Cynic Top 3 | Glorious Failure | Celtic, Ireland and….the Islanders!?

Ever wondered what we think about random topics? Then this feature is for you! Each week we will pose a question to three cynics and they will answer in list form. This week in the Cynic Top 3 we ask Chris, Matt and Ryan to suck it up and revisit some of the hardest moments of being a sports fan: the gruesome glorious failure.


First up: Chris Gallacher looks back on three gut-wrenching close calls involving Celtic

Seville looms large over any recollection of glorious failure. Coming back from the brink on two occasions and refusing to relent until the numbers game killed us. Every player gave everything and we pushed a far superior team to their limits and beyond. That’s my definition of glorious failure.

The difference between glory and failure in European football is all about small margins. Tiny lapses in concentration lead to disaster but glorious failure isn’t about a group stage loss or just missing out on Champions League qualification, no….that’s regular failure.

Glorious failure is pushing yourself and your opponent to a level you didn’t think possible. It’s about having McManus and Caldwell as your central defence in the highest level of European competition and actually competing. It’s about David Hannah taking on Paul Ince at Anfield and coming out on top.

It’s about taking on AC Milan in the last 16 of the European Cup……



AC Milan 1 – 0 Celtic (7/3/2007)

Gordon Strachan did what Martin O’Neill could never do, he got Celtic into the knockout stages of the Champions League. In 2007, after coming through a group that included Manchester United, Benfica and Copenhagen, Celtic were drawn with AC Milan. A glamour tie. A tie that had you telling people: “Absolutely no way we are knocking AC Milan out of the European Cup.”

But deep down you’re thinking…..”Maybe.”

Milan had scraped through to the last 16 from a group that contained a very talented Lille team but also an unremarkable AEK Athens and a bang average Anderlecht side. However, this was AC Milan. A true European giant. They had Kaka, Pirlo and Seedorf and we had Lennon, Sno and Jarosik.

On paper there was no competition. It should’ve been a standard, though hard fought, victory for Milan. BUT it wasn’t. I mean it really wasn’t.

In the first leg at Celtic Park, it was more like two fighters in the early rounds of a boxing match sounding each other out than a football match. Few jabs here and there but nothing fatal landed by either side. Milan were in control for most of the game but we had forays forward and Strachan’s quick counter attacking style caused problems.

After the first leg the press had us eliminated because we hadn’t scored but I always saw it as a positive result. No away goals conceded and I mean how bad could we be away from home in the Champions League right? I vividly remember Gilardinho diving for a penalty that night and started to think, they’re diving because they can’t beat us…..I was almost right.

Going into the away leg with it poised at 0-0 we really had nothing to lose. Early on we were denied a STONE WALL PENALTY when Maldini handled it but the referee was having none of it.

Celtic were excellent in Italy. A collective organism pushing and pulling together, well-organised and determined and the Milan team full of superstars couldn’t break us down. Yes we rode our luck at times but that’s part of the game. Boruc was magnificent, pulling off three sensational stops. We rarely looked like scoring but this Celtic side were about hard work and graft. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a difference maker in the side: no Larsson or Dembele, but we did have the guile of Nakamura and determination of McDonald.

We took Milan to extra time and, for a brief moment we had the prospect of potential penalties: a doorway to the Quarter Finals of the Champions League. A real opportunity with Boruc in goal.

Then Kaka scored THAT goal…

The goal that’s always part of any highlight package of his career. The goal that put Milan through. The goal that gave us the bittersweet taste of glorious failure.

It has to be one of the biggest regrets of Neil Lennon’s career that he didn’t absolutely flatten Kaka at the half way line. True Kaka was performing a Rogic-esque half turn but Lennon had a small bite but just couldn’t get at him. It would’ve been the textbook cynical half way line foul but he just didn’t have the energy. The team, and fans, were sapped of energy by that point. They had no more to give and we were eliminated.

Celtic were as close to the Quarter Finals as they are likely to ever be again. Milan would go on to conquer Europe for the 7th time that season but my god we pushed them further than even we thought possible.



