Spillane: Gooch was the greatest ever but he's right to call it a day

Gooch 2016.jpg
Gooch 2016.jpg

Penning tribute pieces to Kerry footballers has become a recurring theme in 2017.

First there was Marc Ó Sé, then Aidan O’Mahony and now the Gooch. 

It is interesting to note that he’s the last player from the 2004 All-Ireland winning team – Kerry’s second golden era – to retire.

So often sportsmen get their last hurrah wrong and hang in for one season too many. This is why I welcome his decision to quit inter-county football. 

The sad reality is that since returning to action, after recovering from a horrific knee injury in 2014, he hasn’t been the same player.  

He had lost half a yard in pace, which means he could neither ghost past defenders or chase them all over the field as he did in his heyday.

Had he stayed on he would have played a peripheral role with Kerry this summer and I don’t think anybody wanted to see that. 

I was fortunate to play alongside some of the all-time greats of Gaelic football, including Mick O’Connell, Mick O’Dwyer, Jack O’Shea, Mikey Sheehy and Páidí Ó Sé.  

Several years ago I declared that the Gooch was the greatest GAA footballer I had ever seen playing. I haven’t changed my opinion.

He ticked all the boxes. He was blessed with so many skills that on the ball he was a magician.  

His peripheral vision, game intelligence, wonderful balance and spatial awareness were unrivalled. He was equally accurate with either foot, whether off the ground or from the hand.  

As both a clinical finisher and foot passer he had no rivals. Nobody was better at creating space. His feints, dummy solos and hops and shimmies kept defenders awake at night.

The ultimate team player, he was incredibly unselfish and though he looked slight he was unbelievably strong on the ball and was rarely dispossessed. He always looked composed and invariably took the right option.

A true leader on the field, he was brave and resourceful. After coming back from his injury he reinvented himself, becoming a playmaker cum quarterback/conductor. 

No player could have controlled the game like he did in the last 20 minutes of the recent All-Ireland club final.

Off the field he was modest, humble and kind. In essence he was the perfect role model. For many years he came to my club Templenoe to present medals to our underage footballers, but never took a cent in expenses.

However, the one quality that defined his greatness was that on his day he was unmarkable. Opponents might keep him quiet for 69 minutes, but he still had the capacity to pop up and turn a game on his head.

I could list dozens of examples, but I will recall just three moments from his wonderful career. What about the goal against Mayo in the 2004 All-Ireland final: a fetch over the head of Pat Kelly, a step inside, a dummy bounce before he side-footed the ball low into the net.  

Then there was his sublime pass that lead to Donnchadh Walsh’s delivery for James O’Donoghue’s goal against Dublin in the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final – he actually took a step back before delivering it. 

Then there was his goal before half-time against Slaughtneil in this year’s club final. He had two touches in the preceding 20 minutes and yet he nonchalantly slid the ball under the body of the advancing keeper.

He was Kerry’s Pele, Eusebio, Messi and Ronaldo all wrapped up in one, but better. He was truly poetry in motion.