While Saturday past may not have been a highlight reel moment for Garry Ringrose, it most certainly was for his cousin James McCourt.
Shortly after Ireland were humbled by the All Blacks in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final, the University of Illinois kicker made headlines worldwide when his last gasp 39-yard field goal gave his side victory over Big Ten powerhouse Wisconsin, a side ranked sixth nationwide.
The win is widely viewed as one of the biggest upsets in the history of college football and McCourt will forever be remembered as the hero of the hour.
DOWN GOES NO. 6 WISCONSIN!
The first time the Badgers trail all year comes at the hands of @IlliniFootball.
James McCourt wins it: pic.twitter.com/r4WwNMWe0h
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 19, 2019
After nailing the buzzer kick in front of a 60,000 capacity home crowd, the kicker was mobbed by fans and teammates alike. So much so that the Dublin-born athlete, whose family moved stateside when he was eight years old, literally passed out on the turf.
“It was bonkers, it was nuts, it was definitely a scene,” McCourt told Pundit Arena.
“There was a dog pile in the middle of the field and I actually passed out at the bottom with all the weight on top. I lost my breath and my eyes rolled back in my head.
“It took me a little while to actually come to myself and realise what actually happened. The scene was unbelievable.”
Before relocating to Florida with his family, McCourt attended Scoil Bhríde in Ranelagh and was often found at Landsdowne RFC where he first discovered a love of rugby.
He also dabbled in soccer, a self-confessed Arsenal fan, and it was his skillset in both codes that led to him becoming a highly sought after field-goal kicker.
“I moved over to South Florida, to Parkland, in 2006 I think, because of my Dad’s work.
“I played a lot of rugby and I played a lot of soccer growing up, just kicking and kicking. In Ireland, you use your feet a lot, in rugby you’re kicking, and soccer of course.
— Alex Aguilera (@alex13aguilera) October 19, 2019
“In eighth grade, I started tackle football and they needed a kicker on the team and as I’d a pretty good boot from soccer, one thing led to the next.
“I got a bit of coaching here and there and the University of Illinois, they called me in my senior year and asked me if I wanted to come here and play for them. It was pretty unreal at the start.”
Of course, the position comes with its trials and tribulations. One minute you’re the hero, next the villain and vice versa. Something McCourt knows all too well having missed an earlier attempt from 30 yards before nailing the game-winning kick.
It’s a pressurised position like no other but that’s why he loves it.
“I do a lot of visualisation. So I’ve played that kick in my head a thousand times over. It’s something that I’ve seen happen and something we work towards in practice all the time.
“We talk a lot about clearing the mechanisms and having a silent mind so I was really locked in on the moment and I understood what was at stake. I had to treat it like any other kick, I didn’t want any distractions coming in. Obviously it was a little different, (but) I treated it like I would any other kick.
“You sign up for this position you know it’s going to come with pressure, all eyes are on you at that moment and you could be the hero or the villain, it’s something you know when your practising and something you feed off and you like.
#Illini kicker James McCourt (@McCourtJ_38) says he PASSED OUT at the bottom of the pile of his teammates while celebrating his game-winning kick that stunned No. 6 Wisconsin. pic.twitter.com/JVTeRaLDPQ
— Gavin Good (@itsallG_O_O_D) October 19, 2019
“You wouldn’t be kicking at a high level if you didn’t like the pressure.”
McCourt clearly comes from good stock, on both sides of the family. Not only is he a cousin of Garry Ringrose but his other cousin on his father’s side happens to be Drogheda United goalkeeper Luca Gratzer.
While he admits he is closer to Ringrose’s younger brother Jack. McCourt revealed that the pair are regularly in touch and exchanged pleasantries last weekend following his match-winning heroics.
“I’m closer with his younger brother Jack Ringrose we’re the same age. My family is a pretty sporty family, my other cousin on my dad’s side is a goalkeeper for Drogheda United.
“Garry reached out to me after the game, he sent his congrats over and I sent mine back. I haven’t really touched on the World Cup stuff with him yet but I’ll probably keep in contact with him for the rest of the season.”
Ringrose isn’t the only Irish number 13 that McCourt can identify with. Despite living in the United States for well over a decade, he still pinpoints Brian O’Driscoll as his sporting hero.
“Brian O’Driscoll is my sporting hero because he is someone I have always emulated, I mean his work ethic and everything. I heard his name since I can remember you know, the hero in Ireland that he is.
“Him off the field and him on the field are two very respectable people and someone I really try and work and strive towards.”
McCourt’s heroics came in the week that Illinois were announced to play Nebraska in the 2021 Aer Lingus College Football Classic at the Aviva Stadium, the second in a five-match series that gets underway next August.
It is unlikely that the Dubliner will be involved as he is expected to graduate in 2020. Hopefully, by then, the kid from Darty Park will have taken the next step into the professional game.
“I wish there was some way around it so I could get back and play but I’ll be there definitely for the game.
“Obviously the NFL is something I do work for and I strive for, that’s a dream of everyone and if the opportunity presents itself I am definitely going to put everything I can towards that. The NFL is something I am going to work towards and we’ll see where that goes.