By Damian Dolan
It’s the abiding memory of last year’s senior county final – Liam Staunton launching himself full length to steer the ball agonisingly past Gavin McEvoy’s left-hand post.
For a brief moment, McGovern Park held its collective breath. Tir Chonaill Gaels led by two in the replay with time virtually up.
By such slender margins are county finals won and lost. Fulham could so easily have been going to three-in-a-row on Sunday.
Twelve months on, Staunton still looks back on that moment ruefully. What might have been.
“I should have scored – it was a shocking miss. He (Gavin McEvoy) did enough to put me off,” Staunton told the Irish World.
“There were two men on Mickey [Michael Murphy) when he caught it, but he somehow managed to give an inch perfect pass. I couldn’t have asked for a better one.”
Staunton had a split-second to decide what to do. The obvious thing was to go ball straight, but out of the corner of his eye he saw McEvoy coming, so he instead tried to steer the ball across goal and into the far corner.
While there was a sharp in-take of breath around Ruislip, McEvoy was the coolest man in the ground, ushering the ball wide.
“I heard him saying ‘it’s wide, it’s wide’. I was talking to him afterwards and he said “yeh, it was always going wide”,” added Staunton.
Had it nestled in the corner of the net, Staunton admits Fulham probably wouldn’t have deserved it “over the balance of the two games”.
Aside from the opening ten minutes of the first game, when Fulham surged into a 1-5 to 0-1 lead, and then rallied late on to force a replay, the south Londoners didn’t quite do enough.
Blowing “hot and cold”, playing in patches, “sums up Fulham” during Staunton’s time at the club. They’ll need to blow more hot than cold, against holders TCG.
Indeed, they did something similar against St Kiernans just a few weeks ago – storming into a 1-4 to no score after five minutes, only to need an Eoin Kilcommons goal to snatch victory at the death.
Fulham knew they “got out of jail” that day.
“When we go so far ahead we panic, and we stop doing what we’ve been doing well. We let teams back into it,” said Staunton.
If they get on top against TCG, they’ll need to drive it home.
Their performance, though, against Neasden Gaels in the semi-final was their most consistent in a while – they played for the full 60, and more.
Everything went their way, says Staunton, while the return of former Cavan star David Givney to the engine room was a very welcome, and timely, one.
Staunton says we have yet “to see the best” of Givney in a Fulham shirt this year. A worrying thought for TCG that with a valuable 60 minutes under his belt, Givney could be primed for a very big performance on Sunday.
“He’s an unbelievable footballer. He probably wasn’t even at 100 per cent (versus Neasden) but he was a big presence in midfield,” said Staunton.
But that level of performance, as good as it was, won’t be enough he says to beat TCG, and deliver Fulham a third senior title. They’ll need to “up it even more”.
If Fulham prevail, it will be Owen Mulligan’s first as a manager, having taken over from Greg McCartan this year.
“When he (Mulligan) talks you listen. He’s got so much experience. He’s been excellent and Aidan Savage as well,” said Staunton.
Who Paul Coggins tasks with trying to contain Givney’s influence will be an interesting one.
“Paul Coggins has them very well drilled, they’re the bench-mark in London,” said Staunton.
“They have a system; they know it works and they stick to it. And they’re very hard to break down. They all know what to do with the football and they don’t panic – they give the right ball.
“It’s going to take a lot to beat them.”
Sunday will be Staunton’s fourth county final in a row – he won an intermediate Mayo championship with St Patrick’s Westport in 2016. It was the first county title he’s won since under 14s.
Since then, county finals have been a bit like buses.
The following February he helped the club convert that into All-Ireland Club, alongside 2016 player of the year Lee Keegan.
Two months later he was in London and helping Fulham to a first county title since 2011 – Mulligan kicking the winner in injury-time.
“Small margins win finals” says Staunton, and he’d know all about that.