Celtic 2 – 2 Liverpool (16/9/1997)

There is nothing I hate more than a ‘Battle of Britain’. Particularly in the 90s. The English Premier League was well on its way to becoming the hype machine it is today. The tiresome ‘best league in the world’ patter wasn’t quite there yet as Serie A was still in its pomp but post Euro 96/pre France 98 optimism was bristling through English football.

A stuttering Celtic, under Wim Jansen, was drawn against Liverpool in the first round of the UEFA cup. The media coverage was excruciating and condescending, a fixture that was essentially a bye for Liverpool. I remember being extremely worried about facing an English side, in fact I still am. I understand Celtic always tend to turn up against the brash, cocky English sides and give them a dose of reality but at that stage I hadn’t seen Celtic against an English side in a competitive fixture.

This is obviously the season Celtic stopped the 10. It was a glorious campaign in retrospect but at the beginning of the season we were fairly inconsistent. It was understandable with a new manager being brought in and the pressure of a monumental task to stop history on the agenda.

Our UEFA Cup run thus far had been pretty bonkers. Knocking eight past Inter CableTel without reply in the first qualifying round and the second round a more dramatic 7-5 aggregate victory over Tirol Innsbruck. That second leg, which I listened to on the radio, is one of my favourite Celtic memories. Going ahead, going behind, last minute goals. Utter drama. Utter madness.

Going into a game with Liverpool didn’t fill me with confidence. Liverpool were a decent if wholly inconsistent Premier League team under Roy Evans and would end up ‘the best of the rest’ with Arsenal and United a class above everyone else.

This was the Michael Owen breakout season and he would go on to become Liverpool’s top scorer as well as one of the top scorers in England that season. Liverpool had some great players in their team, McManaman pre-Real Madrid, Ince post-Inter, Riedle had scored in the Champions League final the season before.

We had a team that was finding its feet under a new manager. Larsson was a new addition to the club at that point. Donnelly and McNamara were breathing some youthful enthusiasm into the team and Burley was starting to flex his midfield muscles. In midfield we also had David Hannah, who actually excelled in this tie, and Morten Wieghorst. Big Morten had a great season but never really kicked on due to injury and various other things, but a great player on his day.

The match itself was frenetic and really was like an old fashioned cup tie. Neither side had the best defence, and added to that, Rieper was unavailable for Celtic. It was a typical blood and thunder affair. Of course Liverpool took the lead early doors via Owen: a simple ball in behind and the striker was one on one. Superb finish and composure, but always thought Gould could’ve done better.

At that point I genuinely thought we’d get a doing but Celtic had a resolve that season, a never say die spirit and we began to play pretty well. Then in the second half we started to really press Liverpool and McNamara scored a great, if lucky, goal. Attacking Bjornby down the right, he did a one two with Burley and got a lucky break of the ball and GOAL! Absolute delight.


It was attack and then counter from both teams but Celtic broke well in the 72nd minute and Wieghorst hit an unbelievable through ball for Larsson who went one on one with James and BOOM…..penalty. I actually think it should’ve been a red card but the ref gave a yellow.

Tension. Utter insufferable tension. Then Donnelly’s penalty crashed off the bar and the tension was broken as it bounced over the line. It was 2-1 but there was still 20 minutes left. When the 89th minute came along Celtic were so close to glory, so close to a fully deserved victory…….SO CLOSE.

Then THAT McManaman goal. Another solo run. Another drop of the soldier. Another instance where SOMEONE should have chinned him but didn’t.

It’s a remarkable goal. The build-up play from the keeper to the centre backs, all the way to McManaman. An exquisite first touch, drop of the shoulder and outstanding finish. A goal fit to, eh, draw any match. That goal effectively killed the tie for Celtic. Two away goals conceded and nothing to protect.

The second leg was a non-event really. We were always in the game at 0-0 but never looked like scoring and on another day Liverpool probably would’ve had 2 goals. It was another delicious dose of glorious failure for Celtic but if only for that McManaman goal we could’ve hit the heady heights of Round 2 of the UEFA cup.



