The building roar of the crowd as the ball sails between the posts. The gasps of amazement. The excitement of a close game entering the deciding moments. Individual skill or great team play. What is it that makes a great point?
In a special pre-Ulster championship feature we asked a selection of people for their memories of great Derry points. We even attempt to rank the top five from all the suggestions offered. Enjoy!
Any discussion for the ages about great scores and games is more than likely to be heavily centred on the age of Television. There’s a natural bias there. However, the first point to be scored by a Derry man in a senior All-Ireland final is a real gem.
When Phil Stuart feeds Brendan Murray on the right wing under the Hogan Stand in September 1958 nothing appears to be on. However, the Ballerin man made light of the occasion and the angle to fire over an amazing point to get Derry off the mark. Had it happened in recent times it would have been an internet sensation. Check it out:
Damian Cassidy, Ulster SFC Final 1993
“Derry’s victory over Donegal in the 1993 Ulster Final will forever be remembered for the atrocious conditions of the St. Tiernach’s Park pitch. A torrential downpour in the hours before the game ensured the playing surface resembled something closer to a swamp than a football field,” recalls Ciaran McRory.
He’s in agreement with former Irish News columnist, Paddy Heaney, who initially heralds the Bellaghy man’s first half effort:
“It’s a glorious fetch. Light, fast half-forwards are usually awful at catching a ball above their head. Damian’s catch on a good day would have been class. With such a greasy ball it was jaw-dropping. The finish was good. But the catch made the point.”
McRory continues: “As may have been expected under the circumstances, scores were at a premium. However, during the second half, with the sides deadlocked at 0-5 apiece, Damian Cassidy produced a moment of individual brilliance. Running onto a layoff from Enda Gormley at midfield, the Bellaghy forward bore through the Donegal defence with pace and close control. Just as a desperate defender attempted a lunging tackle, Cassidy produced a solo dummy with his right foot to evade the challenge, before driving the ball over the bar with his left – all in one movement. It made a mockery of the Clones quagmire.”
Johnny McGurk, All-Ireland Final, 1993
“Johnny McGurk’s second point in the All Ireland Final was special,” says Seamus Downey. “The semi-final one everyone talks about, but this one meant Cork were going to need a goal to beat us. Enda Gormley hesitated with a short free. But he still gave it to Johnny. He was under pressure with Cork players closing fast and what people don’t maybe realise is that he was against a strong swirling breeze. He nailed it with his left foot from 40 yards.
“It was nearly as important as my goal!”
Fergal Doherty’s Shoulder in the Ulster SFC semi-final 2006 isn’t technically a point, but Steven Doherty has chosen it regardless:
“Points are for show ponies.
“Sure, I’ve enjoyed the aesthetic beauty of a curling Enda Gormley free, a Paddy Bradley over the shoulder number or a James Kielt exocet missile down through the years. But nothing quite gets me up off my concrete seat like an earth-shattering ‘shoulder’ (pronounced ‘showlder’ in the less metropolitan parts of Derry).
“I’ve watched Patsy Bradley’s 2014 championship hit on Michael Murphy too many times for a grown man, although it does tend to get me in the mood for a romantic tussle with the wife.
“Legend has it that Patsy and Fergal Doherty once met shoulder to shoulder in an underage game, and the energy produced was enough to run the dance floor lights at the Slaughtneil disco for over a decade.
“Indeed, when boffins in Switzerland were struggling to ignite the Higgs Boson collider they considered throwing the ball up between Fergal and Patsy and seeing what would happen, but in the end Health and Safety fears brought a swift conclusion to such potentially explosive folly.
“Best shoulder charge of all, of course, dates back to 2006 when Fergal Doc’s pole-axed the unfortunate Barry Dunnion in a championship match against Donegal. Once I get fed up watching that (after an hour or so) I’ll move on to a similar filling-looser collision on Aidan O’Shea.
“Click and enjoy the BOOM!”
Eamon Burke’s equaliser for Derry v Westmeath in All-Ireland Quarter Final 2004 is burned into the brain of Chris McCann.
“It’s fair to say that when Derry fans think of Croke Park heroes, Eamon Burke’s name is not the first one that pops into their heads.
“The Newbridge man’s senior county career was a fleeting one, but it did produce once one glorious score on the grandest of footballing stages.
“With 10 minutes to go in the 2004 All-Ireland quarter-final against Westmeath at Croke Park, Derry looked to have shot their bolt.
“First half goals by Paddy Bradley (operating on one leg following a painkilling injection in his heel) and Enda Muldoon had seen Derry lead by 2-6 to 0-8 early in the second half. But with the Dolan brothers and Alan Mangan leading the charge, five unanswered scores from the Midlanders from the 45th to 60th minutes had propelled them into a one-point lead.
“Under the stewardship of Páidí Ó’Sé, Westmeath had just won what remains their only ever Leinster title and were the story of the championship (one brilliantly captured in the ‘Marooned’ documentary). With Derry on the canvas it looked like and the knockout blow was sure to follow and Leinster men’s the fairy-tale would continue to the semi-final stage.
