Exclusive – #TheToughest Then and Now

A historic match in GAA Club history comes to life again today when AIB starts it’s YouTube documentary series on the rematch of Erin’s Isle and Castlehaven from 1998.

Sport for Business has unearthed the role played in that original match by Ken Spratt, now the Assistant Secretary-General in the Department of Sport but twenty years ago the captain of the Erin’s Isle team.

We caught up with Ken this week to see how strong the memories remain of that game as it is about to be brought to life for a new generation with Harry Redknapp and Gianluca Vialli at the helm.

“The memory is as fresh as if it was yesterday,” he says. “You have to bear in mind that Erin’s Isle team had been in five Dublin finals in a row. We won in ’93, lost for the next three and then won again in ’97. I was captain again so it was special for me.”

“We had gone on to win the Leinster Championship and getting to the Final was our tenth game in the semi-final. The semi final was our first time in the All Ireland Series so there was a real party atmosphere as we got ready and headed down to Thurles to face Castlehaven.”

“As it is today in the AIB Championship, we had won Leinster before Christmas and this was February so there has been a long enough build up but the excitement around the club and across Finglas was huge.”

“On reflection, we might not have put in the right preparation and we came up against a great Castlehaven team. In all honesty, they were the better side on the day but somehow, it fell in our favour.”

The story behind the match was incredible. Erin’s Isle were three points down when star forward Charlie Redmond was sent off. With two minutes to go the lead had extended to six and no doubt the half of West Cork that hadn’t travelled up were beginning to plan for Croker on St Patrick’s Day.

But a free was scored and then a goal as the clock ticked down. From the kick out Keith Barr collided with his brother Johnny for the Dublin team and Cork legend, Larry Tomkins picked up the loose ball. He won a free but pulled it wide.

Colin Crowley wins possession again for Catlehaven and homes in on goal to seal the deal but his shot comes back off the post. If that was it we would not be talking about the game but there was one last trick in this game.

From the rebound, the ball went long towards goal. It looked to be drifting wide with Erin’s Isle dreams but somehow Robbie Boyle found the legs to chase it down and pull the ball back for Niall Crossan.

His shot hits what looks to be the post, rolls across and hits the other before rolling out. But the Umpire has raised the green flag, saying it hit the stantion at the side of the gaol and that it had crossed the line.

You couldn’t make this up in Hollywood, hence the attraction for the team behind AIB’s #TheToughest.

“Ah yeah, we won when maybe we shouldn’t but that’s sport,” added Spratt with a wry smile.

“Technology at the time was less than it is today but it was a goal. I’ve looked at the video hundreds of times since and you can see the seam on the net rising ever so slightly about three-quarters of the way across. That tells me that it hit the stantion and came back though it’s not as clear as if we had the multiple angles of a Hawk-Eye or a VAR room in Moscow.”

“I can remember my family, friends, everyone in jerseys, it was the best of times.”

“I was 12 years into my civil service career at the time and I had to take some time off to do some media work. Thankfully I had a very understanding supervisor as I’d just moved positions at the time but they let me do what I needed to do.”

“We were almost entirely made up of lads from Finglas and those who weren’t like I was living in Marino, all had a really strong connection having been brought up there.”

“The GAA community around Finglas was still small though. I was doing an interview in the village and two ladies walked past. They let out a shout asking which Premier League club I had signed for as if there could be any other reason for RTÉ Sport to be around.”

“The passion for the club was intense and we did feel like a small town club.”

“Finglas did not have a great reputation and for us to be able to put it on the map for good reasons was really special.”

“It felt like a great repayment to those who went before who had taught us everything.”

“My Dad Tommy is still involved in the club, running the bar and doing what is needed. It was special then, it’s still special now.”

“I’m still very connected with the lads and the club though I’ve moved out to Donabate now and am involved with St Pat’s out there.”

“We made it to the Division Two Féile Final last month and I’m repaying the debt I have to Club GAA, just on a different field.”

Spratt has a busy few weeks ahead with the new National Sports policy looming large and major funding announcements in the pipeline too.

It is always good to know that those making the decisions about sport across its many forms have the history and the passion of having been involved at the coal face.

#TheToughest starts today and will run until the end of the summer when Castlehaven and Erin’s Isle meet again, under new and very fancy management this time. Let’s just hope that the drama which unfolds can be a fraction of the story it relives from that glorious day in Thurles twenty years ago.

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