Celtic 1-2 Bordeaux (9/11/2000)

Martin O’Neill came to Celtic and like a whirlwind made us believe that we could take anyone on. Rangers were dispatched 6-2 in his first Glasgow derby. Chris Sutton was brought in from Chelsea and had not only hit the ground running but had started to develop a deadly partnership with a returning Henrik Larsson. This was the start of something truly remarkable for Celtic both domestically and in terms of European football but this first test was a toughie.

It had been 17 years since Celtic had got to the 3rd round of the UEFA Cup, which was an appalling statistic. The 90s was a decade that delivered next to nothing on a European scale, and any team of European stature would more than likely put us to the sword.

We were drawn with Bordeaux, a team with pedigree. UEFA cup finalist in 1996 and full of quality players. French Internationalists like Christophe Dugarry and Lilian Laslandes were joined by Marc Wilmots, Pauletta. Smertin and Roche. A team chock filled with quality and experience. They’d got to the 2nd group stage of the Champions League the year before and knew how to play in Europe.

O’Neil didn’t have the opportunity to flip the squad the way he would’ve liked but it was freshened up with the aforementioned Sutton, Valgaeren and Agathe. Petrov in central midfield was like a new player and Moravcik was as always magical.

The first leg was the support’s first gauge in seeing how far we had come in a short period of time under O’Neil. Bordeaux had that free ranging player in Dugarry that Celtic always struggled with as had been witnessed when up against Prosenecki and Riquelme: picking up these pockets of space and gliding through the game. Dugarry scored from a corner as Bordeaux went 1-0 but instead of the inevitable crumble Celtic instantly hit back. Larsson, back on French soil since that horrific injury against Lyon, won and scored a penalty a few minutes later.

The rest of the game Celtic showed great composure. Held their shape really well and occasionally threatened. The defence stood up and was strong and you started to get the feeling that Celtic in Europe was a different proposition. Dugarry still floated and the bar was missing a few coats of paint by the end of the match but Celtic’s first test under O’Neil was a success.

The second leg is one of the most exciting games of football I’ve ever been to. The expectation of the crowd created a buzz that clearly effected the players. Celtic absolutely dominated the football and created chance after chance but continually failed to take their opportunities. Early in the second half Lubo scored a great goal low and tight into the bottom right hand corner and at that point I remember thinking it was a case of just how many we’d score. However, this is Celtic in Europe and from a position of strength we conceded with 10 minutes to go, Bordeaux got a fully undeserved equaliser.

As we pushed forward we continued to create opportunities but the crowd sensed the inevitable counter attack. It should be pointed out that we hadn’t competed like this in Europe in a long while and there was an almost apparent lack of consequence for our attacking play. Celtic should have played a more intelligent game but alas in injury time – A raking pass, a ball taken on the chest and volleyed across Gould and the inevitable sucker punch. Another magnificent individual piece of brilliance, this time Laslandes the villain of the piece: glory to glorious failure in the blink of an eye.


I think a palate cleanser is needed after all that misery snatched from the jaw of joyousness. Matt Evans is up next to tell us about why Ice Hockey can also be a punch to the stomach.



New York Islanders 3 – 2 Washington Capitals (18/4/1987 – 19/4/1987)

It was April 18, 1987. And then it was midnight and it was April 19, Easter Sunday, and the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals were still out on the ice. The deciding Game 7 of the NHL Patrick Division playoff semifinals had gone into its fourth sudden-death overtime after a pulsating three periods of 2-2 hockey. Players, referees, coaches, and 18,000 fans in the arena and millions watching in a national TV audience were exhausted.

And then it was all over. The “Easter Epic” was won by Islanders’ talisman forward Pat LaFontaine after 8:47 of the fourth overtime, smashing a slap shot off the goalpost and into the net. It was just shy of 2 AM on the East Coast and my kid-energy reserves had gone sometime around the second overtime, a glorious failure of my own. I was fast asleep on the couch. It had been the longest game in NHL playoff history.

