'Kildare victory in 2010 was untouchable' - Down ace Mark Poland

Mark Poland (centre) in the heat of battle against Kildare in 2010
Mark Poland (centre) in the heat of battle against Kildare in 2010 Mark Poland (centre) in the heat of battle against Kildare in 2010

In our new Most Memorable Match series, Mark Poland takes a trip down memory lane with Brendan Crossan and recalls that unforgettable All-Ireland semi-final win over Kildare in 2010...

Sunday August 29 2010: All-Ireland Senior Football Championship semi-final; Down 1-16 Kildare 1-14

“A LOT of people automatically assume that my most memorable match was Down’s All-Ireland quarter-final win over Kerry in 2010 because I scored a goal in that game. But the semi-final win over Kildare a couple of weeks later eclipses that.

“I don’t know what it was about the Kildare game; the atmosphere, how the game unfolded and how it ended, the excitement, it was a dramatic game of football.

“I remember quite a bit about the entire day. I remember leaving the house that morning and as we travelled over the border at the Carrickdale Hotel, there was actually a sign up, obviously Armagh-themed, which was wishing Kieran McGeeney and Aidan O’Rourke [the Kildare management team] ‘all the best’…

“It was quite amusing at the time. It was just where you’d go off to Jonesborough/Dromintee – it was placed in an area where they made sure we’d see it.

“Some of the other boys probably appreciated the Down/Armagh rivalry a bit more than I did back then. The sign itself was probably extra-motivation for us too.

“When our bus pulled in to Croke Park that day, underneath the Hogan Stand, before James [McCartan] let us off he played us an audio of all the voices of the GAA analysts and pundits, and all of them tipped Kildare.

“I always mind Martin Carney’s voice – I don’t know why. I used to sit at the back of the bus, right in the corner. I was in my mid-20s then and I was part of the back-seat crew.

“Big Dan [Gordon] used to sit in the middle of the back row; I think more for leg space. Paul McComiskey, Conor Laverty, big Pete Fitzpatrick, Conor Garvey, they were the messers down the back.

“The serious heads used to sit up the front. I probably turned into one of them in the latter years.

“Anyway, there wasn’t a light on the bus, it was almost pitch black, and Florence and the Machine accompanied the audio: ‘You’ve Got the Love’.

“It sent shivers down my spine. Even now when I hear that song on the radio it always takes me back to that day.

“Barry Clarke, who did the stats for James back then, probably compiled it as he was very good at those things.

“I suppose the idea of playing the audio and everyone writing us off summed James up too. He was looking for that extra edge. Between that and seeing the sign at the Carrickdale, there were a lot of boys going into the changing room that day buzzing.

“At that time Kieran McGeeney’s team was made out to be the strongest in Ireland, nobody was going to compete with them, especially these wee fellas from Down. That was our focus that day.

“I couldn’t tell you who spoke in the changing room that day, whether it was Benny [Coulter], Ambrose [Rogers], James, Paddy [Tally] or Brian [McIver] - we were ready.

“The game itself was ferocious. It was very, very warm that day, roasting hot. We were on top for a lot of the game. I think they came out and hit the ground running in the first 10 minutes but we took over after that.

“Eamonn Callaghan was having a great summer for Kildare and was a really dangerous threat coming from around midfield. But our management team showed their tactical nous.

“They put Callaghan on the back foot. Kevin McKernan pushed up on him and broke forward and kicked a few crucial scores and took Callaghan out of the game in the first half. (Callaghan pushed up in the second half and was more of a threat for Kildare).

“We’d always an idea who’d be picking up who before games. Andrew McLoughlin picked me up that day. It was only recently when we were in with the minors and James was talking to Aidan O’Rourke who said Kildare always had one or two very strong man-markers but whenever they looked at our forward line that day they were running out of markers. I suppose that was the beauty of our forward line.

“Another memory that never leaves me is when Benny scored the goal in the first half. It was definitely a square ball but it was given. They showed the replay on the big screen and I could see Pat McEnaney [match official] glancing up and he knew his umpires had got the call wrong.

