The goal at the end will never be forgotten. But the third-quarter penalty save by Offaly custodian Martin Furlong from Kerry’s chief marksman Mike Sheehy can sometimes get lost in the nostalgia of Seamus Darby’s match-winner. At the time, Kerry were 0-12 to 0-11 ahead when John Egan was bundled to the ground. Sheehy stepped up but, by his own admission years later, he hadn’t been playing well and felt uncomfortable over it, believing a player ‘on his game’ is always better placed for such responsibility. Furlong dived to his right and parried, denying Kerry the oxygen of a goal at a vital time. At that moment Sheehy later acknowledged he felt they would lose.
2 Conor Gormley’s block on Steven McDonnell
Tyrone v Armagh,
2003 All-Ireland final
One of the most memorable pieces of defensive play in any era. Tyrone were three points ahead when Steven McDonnell got inside the cover and seemed to have done everything right until Gormley came from his right to block down a shot surely destined to fly by John Devine with the pace it was going to gather. It was textbook skill from Gormley to ensure their first All-Ireland senior title.
3 Paddy Cullen thwarts Liam Sammon from the spot
Dublin v Galway,
1974 All-Ireland final
A little knowledge goes a long way and Paddy Cullen was armed with an abundance of it when Galway’s Liam Sammon placed the ball on the penalty spot just before the three-quarter mark, Dublin trailing the Westerners by a point.
Cullen, heroic all afternoon, had become accustomed to Sammon’s technique and preference during the All-Stars tour to San Francisco earlier in the year when they regularly practised together.
So when Sammon’s kick was despatched, Cullen had a fair idea where it was headed, parrying for a 50.
The lift in Dublin’s play was obvious as they went two points clear and saw out the game for their first title in 11 years, a turning point, not just on the day but in the whole Kevin Heffernan project.
4 Mick Lyons’ block on Jimmy Kerrigan
Meath v Cork,
1987 All-Ireland final
Cork were 0-5 to 0-2 ahead and threatening to pull away when Jimmy Kerrigan took off with a clear run to the Meath goal ahead of him, a goal threatening.
Mick Lyons patiently held back until he could no more, diving full length on to Kerrigan’s boot laces to smother the shot.
It was the moment Meath didn’t lose this game.
5 Páidí Ó Sé’s goal-line clearance
Kerry v Roscommon,
1980 All-Ireland final
With the game delicately balanced in the 61st minute and Roscommon applying all the pressure on the three-in-a-row-seeking Kerrymen, Aidan Dooley found himself at the end of a goalmouth scramble and an empty net, seemingly, open to him.
But as the ball left his boot for what would have been a defining goal, Páidí Ó Sé emerged to stop it on the goal line.
Not only that but he held it above the ground to prevent the concession of a penalty before eventually being bundled out for a ’45.
Without doubt, Ó Sé’s most important Kerry defensive intervention.
6 Stephen Cluxton’s save from Jason Doherty
Dublin v Mayo
2017 All-Ireland final
The trick with Cluxton is always to make it look so much easier than it is. Some 43 minutes in, Jason Doherty was put in by Andy Moran, Mayo trailing by a point and a goal surely beckoning. But Cluxton stood up, didn’t blink and in the end kept out a rasping Doherty shot. Mayo would get their goal some minutes later through Lee Keegan but that initial denial curbed an earlier Mayo onslaught.
7 Marc Ó SÉ’s interception and block on Tommy Freeman
Kerry v Monaghan,
2007 All-Ireland quarter-final
With 10 minutes left in an intensely physical game, Marc Ó Sé found himself in a two-v-one situation with a pair of Monaghan attackers bearing down on the Kerry goal.
He had to hedge and be patient. When the ball was popped to Freeman on the outside, Ó Sé made his move, getting a hand to push it out of Freeman’s direct path to goal before getting a block for a ’45 when the Monaghan forward did gather at a more acute angle.
Kerry were a point ahead, and a goal at that stage would surely have given Monaghan all the momentum to create a big upset.
8 Seamus Moynihan’s block and clearance on OisÍn McConville
Kerry v Armagh,
2000 All-Ireland semi-final
It may well be that Seamus Moynihan’s performances in the last four games of the 2000 championship – two against Armagh, two against Galway – were the best in sequence by any defender at any time.
So many moments to chose from but one, early in the second half of the drawn game against Armagh, stands out when he tracked Oisín McConville, swarmed him, blocked his point attempt and then gathered the rebound in the corner to begin the move for a Kerry point at the other end.
And to think that Moynihan was only a makeshift full-back for the Kingdom that year.
9 Pascal McConnell’s diving save to deny Declan O’Sullivan
Kerry v Tyrone,
2008 All-Ireland final
Kerry trailed by 1-12 to 0-14 in the 66th minute of an epic final when Tomás Ó Sé put Declan O’Sullivan through at close range.
O’Sullivan stabbed a deft right-footed shot to Pascal McConnell’s right but the big Newtownstewart goalkeeper got down to parry it brilliantly.
A Kerry goal at that stage would surely have propelled them to victory. Ironically, McConnell only got the call-up at the 11th hour after John Devine withdrew the night before because of his father’s death.