“But then Burke, who was only five minutes on the pitch, showed the composure of a veteran to expertly boom a howitzer of a point the ball over the bar from about 50 metres with his first kick. That levelled the scores and broke Westmeath’s hold on the game.
“Two points from Enda Muldoon and a heroic block from Patsy Bradley saw Derry fight back to claim a 2-9 to 0-13 victory but it had been Burke’s point that had turned the tide for Mickey Moran’s men:
“After Westmeath went a point ahead we were almost out on our feet. But we somehow found an extra gear and Eamon Burke’s point really lifted us,” said the Glen man after the game.
“Eamon Burke’s career as a Derry senior might not have been a long and storied one but he’ll always have that score in Croke Park. Sure wouldn’t most of us give our eye teeth to have one moment like that to tell the grandkids about.”
Fergal Doherty gets a hat tip for an actual point this time. His effort for Derry v Kerry in All-Ireland semi-final 2004 is fondly recalled by local sportswriter, Orlagh Mullan:
“Unfortunately, when we won Ulster in 1993 I had yet to make my entrance to the world, and on that glorious day in September I was three months old and hardly able to hold up my own head. Infact, it wasn’t until 2004 that I first got the chance to go to Croke Park for my inaugural experience of a ‘big game’ – the All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry.
“We were, understandably, heavy underdogs, but I was 11 and had the boundless optimism that we were Derry. Of course we were going to win.
“The first half was brilliant. We were only a point down and I was nearly ready to jump off the stand and use my massively oversized jersey as a parachute to get me on the pitch.
“Reality hit in the second half and by the time Paul McFlynn broke our 31-minute duct, it was game over.
“Fergal Doherty is a man known for many things – namely shouldering boys into next week. With a minute left of normal time he picked the ball up off Paddy Bradley just inside the ’45, slightly right of the post and curled a beautiful score over. I had the perfect angle of it and, despite the result, that alone left me going home happy. It wasn’t just the technique or the ease with which he did it that made it one of my top points – it was the fact that it left 11-year-old me, who was falling in love with our beautiful game more and more every day, realise that, to me, Fergal and every Derry player that day was like my superhero. Fighting tooth and nail until the bitter end. Because we’re Derry.”
Now the brief was to pick one and to restrict the choice to championship, but we’ve let Chris McCann away with this outlier, mainly because it has a quote from Kieran Donaghy, and more importantly, because it was brilliant! It’s Niall McCusker in the NFL Final of 2008 v Kerry.
“Derry’s National League triumph of 2008 is one that probably elicits mixed emotions from our support. A prodigiously talented team that featured three Allstars in Kevin McCloy, Enda Muldoon and Paddy Bradley, and another clutch of players of Allstar standard, such as Patsy Bradley, Kevin McGuckin and Fergal Doherty really should have claimed claimed at least one Ulster title, but still any win over the Kingdom is one to be savoured.
“This was league football at Championship intensity and goals from Doherty and Conleith Gilligan saw Derry recover from an early 2-4 to 0-3 deficit to win out 2-14 to 2-9.
“One of the highlights of an enthralling game was titanic struggle between Niall McCusker and Kieran Donaghy. The Kerry full-forward was then at his imperious best and had a hand in both his side’s goals. But McCusker held his own. He kept Donaghy himself scoreless, including one magnificent block in the 15th minute to deny the Austin Stacks man what seemed a certain goal.
“The longer the game went on the more the big Ballinderry defender gained the upper hand.
“What people tend to forget about Niall was that as well as being a ferocious defender he was no mug with a size 5, he could pass and shoot with the accuracy of a number 11. And he showed his eye for a point with a super long-range score in the second half.
“Donaghy was once guest of honour at the Limavady Wolfhounds dinner dance and told the crowd of assembled hounds that his tussle with the Ballinderry defender was as hard a 70 minutes as he’d had in football.
“We’d a fierce oul battle. There was only one time in the game when I didn’t have him all over me, it was late in the game I remember thinking ‘at last some space.’ But then I turned round and looked out the field to see how I could use this only to see Niall McCusker thumping the ball over the bar from way out on the right just past the halfway line.”
“It was a magnificent score from a player who might well have established himself one of the legends of Derry football were in not for a succession of injuries that interrupted his career.”
No discussion of point kicking in an Oakleaf jersey is complete without the exploits of Glenullin sharpshooter, Paddy Bradley. It was a period covered in its entirety by Chris McCann during his career as a GAA journalist, and his memories are plentiful and and fond:
“Some of the personal tallies he (Paddy) racked up were astonishing including 3-9 in a single league game and 10 points against Donegal in Ballybofey in 2008. He was superb in his Allstar year of 2007, should probably have had another one in 2001, and was an astonishing omission from the 2004 selection.
“What many don’t realise is the work he put into developing the right foot over many years. The fact he ended up strong off either side made him a defender’s worst nightmare.
