Stephen Geoghegan ran onto the ball in the penalty area, a defender trailing helplessly behind him. Only Shay Kelly, in the Bohemian goal stood between Shelbourne and the cushion of a two-goal lead. The red and black half of the crowd put their hands up to their faces; the red and white half leaned forward waiting to leap into the air in celebration.
Jason Byrne, unmarked in front of goal, yelled at Geogo to square the ball. But, as Kelly came charging out, Geogo elected to shoot. You couldn’t blame him for that. One of the deadliest strikers the League has ever seen, one on one with the keeper, he had scored countless goals like that in his long career.
He shot hard to Gregg’s right, about waist high. Some of the Shels fans were already on their feet. But Kelly, with a reflex action, managed to get a hand to the ball. It was an instinctive movement, a great save, but the keeper, falling to the ground, must have been disconsolate as he watched the ball fall perfectly for Jayo.
Jay was on the six-yard line in front of the centre of the goal. The keeper was on the floor, the nearest defender five yards away. The ball came to him slowly, slightly behind him, bouncing. My granny would have stooped down and nodded it in. Jason Byrne was the season’s top scorer. He’d been in electric form for Shels, both in pre-season and during the first six games of the league. He’d scored in ten of the eleven games of his short Shelbourne career.
The Shels fans started their roar. Two nil up against the defending champions, and likeliest rivals for the championship. Not an unassailable lead [nothing is unassailable when you follow Shels], but certainly a great lead to have.
He caught the ball on the up-bounce and it ballooned over the bar. For a moment, there was silence, puzzlement. What had happened? Had the ref blown for an infringement? And, as the dreadful reality sunk in for the Reds’ fans, they sat back down, with their faces in their hands. And from the Riverside Stand came hoots of derision from the ecstatic Bohs supporters. Jason just stood there, shaking his head. More than any of the 6,000 in the ground, he could believe it least. The cliché would be that he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him. But it didn’t. Acutely conscious of having perpetrated the miss of the century, he jogged back to face the goal kick, still shaking his head.
Bohemians, seeming to gain some heart from this, got back into the game. They scored two goals, and it was only a last minute strike from Ger McCarthy that prevented them from getting all three points.
As I write this, the following day, I can still scarcely believe what I witnessed. I dare say Jason won’t have forgotten about it either.
My mind goes back to the first meeting of Shels and Bohs at Tolka Park the season before. With twenty minutes to go, Bohs were two goals up and cruising. Then Pat Fenlon introduced former Shels legend Tony Sheridan into the fray. His appearance seemed to galvanise the Reds. He went after the ball at every opportunity, made himself available for every pass, and sprayed the ball around like he had six years previously. He helped set up a goal, and, as the Reds went in search of the equaliser, he was at the heart of everything. Bohs were under the cosh and hanging on by their fingernails.
Then, with minutes to go, Richie Baker got free on the right and cut in. He shot, low and hard, to the near post but Ashley Bayes parried it. The ball came back to Richie and, spotting Shero unmarked eight yards out with the goal at his mercy, swept it quickly to him.
My granny might well have miscontrolled the ball, but my mother would have buried it. Shero, one of the best controllers of a ball in modern times, had time and space to trap the ball and flick it in. He chose to blast it.
Rumour has it that the ball is still in orbit, circling the earth until some future space archaeologists discover it and attempt to explain it’s existence.
Bohs held out for a 2-1 win. Had Shero have tapped the ball in, they would have lost two points and Shels would have gained one. And although Bohs eventually beat Shels to the title by seven points, the margin was a lot closer with three games of the season to go.
It is idle to speculate that if Shero had scored, Shels might have gone on to win the title. All sorts of psychological inferences would have come into play, which renders the exercise useless. As a Shels fan though, I look back on that miss and wonder.
Not that I blame Shero. This is football. Shit happens. Goalies let the ball trickle through their legs, people miss important penalties, defenders score crazy own goals. I bet even Pele missed a few sitters in his time. The mark of a great player is how he copes with the feeling of frustration that he can’t turn back the clock.
I am sure Jason will get over it soon enough. His next goal will go a long way to banishing it from his mind. And, doubtless, Pat and his teammates will remind him that, without his fantastic goal-scoring exploits, Shels would not be sitting pretty on top of the league.
It’s just that we dropped two points to Bohs yesterday, and Bohs gained one. We could have pulled an extra three points clear of them. Three points which might, come the end of the season be extremely important.