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Iconic GAA photographs: Sportsfile's Piaras Ó Mídheach tells the stories behind the images
Last Updated: 04/05/20 8:45am
"It's gas. All the planning you do, and the best pictures out of it will just kind of happen. You have to be tuned in all the time. A quiet fella normally could go wild beside you. That's your picture."
Photography grabs a moment in time, and GAA snappers more than anyone need to have their fingers on the pulse - or in their case, on the shutter.
Piaras Ó Mídheach has been working with Sportsfile since 2013, and has been responsible for some of the most iconic sporting images of the last decade.
Here, the Kildare native tells Sky Sports about his seven favourite GAA images he has captured.
'The ghost goal'
In 2018, Waterford suffered an early exit from the championship after being held to a draw by Tipperary in the Gaelic Grounds. However, the result was shrouded in controversy after the officials awarded the Premier a goal that appeared not to cross the line.
As the Déise players protested with the umpires, not even the television cameras could provide concrete evidence of Austin Gleeson preventing the score.
But Ó Mídheach's images were proof that Waterford could feel hard done by.
PÓM: "That's [an example of] being tuned in.
"It's a good habit I have - the more you do it, the luckier you get because there is a bit of luck in it. Jason Forde was just hitting a normal free in, that he'd hit over the bar normally.
"If you don't have a clean shot of the free-taker, I'd focus on what's going on in the square - the ball could go wide, somebody fouls their marker and there could be a penalty.
"I'd seen Gleeson going up for the ball and focused on him. I'd probably shot that picture for 10 years and nothing happens - the guy gets the ball and clears it.
"But I just got him, as he was about to go up for a normal catch. It was confusing because when he got it, I never thought it was a goal. I thought it was a foul maybe because he went down on the ground afterwards.
"Then the umpire gave the goal and there was all the fuss. It's very unfortunate for referees and officials. It shows you the importance of a still image.
"It's a very nice picture to have, it shows the importance of photography and capturing a moment."
The Portumna star's late winner against Tipperary was the iconic moment of the 2017 All-Ireland Championship, as the Tribesmen progressed to the All-Ireland final where they would go on to end a 29-year drought.
Ó Mídheach was positioned behind the Hill 16 end-line, and although he couldn't get a sight of Canning taking the shot itself due to the forest of bodies between him and the action, he got a better image again.
PÓM: "Towards the end of matches, you might have assigned places.
"At the end of matches, they're so tight they could be anywhere. I decided to stay where I was and see what I could get.
"I was just trying to keep an eye on everyone, see who's going to get the ball, see who's going to hit it. And I found him (Canning), he hit the ball and I followed him. Luckily he poked his head out. It's just a great 'relief' smile on his face, with all the supporters in the background as well.
"When you get a picture like that, you know it's a good one."
The heat of battle
Fatigue, pain and anguish were etched across the faces of O'Shea and Small in the image, as the Kenmare man was judged to have committed a foul. Referee David Gough awarded the Dubs a free, and Dean Rock was given a chance to win the All-Ireland but he ultimately wasn't able to convert it.
PÓM: "I've covered all of Dublin's finals in the five-in-a-row. It's great to be there to capture a historic moment.
"Dublin are better than an awful lot of teams, but in the finals, they tend to be quite close no matter who they're playing.
"When people see that photo, it shows there was a split second of foul. But it's something you don't see in real time, you don't see with the naked eye.
"A lot of people would ask you when you're at a match - do you actually get to see it? Well you get to see an awful lot of things that people don't see. Because you're right up and close with the players, things that you don't see with your eye but you see in the photograph.
"It's just interesting to get to capture stuff.
"[O'Shea and Small] were running quite close to me at the time, and that's why the background is blurred out. That's why it's close to the lads, you see the muscles and everything. Trying to get the ball back in injury-time of an All-Ireland final. It's two lads really putting it out there."
Hawk-eye says yes
It's not all about the big days in August and September. Perhaps the most iconic image on this list came in the 2019 Walsh Cup - a January meeting between Wexford and Galway in Enniscorthy. With Davy Fitzgerald fever gripping the Model County, one Yellowbellies fan erected a make-shift 'hawk-eye' set-up at the ground.
PÓM: "It's great to go to Thurles and Croker and places, but it's great to go somewhere different, and I'd never been there before. So I'd generally go down early to places to see what's different about this place, or what kind of picture you have. In the early season, it's not really about the match itself, it's more about different pictures you can get.
"I'd seen him just before the match. I think he was in a housing estate next door to the pitch, on a ladder. Obviously he had this well planned out - he had his sign, and he had his 'níl' and his 'tá', and his binoculars and everything. He must have spent the week at it!
"He was giving it gusto - really getting into it."
PÓM: "It was just before full-time. Tipperary had scored a couple of points in injury-time.
"He's actually back defending the Canal End goal. One of the points went over to really seal it, and he just jumped up and went mental.
"He's one of my favourite players, and it's one of my favourite pictures. He's been around for a good while, his cancer battle, to come back, and still be hurling. He's a great hurler to watch.
"There's an awful lot of pictures in All-Ireland final day. We'd be there at 9am. It's the few moments just before the full-time whistle, and the few seconds afterwards, that's where the best pictures are for me. The raw and wild emotion, just lads going mad!
"They're jumping around. Noel McGrath is just jumping into the air. He could have jumped any other way. They don't see you.
"For the celebration pictures, the best ones are when they don't see you, they're just reacting. When they've met and hugged a few people, they're a bit more aware of cameras then. They're a bit more refined then."
Agony and ecstasy
PÓM: "I cover an awful lot of intercounty stuff from the whole season. But after the All-Ireland, you would get sent to a lot of county finals and [provincial club] finals. It's great to cover club games as well. You'd see teams you normally wouldn't or players you normally wouldn't, some of the emotions.
"Éire Óg beating Portlaoise was a bit of a surprise. So I ran onto the field. You can shoot a picture with a long lens like I did with the Noel McGrath one, or you can run in afterwards. So I was running in. There was players hugging me! Sometimes when they're so into it, the players will hug you, and then go 'sorry' and run off! You get mixed up in the emotion of it.
"Jordan Morrissey shouted at me, and I don't know if he just saw a camera or thought it was someone else.
"They're just in that bubble of emotion, they don't see anything else. They're just screaming around, roaring. It's great to see the passion of the club games. When you go to the county finals, it means so much to the players as well."
The unseen hard work
While Semple Stadium boasts one of the finest playing surfaces in the country, it's not a natural phenomenon.
One example of the hard work was seen on a July weekend in 2015. The Kildare footballers had just eliminated Cork on the Saturday evening. But it was a quick turnaround for the ground-staff with a triple-header coming up on the Sunday including two All-Ireland Hurling Championship quarter-finals.
PÓM: "[I covered] both days.
"I was in Thurles, sitting under the stand somewhere sending my last few pictures, getting ready to go home. It was about 10pm. I was in a room, and I couldn't see the pitch. But I just heard the lawnmower going off. 'That's a picture I can't ignore! I can't go home now!'
"If someone's cutting the grass, they have a light of some description that they can see. I went out - Pa Bourke who used to play for Tipp had one floodlight on, and they were just cutting the grass, making sure it was in good nick because they had the early start the next day.
"Semple Stadium is so well-kept, and people don't see the effort put into it.
"Thurles doesn't just happen on its own - it's not special grass down there!"