“But for me the most important thing about Paddy was his ability to drag Derry over the line when the team as whole weren’t playing well. The hardy band of supporters who followed the county on regular tours of Ireland through the qualifiers in the 2000s will all testify to this.
“The 2005 third round qualifier against Limerick in Castlebar was a prime example of the Glenullin man’s ability to dig us out of a hole.
“Up against a dogged Limerick team driven by the power John Galvin and the accuracy of Muiris Gavin, Derry found themselves locked at 0-9 apiece with the Treaty men with just over 10 minutes of the game to play.
“With Fergal Doherty and Enda Muldoon both missing through injury it looked like the Munster men might be set for an upset victory.
“But when leadership was needed Bradley stepped up. First he fired over a free to edge Derry in front and then raised another white flag from out near the sideline. A point from his brother Eoin then saw Derry lead by three.
“But Limerick were continuing to pile forward in search of an equalising goal when Derry were awarded a free a full 60 metres from goal with five minutes left to play.
“Another player might have taken it short to try and run down the clock but Bradley had simply decided that enough was enough. The Glenullin man actually started his run up in his own half before thumping the ball over the bar from a distance more commonly associated with hurling for the score that finally killed off Limerick’s challenge.
“It was an astonishing kick from an astonishing player.”
And so to try and bring some order to proceedings we will attempt to do the impossible and rank all suggestions in order of greatness.
Fifth Greatest Derry Point: Damian Cassidy’s second point Ulster SFC Final 1993
“Damian Cassidy’s solo dummy point in the ’93 Ulster Final is in my top 5 points of all time,” says Paddy Heaney.
“Too much is made of points that are kicked when there is nothing to lose. To qualify as a great score, it has to occur when the tension is at fever pitch and stomachs are churning.
“Cassidy’s point ticks that box. It wasn’t just an Ulster title that was at stake. The winning team knew it would have a great chance of winning the Sam Maguire Cup. And by that stage, Derry and Donegal truly despised each other.
“Cassidy gets further kudos due to the absolutely atrocious conditions. Had he pulled off that dummy in perfect conditions it would still have been a fantastic piece of skill. To do it on such woeful underfoot conditions and with a greasy ball was just incredible.
“The game is tied at 0-5 apiece when Cassidy takes possession and skims over the sodden turf. There’s a left foot tip, another left foot tip and then a defender invades his ground. Cassidy beats him with a right foot solo. The dummy clearly isn’t planned. The defender forces Cassidy to improvise. The switch onto his right foot is pure instinct. It’s brilliant. As another defender plunges in to make a block, Cassidy shows razor-sharp awareness to fire his shot off. It’s a point which gives Derry a lead they never relinquish.
“Cassidy’s point has everything: moral courage, grace under pressure, and the natural intuition of a classy forward.”
Fourth Greatest Derry Point: Enda Gormley’s v Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final was one of the great team scores. It begins with Tony Scullion winning the ball in defence. ‘Scud’ delivers a hand-pass to Anthony Tohill, who immediately looks up and kick-passes from deep in his own defence to find Joe Brolly. The Dungiven man looks up and punts a pass to Seamus Downey, who produces a trademark offload to Dermot Heaney. Heaney finds Gormley on the loop and the Glen man produces a beautiful curling finish. From end to end in seconds. One of the great team scores.
Third Greatest Ever Derry Point: If you perform a search on YouTube for ‘Gerry McElhinney 1975’, there’s a wonderful piece of old film of the young Banagher man, Björn Borg-esque with a brilliant white head band curtailing a mop of long brown hair, cutting a dash through the flailing Dublin rear-guard to score a point in the All-Ireland semi-final of that year.
After he scores, McElhinney, running back out the field, pulls up his shirt, and seems be to in some pain.
In hindsight, it’s hardly surprising. Shipping challenge after challenge, one of the belts cracked the Derry man’s ribs. Oblivious to the nature of the injury, McElhinney played on, contributing heroically to what ended in a five-point defeat. It was one of the bravest points ever scored in the red and white during a time when playing Gaelic football was brave in itself.”
Second Greatest Derry Point: Eamonn Burns, Ulster SFC semi-final, 1991
Out in front of his marker 35 yards from goal. Collects. Right hand bounce. Right foot solo. Repeat to send Down defenders colliding into each other as Jimmy Smyth’s anticipation reaches fever pitch. Another bounce. And then two decades of playing with a ball through fields and off walls around Ballinascreen is condensed into fractions of a second as a lightning solo dummy sends another Down defender hurtling into no man’s land. Time seems to stop before yet another defender fails to block an exquisite strike off the outside of the right boot. It sails through the posts. Pure magic. Words are inadequate so best to just watch it.
It can only leave one winner.
The Greatest Ever Derry Point: Johnny McGurk’s winner in the All-Ireland semi-final, 1993.
A solo off the right and a swing of the left.
Tohill’s arms in the air.
Goosebumps every time.
Agree? Disagree? What have we missed? Let us know.