BY CHRIS MCNULTY
WHEN Gary Walsh eyeballed Charlie Redmond at the Canal End just eight minutes into the 1992 All-Ireland final, the Donegal goalkeeper knew the eyes of the land were upon him.
Dessie Farrell was fouled and Dublin, the raging hot favourites, had a penalty so early in the game.
Walsh’s brother had a premonition that the Dubs would have a penalty. His dream pictured Gary saving to his right. Redmond’s penalty, as it happened, went wide of the post on his left.
“It would have been nicer if I’d saved it,” Walsh says now, ahead of a return to Croke Park on Sunday.
“The penalty was a big boost at the time. If they had scored it our heads could have dropped. We did well just before half-time to get us a good lead.
“You can’t prepare yourself for facing up to a penalty in those circumstances. Charlie didn’t have a great record on penalties and that was probably weighing heavily on his shoulders. My brother in England used to think more about games than I did. His dream wasn’t quite right but he wasn’t far off.”
Donegal led 0-10 to 0-7 at half-time and tore up the bookmakers’ odds.
When Declan Bonner gave that famous clenched fist salute to the Hogan Stand, the game was up for Dublin. Donegal 0-18 Dublin 0-14 and a county drowned in sheer euphoria.
This week, Bonner and Walsh are back to face the Dubs. Minor manager Bonner recruited his former team-mate to work as the goalkeeping coach with the ‘keepers, Danny Rodgers, Sean Daffan and Paddy Byrne.
For Walsh, the week will bring back the old memories.
“Aye it brings ’92 back again and evokes all the stories we had,” says Walsh.
“We are slight underdogs this weekend and the seniors are really big underdogs. Hopefully the two teams can do the same as we did and upset the odds.
“We had nothing to lose. We knew we had our own preparation down to a tee. That’s all we concentrated on was getting our own end right. Brian (McEniff) kept us shielded from the limelight and the hype. There were loads of rumours about what was going on in the Dublin camp but we just set about looking after our own end.
“There was maturity in the Donegal camp by then. We’d had a couple of big, disappointing defeats that had rocked us in previous years but we were ready for it in ’92. We wanted it so badly and a lot of boys knew it was coming near the end of the line.”
In the spring of 1993, Donegal and Dublin met again in a National League final. After a 0-9 apiece draw, Dublin won the replay 0-10 to 0-6.
Redmond was sent off in the drawn game and a minute later Keith Barr was also red carded by Brian White. For the replay, White was again in charge and he dismissed Tommy Carr, who drew a boot off Brian Murray. Carr was given a six-month suspension for his trouble, but it was later reduced to four following an appeal.
Walsh says now: “There was always going to be an undercurrent from 1992. We were big rivals and Dublin probably had more to gain from those days. They wanted it more and got the upper hand on us.
“The one big regret I have is that we didn’t win a League title. We missed out on ones we should have won.”
Working with the three goalkeepers takes Walsh back to a different era when the former Aodh Ruadh man – who played much of his club career with County Down club Burren – could only dream of specialised coaching.
He says: “All I had was someone to take a few shots at me. Shooting drills was about the height of my goalkeeping coaching. It’s evolved so much since then.
“We have three goalkeepers which is good; A because it’s better to work with three than it is with two and B because if one gets injured you’re not bringing a man in cold. It’s hard for Sean and Paddy but the three lads work very well together. None of them are treated any differently.
“The whole thing has moved on in terms of the conditioning work the players do and you have dieticians involved. Everyone has a role to play and when you add up all of those roles you have a fair weapon.
“It’s great to be involved with this bunch of players. They’re so committed to everything Declan has asked of them but the best thing is the camaraderie that’s in the dressing room.
“Honestly it is the most united squad that I have ever been involved with.”
Based now in Derry, Walsh has been enjoying his work – and the Ballyshannon native believes Donegal can be celebrating on the double come Sunday evening.
He says: “Both teams have a big chance. We have had a great run with the minors and our preparation has gone very well. We have a good squad of players there now and there are a lot of men challenging for places.”