Dunloy, Ballymena

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A Spectacular Own Goal

All Saints Ballymena in its current guise.

I still remember the pained look on the manager’s face as he attempted to disguise what was written all over that of my team-mates.

Incredulity. Disbelief. Laughter.

Had the see-no-evil emoji existed back at the turn of the millennium, it would certainly have featured in any online discourse of St Mary’s Rasharkin v All Saints Ballymena in the 1999 South West Antrim U12 Football League.

Eager to impress at corner back, I had followed in diligently as an opposition forward fired an attempt at our goalkeeper, who saved it superbly. As the ball bobbled towards the line, I nipped in, congratulating myself on my acute positional sense and reading of the game, before slicing my goal-line clearance.

I watched in despair as it ricocheted off the upright, bounced off the crossbar and nestled firmly in the back of the net. My first and only own goal, and what a clinker.

At the time I was obviously devastated, but with the benefit of nineteen years of observatory hindsight, I’ve begun to see the funny side. Just.

With the two sides set to meet this weekend in the Antrim IFC, this incident many years ago at Slemish Park popped into my head and in a week in which the GAA has taken a (sometimes literal) pounding over violence in games, it’s important to take stock of the memorable light-hearted moments that cause chuckles on side-lines across the country.

Most recently, during the Slaughtneil v Kevin Lynch’s clash, one of these bizarre moments arrived in the white heat of championship battle.

Goalkeeper Gearóid O’Kane sized up a short puck out, the bread and butter of any modern hurling goalkeeper, and attempted to guide it to a defender’s arm. The defender unfortunately dropped the attempted pass, and with poker-faced neutrality, decided that simply ignoring the fact it had happened was the best course of action.

The ball lay undisturbed for several seconds around 30 yards from goal, in what experts might deem the ‘scoring zone’. Almost apologetically, Lynch’s corner forward Odhran McKeever jogged over to where the sliotar lay and sheepishly dispatched it over the bar as the sizeable crowd looked on in bemusement.

In the modern era, these moments of spontaneity can not only light up a drab affair, but can also be transmitted to any interested party via social media, and so during the week we were treated to a hardy water carrier standing his ground and putting a now hugely embarrassed corner back on the seat of his arse after running several yards to make his presence felt.

In a way though, that’s a shame, as half the fun of these incidents is the inevitable embellishment that is undertaken years down the line, often by skilled raconteurs cradling pint glasses as a prop.

I’ve been fortunate to have witnessed many of these down the years. In a Fergal Maher semi-final, for which we were woefully ill-prepared having spent the previous evening soaking up the Cork city entertainment, all on the pitch witnessed one of Armagh’s finest hurlers losing his balance, staggering a full thirty yards before falling flat on his face, all the while continuing his attempt to dip the ball. It was so bad even the referee laughed.

Or the time we were about to turn over our local rivals on a wet and muddy pitch over the hill. With the match finely poised and us trailing by two points, our nimble corner-forward had rounded their keeper with an empty net to hit. As he rolled it towards goal and wheeled away, arms outstretched in celebration, the ball ground to a halt in the puddle of water that had accumulated in the home goal.

Foul play was suspected, because obviously the club had been cultivating that hole and filling it with water for months in preparation for this South West Antrim U16 league match. In our heads it had been pre-meditated at committee level. It was only afterwards we were able to admit the funny side of our protests to the referee.

I also enjoyed the story of a friend of mine who turned out for Cargin around the time they fielded a Third team in the Antrim Football League. One week the Thirds were particularly light and were down to the bare fifteen, but my friend still managed to find himself sitting on the bench.

These moments remind you of why you’re still involved in the game, why you drag yourself out on a dark, wet evening to head down to the pitch for training. They provide a welcome antidote to the ultra-serious business of championship competition. They remind us that no matter how intense the euphoria of victory or the heartbreak of defeat get, we’re all essentially here for the same reason.

The craic.

In years to come, when we sit down to discuss how fantastic we all were on the pitch, we won't remember the points that were scored, the hand passing moves executed to perfection, the ingenuity of the sweeper system that only conceded 0-03 in two games. We'll remember moments like those, that made us laugh, made us proud to be part of something and that still put a smile on our faces today.

I never did score another own goal, but if I had (and there’s still time), I’m sure I’ll see the funny side once again. Even if it takes another nineteen years.