Continuing on with our list of GAA greats, it’s time to look back at the greatest Gaelic football comebacks of the 21st century.
We’ve chosen five games from the last 20 seasons of action where one team looked dead and buried only to rise like Lazarus and advance to the next round of their respective championship.
To qualify for our list, a team had to be trailing by at least five points before going on to claim victory. This effectively rules out such comeback games such as Tyrone’s dramatic draw with Down in 2003 or Armagh’s late, late, rally to defeat Clare in 2018 or even Dublin’s 2017 All-Ireland final win over Mayo where the Dubs truly did look like a defeated outfit with ten minutes to go.
With that in mind, here are the five we have selected.
2006: Mayo 1-16 Dublin 2-12
A modern-day classic. This was a truly incredible All-Ireland semi-final. Dublin, much like today, were a swashbuckling football side, however, unlike today, they were very much vulnerable to collapsing. However, they were raging hot favourites going into the game with one Joe Brolly predicting, ‘it could turn into a rout’.
The game perhaps is most remembered for the row that ensued when David Brady led Mayo towards Hill 16 for their pre-match warm-up. The pre-game mind games seemed to work early on as Mayo raced into a four-point lead.
However, come the second-half, Dublin began to pull away from the westerners, leading 0-10 to 2-11 with only a quarter of the game remaining. From there, though, Mayo began to eat away at the lead thanks to a goal from sprightly substitute Andy Moran to set up a grandstand finish before cult-hero Ciaran McDonald scored one of the most iconic winning scores in GAA history to seal Mayo’s final berth.
This game was an absolute class and you can actually relive the whole game in its entirety below. Fun fact: This was Mayo’s first-ever championship victory over Dublin.
2008: Wexford 2-14 Meath 2-13
It didn’t take long for the 2008 Leinster SFC to kick into gear with this stunning Wexford comeback win over Meath. The Royals hammered Carlow in their first-round meeting to set up this clash with the yellowbellies and were very much favourites to take home the spoils.
Meath lived up to their favourites tag early on with first-half goals from Stephen Bray and Graham Geraghty helping them to a commanding 10-point lead at half-time. 15 minutes into the second half and all looked to be going to plan for Meath as they kept their double-digit lead intact.
However, a Redmond Barry goal in the 51st minute ignited hope. Ten minutes later, hope turned to a revival as BJ Banville netted to bring Wexford back to within three points before four answered scores from Shane Roche, Adrian Morrissey and two from Matty Forde ensured that Wexford secured a famous victory.
Wexford would go on to qualify for the All-Ireland semi-final that season. It could have been so different for them, however, without this miraculous comeback.
2014: Kerry 3-16 Mayo 3-13 (aet)
They say that Kerry always lose the classic encounters that they are involved in. However, that did not prove to be in the case in 2014 when the Kingdom fought back from seven points down before toppling Mayo in one of the most memorable All-Ireland semi-finals ever.
There are a number of factors that made this game so more incredible. First, it took place in Gaelic Grounds in Limerick just a week after the pair played out a dramatic draw in Croke Park. Second, Kieran Donaghy proved to be the renaissance man for Kerry as his return to the action coincided with the Kingdom salvaging a draw on the first day, a win on the second and an All-Ireland title on the third.
Finally, the game could never be forgotten as the referee, Cormac Reilly, was forced to flee the pitch post-match to avoid the irk of the angry Mayo supporters.
Anyway, Mayo were actually the fancied outfit on the day but it was the Kingdom who would go on to disprove the theory that Kerry only lose classic matches.
Again, you can watch the full match in its entirety below.
2015: Westmeath 3-19 Meath 2-18
Before this match, Westmeath had, surprisingly, never beaten Meath in championship football. That was a record that seemed to be safe come half-time in this Leinster SFC semi-final as two goals in a minute from Brian McMahon saw Meath coast into an eight-point lead at the break.
Kieran Martin, who scored a goal in the first half, and John Heslin scored second-half goals as Westmeath mounted a comeback for the ages in Croke Park.
Westmeath outscored their rivals 2-8 to 0-1 in the final 20 minutes of the match to qualify for the Leinster final and secure a famous victory in the process, their first championship win over Meath in 23 attempts.
You can watch the highlights of this incredible encounter below.
2018: Laois 2-21 Wexford 1-18 (aet)
10 years on from their dramatic Leinster SFC comeback, it was Wexford who became the victims of a downfall in 2018 when Laois fought their way back from a half-time score that read 1-10 to 0-3.
Wearing commemorative jerseys to celebrate the centenary year of their four-in-a-row success, Wexford began the match like All-Ireland champions hitting eight points without reply and come half-time, the result seemed like a formality.
However, inspired by Donie Kingston, Laois staged a brilliant fightback in the second period hitting eight unanswered points of their own to close the gap to just two points with 10 minutes remaining. Kingston buried a penalty moments later to bring them level, however, Wexford again took the lead through Donal Shanley before an injury-time score from corner-back Gareth Dillon forced extra-time.
The result was never in doubt once extra-time got underway with Kieran Lillis handing Laois the initiative in the third minute by scoring their second goal. Laois would go on to claim a six-point win having trailed by 10 at the break. Incredible stuff.