10 Neil Collins saves from Bernard Flynn
Meath v Down,
1991 All-Ireland final
One of the greatest comebacks to fail but how much was Meath’s assault on an 11-point deficit stalled by Neil Collins denying Bernard Flynn, scorer of six points, around the 50th-minute mark when they were nine behind?
Put in by Colm O’Rourke, just on the field, Flynn’s swerve to put off Brendan McKernan opened everything up for him and he parried. Down were hanging on at the end to win by two.
11 Kieran McGeeney’s deflection on a Mike Frank Russell shot
Armagh v Kerry,
2002 All-Ireland final
It will go down as a missed goal opportunity at a time, 25 minutes in, when Kerry had Armagh by the throat but look closely and you’ll see that Mike Frank Russell’s goal-bound shot, which would have put Kerry six points clear, was touched up and over by Armagh captain Kieran McGeeney. The lead instead was kept to a more manageable four, teeing up a McGeeney-inspired second half that included so many memorable blockdowns.
12 Stephen Cluxton’s fingertip save from Paul Murphy
Dublin v Kerry,
2019 All-Ireland final
Kerry did subsequently get a goal and couldn’t cash in on numerical advantage but Cluxton’s fingertip touch on Paul Murphy’s 40th-minute shot when they led by three points bought Dublin crucial time, eclipsing his penalty save from Paul Geaney earlier.
13 Michael Donnellan block on Justin McNulty
Galway v Armagh,
It happened a long way from Galway’s goals but the impact was profound nonetheless. After coming from seven points down, Armagh’s Justin McNulty was ready to tee up another attack late on when Michael Donnellan got in to make a block and send play the other way, setting up Paul Clancy for the winning point.
Galway went on to win the All-Ireland, Armagh succeeded them 12 months later. That’s how defining it was.
14 Neil Collins’ save from Anthony Tohill
Down v Derry,
1994 Ulster quarter-final
Collins’ save from a Charlie Redmond penalty in the All-Ireland final later that year is an obvious port of call but his deflection of a thundering Anthony Tohill shot in that memorable Celtic Park game between then Ulster heavyweights at a time of Derry dominance in the first half made Down’s season possible.
15 Diarmuid Murphy penalty save from David Kelly
Kerry v Sligo,
With three minutes remaining in Tralee and the pressure rising as they clung to a 0-14 to 1-9 lead, Kerry conceded a penalty when Sligo’s Johnny Davey was cut down. One of the shocks of the decade threatened.
But Kerry goalkeeper Diarmuid Murphy read David Kelly’s kick to perfection and they survived, winning a 36th All-Ireland title with some ease.
But this was when they were truly cornered.
16 Darragh Ó SÉ’s goal-line catch against Limerick
Kerry v Limerick,
2004 Munster final
On the night before Kerry played Mayo in the 2004 All-Ireland final Jack O’Connor rolled out a sequence of clips that mirrored each other from earlier in the season, Darragh Ó Sé climbing high to catch three balls beneath his crossbar in the dying stages of the drawn Munster final with Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds.
Kerry were under siege, Ó Sé repelled them, reaching well above his crossbar for the last from an Eoin Keating free deep into seven minutes of added time.
Ó Sé and Seamus Moynihan, their two talismans, were both missing the next day but O’Connor wanted to remind his players what had got them there.
17 James McCarthy tracks Lee Keegan
Dublin v Mayo
2015 All-Ireland semi-final replay
Rarely has a pursuit that involved no contact at the end of it had such an impact but in those fleeting moments that James McCarthy set after Lee Keegan in the 43rd minute, Mayo were leading by 1-12 to 0-11.
A point at that stage so soon after Cillian O’Connor’s goal could have turned this match, and history, in a completely different direction. It certainly felt like that at the time.
Presence alone may well have been enough. Some 20 minutes later, Dublin were out of sight.
18 Martin McNamara saves from Ciarán McDonald
Galway v Mayo,
1998 Connacht quarter-final
Galway were getting on top, leading 1-10 to 2-6, when Ciarán McDonald bore down on Martin McNamara’s goal going into the last quarter in Castlebar, seeking his hat-trick.
McNamara, and indeed Mayo’s Peter Burke, had produced many fine saves all afternoon, but this topped it for timing as well as technique.
In the overall context of this western rivalry, they moved in opposite directions from that moment.
19 Paudie O’Mahony’s penalty save from Jimmy Barry-Murphy
Kerry v Cork,
1975 Munster final
How much would Kerry football’s resurgence under Mick O’Dwyer have stalled had Paudie O’Mahony not got down to save Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s first-half penalty.
A young Kerry team were leading by 1-6 to 0-3 at the time but Billy Morgan had just saved a Mike Sheehy penalty before that.
The psychological toll could have been exacting. In the end, Kerry won well.
20 Peter Crowley’s block on David Walsh
Kerry v Donegal,
2014 All-Ireland final
The Kerry defender came from quite a few metres away to extend full length and kill David Walsh’s point-bound shot at a time when there were just two points in it and Donegal were winding up for a big finish.