20 years on, Anthony Finnerty reflects on a famous goal – and an infamous miss
THERE’S a scene in the new movie ‘Funny People’ where comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler) reflects on lost love and ‘the one that got away’. Elaborating, he continues: “Because guys have that, and serial killers have that.” Mayo footballers and supporters have it too – perhaps none more so than Anthony Finnerty.
Twenty years ago next Thursday, Mayo came within a whisker of winning the All-Ireland title for the first time in 38 years. Two decades on, they’re still talking about Finnerty’s goal – and his miss.
Early in the second half, a free from TJ Kilgallon found Liam McHale, who pumped in a high ball that was brilliantly fielded by Noel Durkin. He held off two defenders and fed Finnerty, who blazed a low shot into the Cork net. “All the Pentecostal fervour of the ages wouldn’t do justice to the outburst from the Mayo congregation,” wrote one pundit. “The next time the Pope would come to Ireland he’d be shown into Anthony Finnerty’s kitchen as the new shrine of the Messiah.”
But it didn’t quite work out like that. Finnerty acknowledged when we spoke earlier this year that his miss later in the game, when he fired inches wide after being set up by Durkin, has ‘gained a life of its own’. Twenty years on, people are still coming up to him about it.
“I still can’t figure out how I missed that chance, how I didn’t get it on target,” Finnerty said. “I had to make a split[-second] decision. I had beaten John Kerins high the first time, so I said I’d go low and hard this time, he’d be expecting it to go high … I think I connected too well and too hard with the ball. I should probably have taken a couple of steps across goal, that might have helped.”
And yet, he notes, it was a game ‘where you could tease out lots of things’, where there are a lot of ‘what-ifs’. “Jimmy Kerrigan got an interception on Liam McHale when I was totally free [and] that would have been an even clearer chance at goal … I missed a point early in the second half which was a terrible miss – that was even worse I think. There are rakes of incidents, and I’m sure there isn’t one person who played on the team that day who [doesn’t] say to themselves: ‘I could have done that differently’.”
The 1989 All-Ireland final, which Cork won by 0-17 to 1-11, is regarded as one of the best of the modern era. Describing it in 2005 as the fourth best final of the previous 30 years, Kieran Shannon of the Sunday Tribune said it was ‘great fun at a time when football badly needed some’. Mayo’s open style, notes Finnerty, contributed to ‘a great football match’ but ‘not a great result’ from the Connacht champions’ viewpoint. “In hindsight,” he says, “we should probably have been a bit more negative … if we [had] played more like Meath and less like Mayo … that was probably the way to beat that Cork team.”
The build-up to the game was ‘immense’, he recalls – “It was natural for the whole county to go mad ... because there was a whole generation who had never witnessed a Mayo team in an All-Ireland final”.
Finnerty had got goals in the replays against Galway and Roscommon. He started the All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone but was replaced, and suffered a hamstring injury in a challenge match against Longford a week later. But he ‘felt great’ on the day of the Cork game, and when Jimmy Burke had to be stretchered off shortly before half time, the Moygownagh clubman was the obvious replacement. “Even though I was starting, I felt: ‘this is my day’,” he recalled. And it so nearly was.
G Irwin; J Browne, P Ford, D Flanagan; M Collins, TJ Kilgallon, J Finn; S Maher, L McHale (0-1); G Maher, WJ Padden (0-1), N Durcan; M Fitzmaurice (0-7, 6f, 1 ’45), J Burke, K McStay (0-2).
Subs used: A Finnerty (1-0) for Burke; R Dempsey for S Maher; B Kilkelly for G Maher.
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