Substitutes play a key role in all team sports and Gaelic football is no different. Although each member of the panel hopes to pull a jersey numbered 1-15 over their head and take the field from the first throw in, this isn’t always the case. On countless occasions down through the years, the subs are the guys who have decided the outcome of games with some of the most memorable GAA scores having been from ‘super subs’.
With the year that’s in it, Seamus Darby’s famous match winning goal in the 1982 All Ireland final, which denied Kerry the most sought after ‘5 in a row’ is sure to do the rounds on social media over the next few weeks. Maurice Fitzgerald’s ridiculous point from the sideline vs Dublin in 2001 was scored just after the Kerry man had been introduced.
Kevin McMenamin’s three pointer in the 2011 All Ireland final saw him enter the history books as a ‘super sub’, while in 2014 when Kerry looked dead and buried against Mayo in the All Ireland semi final, Kieran Donaghy was sprung from the bench to set up a James O’Donoghue goal and revive Kerry’s season, when they went on to lift the Sam Maguire.
Every club and county in the country has their own tale of a ‘super sub’. 2019 is no different.
Armagh’s 2019 championship campaign was dominated by ‘super subs’, both in their favour and against the Orchard County. Who could forgot Andrew Murnin’s punched goal to secure a first Ulster Championship victory in five years over old rivals Down? Or indeed Cian Mackey’s crucial introduction in the Ulster semi final to deny Armagh a final spot.
Even in their last game of the season against Mayo, Kevin McLoughlin entered the field of play as a first half substitution and went on to score 1-1 to edge his side into the next round. Likewise Donal Vaughan made his presence know in the same game as he split the posts after being introduced.
With games coming thick and fast and injures mounting, the remaining teams have had to dig deep into their panels, especially those who have reached the super 8s through the qualifier route. The four teams coming through the back door (Tyrone, Mayo, Cork and Roscommon) all paired off last weekend, with both games displaying how the ‘super sub’ can be effective or in some cases not work out so well.
Andy Moran’s introduction at the mid-way point in Sunday proved significant as the former footballer of the year turned the tide to insure Mayo remain in the hunt for a last four spot. Moran made an immediate impact, setting up Fergal Boland to level the game just two minutes after replacing Darren Coen. Although Moran only scored once, he set up a further two points to guide the Westerners to victory.
Meath’s substitutes on the other hand didn’t have the same influence when contrasted with their opponents, although Shane Walsh did register five points from placed balls after replacing the injured Mickey Newman, it wasn’t enough to maintain the momentum that Meath had gathered in the opening period.
Cork similarly tried to preserve the lead they had built up through their first half display against Tyrone but the Red Hands second half onslaught saw the Ulster side placed into the semi finals for the third year in a row, with their final game against Dublin a battle to finish top of the table.
Had the rebels come out on top, which looked very likely for long periods of the first half, James Loughrey may have been labelled Cork’s ‘super sub’ for 2019, his sublime goal seven minutes after coming on gave his side a comfortable seven point lead during their dominant opening half.
Likewise, Michael Hurley was a second half replacement and knocked over three second half scores while John O’Rourke also raised a white flag during the second 35 minutes of play, the two substitute’s registering 50% of Cork’s overall tally of eight points after the half time break although it wasn’t enough to see out the game.
Perhaps the best example of a ‘super sub’ so far during the Super 8s has been Donegal’s use of Oisin Gallen. Gallen entered the fray with 20 minutes remaining against Meath and with the score tied; his 1-1 from play helped the Tir Chonaill men over the line and sent them to the top of the table. The youngster made another telling contribution on Sunday past against Kerry, with his two second half points crucial in earning Donegal a draw.
Unfortunately for Meath their two super 8s games have come down to who has the better impact subs. The Royals have been hugely competitive during the super 8s, yet have lost out on both occasions by nine points, again demonstrating the use of fresh legs when seeing out a game and gaining victory.
For years the men on Dublin’s bench struck as much fear into the opposition as the starting 15 did but perhaps the other teams are beginning to catch up. Every team now knows if they are to dethrone the ‘5 in a row’ hunters, they are going to need more than 15 players to do so, as you can guarantee Dublin will have an army of men ready to introduce.
Can one of the remaining team’s spring a Seamus Darby inspired substitution to deny Dublin’s drive for five? The run in to this year’s All Ireland will certainly be interesting, with the magic of the ‘super sub’ to continue!