“I remember thinking: ‘We’re not going to get anything here for the next while.’ Looking back on the game, and being honest, Pat did give them some handy frees. I know the Kildare fans are still haunted over the square ball but you’d expect the goalkeeper to come out and take man, ball and all especially with Benny having his back to goal.

“At one stage in the second half we were seven points up and then Callaghan scored for them. That was a controversial goal too when you look at the steps he took before shooting. Kildare really came at us in the last 10 minutes.

“Everyone knew what Kildare’s strengths were. Johnny Doyle was the obvious one. He was their man. In the closing stages, when Kildare were pushing, one thing that stands out is Doyle won a kick-out clean in the middle of the field, he was just everywhere in those last 10 minutes.

“Conor Garvey marked Doyle that day and was probably one of the most under-rated players, as well as Decky Rooney. They could take players out of the game and I know that from facing them in training and in club matches, so I’d every faith in those boys doing their jobs.

“When Kildare had that free in the closing stages – they had to score to win it – I was off the field. It was my own fault I got hurt. I got a ball up along the Cusack Stand, I tried to put it over David Lyons’s head but he was already committed and he intercepted the ball. But whatever we he caught me with his knee I tried to chase back and couldn't, I knew something wasn’t right. The game was in the melting pot at that stage.

“Noel Rice, our physio at the time, came on and I remember saying to him: ‘This isn’t right, Noel.’ I wasn’t going into those last couple of minutes knowing I wasn’t right.

“I still curse myself for trying to put the ball over his head inside of just side-stepping him with the ball. Had I done that, we were gone, up the field on another attack.

“So I was watching from the sideline when Kalum King managed to get his hand to the free and push it onto the bar. We knew that was it and we were in an All-Ireland final.

“At the time nobody seemed to know whose hand it hit; I didn’t realise until later. If it had been a few other players in the team that made that save you wouldn’t have been long hearing about it! Kalum was not that type of fella, but I was very grateful to those big paws of his that day.

“The thing that I remember after the pitch celebrations was coming off the pitch and seeing our club chairman [Hugh Rogers] at the time, reaching over the hoardings to me. I actually damaged my shoulder after that collision with Lyons and Hugh went to grab my arm, so I had to very quickly pull my arm back…

“We’d three or four weeks to prepare for an All-Ireland final against Cork. We ended up in Kilkeel that night; a wee place that was known as Eamonn’s Bar.

“My arm was strapped as heavily as could be. We had a few drinks that night. The place was absolutely heaving. It’s not often you’d see Longstone and Kingdom ones socialising together but that was the case that night. And it was actually good to go back close to home where everyone was enjoying themselves...

“During the game itself you don’t appreciate things at the time. It’s only when you look back and appreciate what other guys did during that game and the performances they put in.

“Big Pete Fitzpatrick probably didn’t get the credit he deserved, while Kalum [King] was just a battering ram that day and obviously his finger tip save onto the bar in the last seconds and the point Benny scored before half-time with the outside of his boot.

“Danny [Hughes] knocked a few over, Kevy [McKernan] knocked a few over, Marty Clarke hit a lovely point and Paul McComiskey put over a few as well.

“It’s very hard to convey to people what that day was like. The best way I can describe it is, it was something you dreamed of doing – playing for your country in Croke Park in an All-Ireland semi-final in front of 60,000 people. It was just an incredible buzz. The pitch was in pristine condition. We were one game away from the pinnacle.

“It was just relief, real relief to get over the line that day.

“The final just wasn’t meant to be for us. I watched the first half of it recently and I couldn’t watch any more. We were 7-2 up at one stage and we missed too many chances in the first half, we gave away too many frees, we made uncharacteristic mistakes like giving away cheap ball and Daniel Goulding just didn’t miss. And we were punished.

“But I look back at that Kildare game and some of the football we played was brilliant. To win with that style is pleasing to look back on. I’ll never forget the atmosphere or the noise and the relief when we won. And it was nice driving up the road and looking at the sign at the Carrickdale again.

“I was just happy I was fit to sample those days and those atmospheres.”


