GAA Football

Iconic Moments: Neil Collins's penalty save wins 'Sam' for Down

Neil Collins plunges to save Charlie Redmond's penalty towards the end of the 1994 All-Ireland final.

THE 1994 All-Ireland champions were made very much in the shadows.

When it came to Charlie Redmond’s big showdown against Neil Collins six minutes from the end of the decider, the work had already been done.

In a way, Down had put all their eggs in one basket. They’d seen Redmond blaze high and over to Gary Walsh’s left in ’92, and every penalty they could find he’d taken since had gone to the ‘keeper’s right.

If you think that 26 years ago was the era before paralysis by analysis, think again. Down’s management team cobbled together every bit of footage they could from league games over three seasons and studied Redmond’s penalty-taking.

Tom Potter was the goalkeeping coach, Eamon Connolly was the sub goalkeeper and Neil Collins completed the trio that made the decision weeks before the final.

If Dublin got a penalty, Charlie Redmond was going low and hard into the bottom left-hand corner as he looked at it.

The next step was to get as much practice in as they could to deal with that.

“We’d asked Pete during training to send an outfield player to take penalties. He sent Mickey Linden up – he’d missed the penalty against Tyrone in the Ulster final, so we sent Mickey back and told Pete to catch himself on, send us somebody that could take penalties!” laughs Collins.

“He sent Gary Mason up – he’d won the penalty-kick competition in Down every year.

“What I was doing with Gary was ‘I want you to hit the penalty as well as you can to that corner’ and I was going.

“Gary hit the ball well, and at the start you weren’t getting there. But it was a matter of readjusting the seat, getting the body shape right, getting down, getting low. Towards the end, you were maybe saving 60 or 70 per cent of them.

“This was very much us asking him to hit a penalty to a specific spot.”

Charlie Redmond was doing his own work. Every night, he’d take penalties against John O’Leary.

In an Irish News interview last year, he recalled spending the week before the final practicing going to the other side, a move that only left him second-guessing himself.

“That week of the game I was practising putting penalties to the goalie’s left, and even when I was doing that back in Erin’s Isle I was thinking ‘if this happens, am I actually going to go to that corner?’, Redmond said.

“I’d practised putting the ball in the corner all the time... I’d scored earlier on the year in that corner, against Kildare, so I was going to put it in the other corner.

“Now I know Neil obviously had watched it, and they had practised with me going to that side.”

So by the time Brian Burns bundled into the back of Dessie Farrell and Tommy Sugrue raced in with his arms spread wide, Neil Collins’s certainty gave him the edge.

He threw in a bit of mind games to help Redmond’s decision-making process along.

“I was trying to show him my left hand side of the goal, subtly, to make his mind up even more,” says Collins.

“I would’ve had myself not right in the middle of the goal when he’s looking up, I’d have had slightly to one side and my arm on that side more active than the other.

“You’re trying to tell him you’re going this way.

“It was a wet, slippery day so if the kicker is going low into that corner, he has a chance.

“He slipped, he didn’t hit the penalty as well as he could have. If he’d hit it right, would I have got it? I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

Few were as good at getting there as Collins, who remains at the head of the queue of the best footballers never to have won an Allstar.

Redmond’s standing foot just gave way as he met the ball and that meant his shot rose up. After all the planning, it was almost the mistake in the routine that unseated Down.

“I thought with the ground being so damp, if I just kept the ball low it would travel fast along the ground. Unfortunately I put a little bit of height in it,” recalled Redmond.

“My mindset was that I needed to get down low into the corner when he hit it,” says Collins.

“Because my weight was too far away, all I could do was get hands but I parried it back down the middle of the goal. He came screaming in and DJ [Kane] managed to get his boot into the middle of it.

“I think DJ actually kicked it wide, though he doesn’t tell many people that. Wee James [McCartan] jumped on me and I’ll be honest, I didn’t realise how much timber he carried. A heavy wee bollox.

“It went through in a flash. As a young fella growing up as a goalkeeper, you want to play for your club, your county, you want to establish yourself and win things. You get to an All-Ireland final and you want to make a difference.

“With six or seven minutes left, you’re playing Dublin and they get a penalty in front of the Hill. You manage to save it. That’s a Carlsberg moment.

“It doesn’t really get much better than that, does it?”

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