Action from the 1972/73 Leinster club SFC final, left to right: Olly Colgan (The Downs), Gerry Keavey (St Vincent’s), Christy Corroon (The Downs) and Brian Murtagh (The Downs). [Photograph from The Downs GAA Club, Celebrating 125 Years, 1893 to 2018]

‘Happy out’ Loughlin’s football gospel now heading for Christmas

The Gerry Buckley Column

“The boys said to me that if I fell out of a window these times, I’d land standing up!”

So said the ebullient Luke Loughlin in the press area of Croke Park last Saturday evening as the sound of the small crowd cheering on Kilmacud Crokes and Portarlington echoed in the background.

The Downs’ joint-captain had just picked up the latest memento from what has been an unbelievable year – on and off the pitch – for the mercurial dual player, with Lar Wall’s charges safely through to the very progressive club’s second Leinster senior football decider.

It was no surprise that at the time of the interview Kilmacud were already firmly en route to setting up a meeting with the men in black and amber in the decider, an outcome formalised an hour or so later after the Metropolitans (with a little/lot of help from a Galwegian) had eased past an untypically meek challenge from the O’Moore County representatives.

“I don’t care who gets ‘man of the match’, once it’s a win and I kick a few points. I’m happy out and can’t complain,” the colourful Downs and Westmeath forward opined with trademark candour. Never one to mince his words, Luke was only too happy to tell the Lake County media folk present that his language had been, em, very colourful at half-time after Daithí McGowan’s unanswered hat-trick had ensured that Ratoath went to the sanctuary of the dressing rooms on level terms at the interval.

One can only imagine an even more colourful outburst at the end of normal time had Jack Flynn converted a very difficult free with the last kick of the match, thereby completing an unanswered double hat-trick by the Meath champions. However, Lady Luck fittingly smiled the way of The Downs.

In this regard, Luke opined: “We got a bit lucky in the end, but we had a lot of work done for Ratoath to have to try and pull it back. I was getting ready for extra-time when he stood over that free, but you hope for the best and expect the worst. You need a bit of luck now and then, and finally we got it.”

Loud laughter greeted his tongue-in-cheek addendum: “I was thinking of doing a Lee Keegan and throwing a GPS at him, but I had nothing to throw at him except a bit of grass! I’ve kicked wides in those situations myself.” Luke’s five-point contribution, including three from play, earned him the official ‘man of the match’ accolade, and he could easily have scored two goals to boot, with the aforementioned Flynn clearing his untypically weak lob off the line when a three-pointer looked certain, in addition to having a penalty claim turned away. “I thought the referee did a great job but I was expecting a penalty,” he reflected. To most observers, a spot-kick award looked like it would have been undeserved.

Lar Wall would have been pretty much an unknown figure in and around the Lake County prior to his appointment by The Downs a year ago. ‘Arsene Who?’ wasn’t long establishing himself as a cult figure in Highbury, and ‘Lar Who?’ is replicating such a transformation in Westmeath.

“Lar has been great,” Luke reflected, “and we have total belief in each other. Everyone is a brilliant footballer. Niall Mitchell said it in the huddle before the game that ‘15 men took the field for The Downs’. We have the experience now and it’s showing in the performance. This is a special year for The Downs, and it’s just getting better and better. We’re just making our own bit of history and we’re looking forward to the final.”

“I’ve been on the end of a few ‘batings’ over the years,” he concluded and, in truth, there will be a pretty unanimous expectation nationwide that a ‘bating’ awaits Luke and his colleagues when they face the mighty Kilmacud Crokes on Sunday week at GAA headquarters (throw-in 1.30pm).

This aging columnist has crystal clear memories of the horrendous ‘bating’ suffered by Dom Murtagh and co at the hands of Dublin kingpins at the time, St Vincent’s, almost 50 years ago. Ironically, the Marino-based outfit had the name of only fielding natives for many years, but Tommy Cleary briefly donned the famous white jersey with a blue hoop in the late 1990s, either side of a glittering career with the home club in The Downs.

Specifically, in an era when boarding students were pretty much unaware of the happenings in the ‘big, bad world’ outside the walls of schools, I vividly recall a classmate and Downs’ native, Tom McCormack, literally waiting at the walls of St Finian’s on the evening of April 15, 1973 for this day pupil to give him the result from Páirc Tailteann. The ashen-faced expression on this 16-year-old from Mullingar, but with a mega-soft spot (then and now) for The Downs, should have warned him that bad news was coming. My “6-10 to 2-5 for St Vincent’s” shocked him to the core.

Tom died suddenly a little over four years ago. In his professional career as a hugely-respected manager with FÁS, he and his right-hand man, Seamus Leavy, another now-deceased gentleman in every meaning of the word, were incredibly supportive of yours truly when belatedly commencing a sports journalism career at the turn of the millennium. I have never, and will never, forget them for that. Indeed, I’m sure Tom RIP will totally concur with my immediate response to a sneery jibe from a Royal County man as we both watched Kilmacud dismantle Portarlington.

Clearly anticipating a ‘bating’ for the 2022 men in black and amber, he teased me: “Have ye a good chance in the final?” I replied: “We have a lot better chance than Ratoath and the other eight teams that have been eliminated!”

More on this mouth-watering final next week, please God.