Mark Poland’s player rating:

Illustrated the essential difference between the teams. Poland is an intelligent, natural football who instinctively knows what to do in tight situations. Down have several players like Poland. Kildare only have a couple. 7


How the game unfolded…

7th minute: Kildare’s Alan Smith appears to have registered a point but it is controversially chalked off

12th minute: Benny Coulter flicks to Kildare’s net, clearly a square ball, but the goal stands

Half-time: Down 1-9 Kildare 0-7

43rd minute: Kildare’s Eamonn Callaghan smacks the post

58th minute: Peter Fitzpatrick points to put Down seven in front

58th minute: Kildare’s Eamonn Callaghan nets to reduce the arrears to 1-14 to 1-10, even though he appears to have taken too many steps

60-70th minutes: Kildare midfielder Hugh Lynch lands two late points but substitute Ronan Murtagh keeps four points between the sides. In the closing stages Johnny Doyle and David Lyons make it a two-point game

75th minute: Kildare substitute Rob Kelly’s close-range free is tipped onto the bar by Kalum King and the ball is kicked towards the Cusack Stand. Down reach their first All-Ireland final since 1994

Final score: Down 1-16 Kildare 1-14


How they lined out…

Down: B McVeigh; D McCartan, D Gordon, D Rafferty; D Rooney, K McKernan (0-2), C Garvey; P Fitzpatrick (0-1), K King; D Hughes (0-2), M Poland (0-3 frees), P McComiskey (0-1); B Coulter (1-2), J Clarke, M Clarke (0-3). Subs: A Brannigan for C Garvey (45), C Maginn (0-1) for J Clarke (47), R Murtagh (0-1) for P McComiskey (61). Yellow cards: D Rooney (35), K King (64)

Kildare: S McCormack; P Kelly, H McGrillen, A McLoughlin; M O’Flaherty (0-1), E Bolton (0-1), B Flanagan; D Flynn, H Lynch (0-2); J Kavanagh (0-1), P O’Neill, E O’Flaherty; J Doyle (0-6, 0-5 frees), A Smith, E Callaghan (1-1). Subs: R Sweeney for Flynn (30),K Ennis (0-1 free) for E O’Flaherty (45), D Lyons (0-1) for M O’Flaherty (47), R Kelly for A Smith (52), T O’Connor for H Lynch (70).

Blood sub: A Smith for KEnnis (69). Yellow cards: B Flanagan (24), E O’Flaherty (37), H McGrillen (49), H Lynch (55) Referee: P McEnaney (Monaghan).


The Irish News report…

‘THE big screen just about confirmed it. Somebody’s big, ugly paw had redirected Rob Kelly’s thunderbolt of a free-kick onto the underside of the crossbar and away to safety.

‘This truly epic All-Ireland semi-final encounter was reduced to one single play deep into stoppage-time. The equation was simple.

‘Kildare needed a goal to win. Beneath the shadow of the Canal End, substitute Kelly couldn’t have hit the ball any cleaner from around 16 yards.

‘The ball was fizzing towards the top left hand corner of the net, until Kalum King’s historic intervention. Conor Gormley eat your heart out. Now Down have their own version of ‘The Block’…

‘The various injustices will weigh heavily on Kildare. ‘Geezer’ will hurt like hell for a long time, but when the forensics are studied, no-one can deny Down’s moment of glory. They played the better football, had more class on the field and probably should have won by a bigger margin than two points.’


What the managers said…

WITH reference to the decisions to allow Benny Coulter’s first-half goal and not give a point to Alan Smith, Kieran McGeeney said: “They can’t tell whether the ball goes over the bar or whether it was a square ball. That’s administration at its best. It is a shame, because you are taking away from people like Benny Coulter, who shows great courage in going for those types of balls. You are taking away from the work-rate of Danny Hughes. Down were outstanding today. You can’t take that away from them. They were fantastic.” – Kildare boss Kieran McGeeney


“We were probably hanging on a bit at the end. But, glad to see the ball hit crossbar [from Rob Kelly’s late free]. It was bobbing around all over the place. I was just relieved to see it stay out. We are into a final now. I don’t know how many All-Ireland finals Cork have been in over the last number of years, but it’s certainly more than us. So, we have another uphill task there.” – Down boss James McCartan