kevin Farrell was not only a journalist, but also the brother-in-law of Seamus Darby, and in his memoir, 'It's All New To Me,' printed in 2011, the year before Kevin's death, he told a GAA story that captured the time and the prelude to that truly famous goal to perfection.
The story of that goal and how Seamus Darby came to be on the pitch that day against Kerry really started in May of 1982 when his club Rhode faced Daingean in the Offaly championship.
Darby was not involved with the Offaly panel at the time, and Kevin Farrell, who was covering the odd game for local papers, was there to witness Darby have "the game of his life" against Daingean.
He started to question why Seamus was being ignored by Offaly manager Eugene McGee as he stood there and watched him beat at least three men before sending a "pile-driver" into the net. Kevin wrote in his book that the goal was so brilliantly struck to the top right corner of the net, that it made his winner against Kerry some months later look "rather harmless."
Seamus Darby was routinely hit with claims that he was "over the top," "too heavy," and even "too pudgy" to get that county call up once more in 1982, but Kevin Farrell was adamant that he was still the most dangerous forward he'd seen in recent times.
As it turned out, it was after the replay between Rhode and Daingean when Eugene McGee approached a group of journalists, including Kevin Farrell, outside O'Connor Park, and simply said, "Just want to tell you guys that Seamus Darby has been added to the senior panel, thanks."
And so the seed was sown, that famous moment was in the pipeline, not that anyone knew, or would have foreseen. Darby made his comeback against Dublin in the Leinster final of that year, and scored 1-3, a sublime personal display somewhat forgotten in the annals of the summer of 82'.
Darby pulled his hamstring before the All-Ireland semi-final, missing out on a victory over Galway. Around that time, Kevin Farrell had a health concern and in July, Seamus drove him to an appointment in Tullamore Hospital. He wrote in his book that midway through the journey, Seamus nudged his arm and said, "I'm going to tell you one thing. Offaly are going to win the All-Ireland this year."
Kevin Farrell, like most of the population, couldn't see this prophecy coming to fruition. Kerry were flying, the finest generation of footballers from the finest gaelic football stronghold ever seen. They were unstoppable, unflappable, unbeatable - or so the experts said.
Offaly were that ageing animal, a weakened force on the face of it, with a lot of the personnel from the 71' and 72' winning teams still around the set-up. Long before team psychologists and life coaches we have today, Kevin Farrell says Eugene McGee was a psychological master.
"He kept them going. He nursed them individually and listened to their problems. He was their football manager on the field and their agony aunt off it," Farrell wrote.
The All-Ireland final was approaching and Kevin Farrell says he was at home the night before the decider when he was "feeling the need for a pint of porter." Kevin said he wasn't thinking too clearly when he phoned Seamus to see if he would join him.
Seamus' wife answered the phone and laughed off the suggestion, asking Kevin if he had "gone mad." Seamus Darby was at a players' meeting in Tullamore as the Offaly team put the final touches to their final day preparations. "Sure if he was seen out tonight, he's be shot," Seamus' wife said.
Having finally got hold of Seamus himself, the Rhode man repeated his wife's sentiments, but did say: "Having said that, I'd murder a drink, have you anything up there to drink?"
Kevin asked Seamus to get a bottle of lemonade to go with the bottle of brandy he had, and also asked him to pick up a couple of packets of cigarettes. Seamus called to the pub of Offaly footballing legend, Paddy McCormack, to get the provisions, and Kevin Farrell said they often wondered if punters in the pub in Edenderry that night admired Darby for buying a bottle of lemonade and heading home the night before the final.
Seamus was said to be "psyched up" after the players' meeting and remarked to Kevin, "By Jaysus if a Kerryman stood in front of me now I'd go through that f**king wall to get him." "That was before he got any brandy," Kevin wrote.
Eventually, the lads opened the brandy, and Kevin said, that on the advice of their respective wives, they started off using a stainless steel egg cup as a measure. "After some time the egg cup fell on the ground and no one bothered to pick it up," Kevin wrote.
"We managed to pour the rest without a measure or without spilling any," he quipped. They "polished off" the bottle anyway, and Seamus Darby decided he wanted to phone a former Edenderry curate, and Kilcock Parish Priest, Fr John McWey. He had been in Edenderry from 1951 to 1975 and was, and is to this day, a famous figure in the history of the town. He was often seen pacing the canal bank praying, while in latter years and since his death, he was considered a lucky man, and as Kevin put it, "a man with a miraculous cure."
Seamus spoke to Fr McWey for more than 10 minutes but at the end of the conversation, Seamus said: "Of course Father, you do know I'm only a sub tomorrow."
Without hesitation, Fr McWey responded, "I know that Seamus, but you'll be brought in, and you'll score a goal. Goodnight now." This tale is one often disputed, but it's true to say that this so-called prophecy was talked about between masses on All-Ireland Sunday, hours before throw-in at Croke Park.
In the game itself, Offaly rocked Kerry in the first half and went in leading at the break. Kerry got on top and went ahead in the second half and when the Kingdom were awarded a penalty, the nail was all but hammered into the Faithful coffin. However, Tullamore man Martin Furlong saved Mikey Sheehy's effort, sparking an Offaly revival.
Late in the game, few noticed as Seamus Darby was brought in for John Guinan. Offaly got a free in their own half and most of the team were pushed forward. The end was nigh and as McGee sent Darby in, it's said he told him to stay around the square and that the game between Rhode and Daingean months earlier even got a mention.
Darby took his place and as the Offaly free was shifted up the pitch by his teammates, he was lurking close to Kerry great Tommy Doyle. A long ball from Liam Connor fell between both men, and as one of the great defenders, Doyle was the favourite to win it over the diminutive Rhode man.
As we all know now, the ball came down behind Doyle, into the arms of Seamus Darby, who turned instinctively and swung his left-footed shot toward goal. It rasped into the roof of the net. The only goal of the game, his only kick of the game, Fr McWey's words the night before, the brandy and the chat, had all combined to their job. "The holy man had struck again," Kevin Farrell wrote.
Offaly won and we've not had a footballing moment to rival that goal in the three and a half decades since. Whether it was the brandy, the lucky priest or the sheer will to win, Offaly sang that night and raised a glass or two in the name of Seamus Darby, the man plucked from a club game just four months earlier and written into GAA folklore forever.
This story is a recounting of a story from Kevin Farrell's, 'It's All News to Me,' originally published in 2011 by Paperweight Publications.