Football/Soccer

Brendan Crossan: From Ronaldo to Neil McManus, sport can always take your breath away

(clockwise from left) Brazil's Ronaldo was the star of the 2002 World Cup, Bernard Dunne winning a world title, Antrim enjoyed a brilliant win over Offaly in the Joe McDonagh Cup and the Republic of Ireland took a giant step towards the World Cup finals by beating Holland in Dublin 
Brendan Crossan - The Boot Room

After covering last week’s tumultuous Joe McDonagh Cup encounter between Antrim and Offaly in Tullamore, Brendan Crossan reflects on some of the best sporting moments he’s witnessed in journalism. In no particular order, here are some of his highlights over the last 20 years…

September 1 2001, World Cup Qualifier (Dublin): Republic of Ireland 1-0 Holland

IT was early 2001 I was appointed Republic of Ireland correspondent. In all honesty, I couldn’t have timed my run any better – a year later Mick McCarthy’s men were playing at the World Cup finals in the Far East.

The Republic’s 1-0 Qualifier win over the Dutch is up there with anything I’ve covered. It was particularly memorable for Roy Keane’s crushing tackle on Marc Overmars in the opening seconds (it was a privilege to get to see Keane at the peak of his powers) and, of course, Jason McAteer’s winning goal in the second half.

Ignoring convention, the rickety old press box in Lansdowne Road erupted in places when McAteer smashed the ball into the roof of Holland’s net.

The remainder of that unforgettable Qualifier had to be watched through clasped hands, as Dutch coach Louis van Gaal threw on four strikers in a bid to rescue the tie. But 10-men Ireland held on to victory and took a giant step towards the World Cup finals. There was some party in Temple Bar that night...

June 13, 2002, World Cup group game (Suwon, South Korea): Brazil 5-2 Costa Rica

WITH the Republic of Ireland enjoying a rest day ahead of their upcoming second round clash with Spain, I took the short train ride from Seoul to Suwon to watch Brazil in the World Cup.

Weaned on a diet of VHS videos of that great Brazil side of 1982, it was a dream come true to see those golden jerseys up close, especially Ronaldo who was on the road to redemption at the finals following his disastrous final display four years earlier.

Even to share the same press area as former Brazilian greats Junior and Falcao was completely surreal. In one of the most entertaining games of those finals Ronaldo scored two goals in the rout of a gallant Costa Rica side.

Whenever the mood took him, it was exhilarating to watch Ronaldo’s turbo-charged runs. He was a player from another planet, who out-shone the brilliant Rivaldo and Cafu in Suwon that afternoon.

March 21 2009 (O2 Arena, the old Point Depot, Dublin): WBA Super bantamweight title fight: Bernard Dunne versus Ricardo Cordoba

SOMETIMES it’s the small details you remember on the best nights. Sitting in the press over-spill area with fellow journalists Kevin Carney and Daragh O Conchuir, a fair distance from the ring, we were treated to one of the most emotionally charged events in the history of Irish sport.

Reminiscent of Barry McGuigan’s famous bout with Eusebio Pedroza in ’85, Dunne’s stab at world championship glory was arguably more dramatic as he was down twice in the fifth round.

A fearful silence descended on the O2 Arena as the crowd willed one of Ireland’s favourite sons to get up.

Trained by Holy Trinity’s masterful Harry Hawkins, there were so many reasons why Irish people loved Dunne. Among them was the fact that he was a charismatic, blue-collar Dubliner, a lovely stylish boxer who was always vulnerable in the ring.

For a fighter who had a weak chin, Dunne’s 11th round stoppage of Cordoba was one of the greatest displays of heart and desire I ever witnessed.

 

July 30 2011: All-Ireland SFC quarter-final (Croke Park): Kildare 0-14 Donegal 1-12

YOU remember the sheeting rain. You remember the floodlights being switch on. You remember the warrior spirit of Daryl Flynn in the Kildare midfield.

You remember Jim McGuinness and Kieran McGeeney just a few yards apart on the soaking wet sidelines under the towering presence of the Hogan stand as this unforgettable quarter-final took on a life of its own.

Here were two teams who refused to bend – until one sweet strike of Kevin Cassidy’s left foot – ‘What are you doing shooting from there?’ – settled this awesome duel after extra-time. In 20 years covering Gaelic Games, this 2011 quarter-final clash remains unsurpassed for sheer drama and for the way in which the two sets of players bared their souls in the rain.

In an interview with Keith Duggan some months later, The Irish Times journalist asked McGuinness how he held it together in extra-time. The Donegal manager replied: “To me, that was living. “People are very rarely ‘alive’, you know. And for those 20 minutes in extra time what was going through my mind was: this is unbelievable.

"Every moment counts and they are living on the edge. And it would be brilliant if they can come through this and win but even if the don’t, this is going to be a great life experience.”

 

June 1 2019: Joe McDonagh Round Three (Tullamore): Offaly 4-18 Antrim 3-23

IT was one of those days you just had to be there to appreciate the manner and importance of Antrim's brilliant victory over Offaly.

The GAA's 'live' streaming of the game couldn't come close to conveying the emotion of the day.

Antrim's triumphs on the inter-county stage don't come around too often, which is part of the reason this incredible game makes the cut here.

Reduced to 14 men after just nine minutes, an all-too-familiar script was expected to unfold where Antrim would be beat out the gates of Tullamore and Offaly would resurrect themselves in the Joe McDonagh.

But Neal Peden's players bucked the trend and rather than collapse under the weight of Offaly's aerial bombardment, the Ulstermen rose to the challenge and hurled the shirts off their backs. Dunloy duo Keelan Molloy and Nigel Elliott played with unbelievable freedom, goalkeeper Ryan Elliott stuck to the process and was the coolest man in O'Connor Park.

James McNaughton was a man possessed and Neil McManus's performance throughout, but especially in the last 20 minutes, will live long in the memory. The famous win also put Antrim one game away from the Joe McDonagh final.

If the day ever comes when the GAA hierarchy bans reporters from the playing area of provincial grounds, it will be a sad one because it's in those precious moments after the final whistle that you get an intimate understanding of what it means to the victors and the vanquished.

 

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