Sport

Twenty years on, Tompkins still adamant it wasn't a goal

April 29th, 2018 2:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

Defining moment: Erins Isle's Niall Crossan celebrates his controversial injury-time goal that decided the 1998 All-Ireland club senior football semi-final against Castlehaven in Semple Stadium, Thurles. Haven's Larry Tompkins (no 11) is closest to the ball for the West Cork club. Notice the umpire

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Castlehaven with Harry Redknapp in charge and Erin’s Isle with Gianluca Vialli at the helm will clash in AIB’s The Toughest Rivalry later this summer. KIERAN McCARTHY looks at the game from 1998, and that controversial goal, that connects Haven and the Dublin club

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NIALL Crossan is adamant it was a goal. Larry Tompkins is still convinced that it wasn’t. 

But what they both agree on is that Castlehaven should have won the 1998 All-Ireland club senior football championship semi-final at Semple Stadium in February that year.

‘We stole it. It was daylight robbery,’ admits Crossan, the Erin’s Isle forward who scored that controversial match-winning goal two minutes into injury-time.

‘That’s one that certainly got away,’ Tompkins says ruefully.

It still hurts to revisit that 2-12 to 0-17 loss.

‘When you are five points ahead with one minute to go in an All-Ireland semi-final, you expect to be in an All-Ireland final,’ Tompkins adds – but their dreams were shattered.

Before the crazy finish, Castlehaven were cruising and in total control. They had bossed this game against the Dublin and Leinster champs, who had Charlie Redmond sent off in the second half.

The West Cork men led by seven points at the break. They were dominant all over the park. Tompkins, Colin Crowley, David O’Regan, Fra Cahalane, Dinny Cahalane, John Cleary, there were heroes in every line. 

‘It was one of those extraordinary games,’ recalls Tompkins, who kicked four points that day.

‘We were minus Niall (Cahalane) that day; he was suspended and an enormous loss.

‘Castlehaven played one of their best games ever, one of the best I was ever involved in. We kicked 17 points, 15 from play. From our backs to midfield to our forwards, everyone was on top. It was vintage football.

‘This was a day when no Castlehaven player played badly or was beaten.’

The lead was out to seven points after 53 minutes, 0-17 to 0-10, and Erin’s Isle were taking on water fast.

‘We were beaten,’ Crossan admits.

‘Castlehaven were by far the better team on the day.

‘The blitzed us in that first half and they were seven points up at half time. We got it back to three points in the second half, Charlie was sent off then, Castlehaven went seven ahead and we got it back to five but it was in injury time and the game was over.’

At this stage, Castlehaven led 0-17 to 0-12 and they had one and a half legs in the All-Ireland final. Erin’s Isle supporters were drifting out, Haven’s support was making all the noise.

We’re in injury time and Ciarán O’Hare scores a consolation goal for Erin’s Isle. (Incidentally, both Crossan and left half back that day Gary O’Connell are still playing for Erin’s Isle and will feature in the match this August in Castlehaven).

The Haven go up the other end and have an instant chance to kill the game – but full forward Colin Crowley’s low efforts hit the post and comes out.

That sets in motion the goal that decided this Thurles thriller and that still divides opinion 20 years on.

A long ball towards the Castlehaven square seems to be dribbling wide when Erins Isle’s Robbie Boyle nips in ahead of goalkeeper Michael Maguire and Denis Cleary, to play the ball back across the goal to 20-year-old Crossan, whose shot hit one post, then the other and came back into play, Tompkins the nearest man to the ball and who clears it up the field.

But the umpire reaches for the green flag. Goal. Or was it? It’s given.

‘It happened so quick,’ Tompkins says.

‘The umpire might have thought from the initial shot that the ball hit the net – but it didn’t. It hit the side of the post, went across and hit the other post.

‘It was a winter’s day and the line wasn’t vividly seen. 

‘It’s almost impossible to hit one post, go across the goal and then hit the other post and have the entire ball cross the line at the same time.

‘The ball fell to me after hitting the second post, I cleared it down the field but the umpire put up his flat to award the goal. It was incredible.’

Erins Isle’s hero that day, Crossan, is convinced the ball went behind the line.

‘There was a lot of controversy at the time – but I pretty much felt straightaway that it was a goal,’ he says.

‘I knew from the umpire’s reaction because he jumped for the green flag.

‘It was after that the questions started to flow. Was it actually in? Did it cross the line?’

So, did it cross the line? Was it a legitimate goal?

‘It happened really quickly,’ Crossan explains.

‘The ball travelled very fast when it hit the first post. My instant reaction was that it was in.

‘Our full forward Robbie Boyle, he had just flicked the ball back from the end line towards me, and he was very confident that the ball had crossed the line and that it had hit the stanchion at the back of the goal that the net sits on.

‘We looked at it several times in the days after the game and if you study the clip that RTÉ had you can see the ball change direction three times – hits the first post, then the stanchion at the back and comes out and hits the second post.

‘In real time it looks like it goes across the line and hits the second post. It takes a bit of watching to get exactly what happened.’

The goal was given. There wasn’t even time for Castlehaven to launch one last attack as the referee blew the whistle when the ball was kicked out.

Never-say-die Erin’s Isle had pulled off a stunning comeback – red-carded Charlie Redmond presumed they had lost as he sat in the dressing-room – but Castlehaven were distraught. This was their third time in an All-Ireland club semi-final and they were moments from an All-Ireland final against Corofin, only to be denied.

It’s still the closest they have ever come.

‘This was probably worse than 1982 when Offaly dethroned Kerry and Seamus Darby got the goal,’ Tompkins says.

‘We were five points ahead with one minute to go and we got hit by a double blow, and then there were the circumstances of losing it.

‘We shouldn’t have lost that game.’

The silence for hours after has stayed with Tompkins.

‘I have never seen anything like that,’ he says.

‘I’ve played with Cork and Kildare and lost big games, I’ve lost matches with Castlehaven, but this was different.

‘When we went into the dressing-room after, nobody talked. It was silence. There was no talk at all. We were numb, shocked, didn’t know what had happened. 

‘We got on the bus to head back towards Cork, into the city to the Garda Club on Penrose Quay for some grub – and there was still no talk. No one spoke until we got back there, had a couple of drinks and realised what had happened, that’s how long it took. 

‘It was the guts of three hours before anyone talked.

‘I’ve been a player and a manager and I never seen anything like that before, the shock and then the realisation that we had probably thrown away an All-Ireland.’

Galway club Corofin went on to beat Erins Isle by 0-15 to 0-10 in the final on St Patrick’s Day, and that hurt Tompkins and Co.

‘It is the one that got away. Corofin beat Erin’s Isle, we were ten points the better team than Erin’s Isle. The big Croke Park pitch would have suited us. That was our chance gone.’

There was regret too in the Erin’s Isle camp that they never finished the job in the final, as Crossan admits they know they didn’t deserve to win the semi.

‘It was dreamboat stuff for us, it was heartbreak hotel for Castlehaven. We have felt for them over the years because that was a game they should have won,’ he said.

In the days after the semi-final, there was the unusual development that Castlehaven turned to Sky Sports and goal-line technology to try and prove Crossan’s shot had never crossed the line.

A headline in the Irish Independent the Thursday after the game said ‘Haven look to Sky for virtual replay salvation’.

Nothing ever came of it.

‘The TV footage went to Sky Sports afterwards and they couldn’t decide whether the ball was over the line because there was no white line to work off. They couldn’t give a definite answer,’ Tompkins says.

The goal stood, as did the result, with Haven haunted by those final few minutes and that goal that still divides opinion.

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