It was an understandably weary team who faced the Philadelphia Flyers in the next round. Improbably, the Isles reversed series deficits of 1-0 and 3-1 to force another Game 7, but another Epic was not in the offing as Philadelphia smashed them 5-1 to win the series.



1993 Stanley Cup

Fast-forward six years, it’s 1993, I’m 13, and the Islanders are coming off five largely forgettable seasons. They barely manage to sneak into the top 8 spots in the league to make the playoffs, and their first-round opponent is – guess who – the Washington Capitals. This time, the Caps are beaten in six, but the series victory is marred by Capitals player Dale Hunter’s on-ice assault of Islanders forward (and total shitebag, but that’s another story) Pierre Turgeon while Turgeon celebrated a goal.

The next hurdle was massive – a series with the regular season’s best team and two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The teams traded victories in a free-flowing, high-scoring series, and the Islanders won Game 7 in the first overtime, very much against the run of play all game. It was journeyman David Volek who scored the goal to win it, and to this day I can still remember the TV commentary, the silence of the losing arena in Pittsburgh, the joyful shouts of the underdog victors.

And then, again, after the glory, the failure. The Islanders had toppled the past year’s champions but were dispatched in five games in the next round by the Montreal Canadians, who would go on to become the 1993 Stanley Cup winners. Yet another glorious failure in the playoffs for the Islanders but it was not to be the last.



New York Islanders v Toronto Maple Leafs, 2002

Moving on, now. It’s 2002. The glory years of the Islanders are well and truly behind them, their archrivals the New York Rangers ascendant after their 1994 Stanley Cup victory. The Isles had endured seven seasons of utter and complete disarray on and off the ice, but their best regular season in nearly 20 years earned them a spot in the playoffs. Their opponents would be the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The series was as physical, ugly and vicious as any I can recall in three decades of watching NHL hockey. The Leafs won the first two in Toronto, the series then going to Long Island where the Islanders won Games 3 and 4 to get back on level terms. Game 4 was an all-time classic, the Isles winning 4-3 courtesy of a Shawn Bates penalty shot – which sixteen years later remains the last great postseason moment for the franchise. In the middle of that brutal series, Bates’ moment of glory stands out that much more.

Islanders fans didn’t have to wait long this time for the bottom to fall out. The Maple Leafs turned Game 5 into a street fight. An ugly open-ice hit destroyed Islander captain Michael Peca’s knee, and Isles defenseman Kenny Jonsson was the victim of an illegal check and exited the game with a concussion. The Isles were able to summon the strength to win Game 6 despite injuries to two vital players, but could not find that bit of magic, and lost this Game 7.


And now: an Irish perspective from Ryan Clarke.


2018 FAI Cup Semi-Final

Summer 2018, the Bohemian renaissance was well and truly under way. The FAI Cup was in our sights for the first time in a decade. Bohs had scored 34 goals and conceded just 6 in the run to the FAI Cup semi-final. Nobody could beat us in this form.

The atmosphere before the game was almost indescribable. Dalymount’s old foundations were buckling under the weight of expectation. It was a rising feeling of delirium, one that was steadily reaching boiling point until Dinny Corcoran put us ahead in the 67th minute.

The outpouring of emotion when that goal went in was cathartic, a club that was on its knees for all of this decade had finally awoken once again. For those brief few moments all we could dream about was the Cup draped in red and black Bohs ribbons.

But we all know what happened next.

Whether it was or wasn’t a penalty doesn’t matter anymore, the pain of when the referee blew his whistle will forever be singed into the very core of me.

700 Bohs fans made the trip down to Cork for the replay, where our journey ended. Although Ian Morris’ 45-yard thunderbastard was a small consolation, it was the perfect metaphor for our cup run; it made us dream.



THAT Bob Marley jersey

If anything can summarise this year for Bohemians it is undoubtedly ‘glorious failure.’ From the way they lost in the semi-final of the cup, to that other thing that happened this year.

Of course I’m talking about the Bob Marley away jersey that the club unveiled in October, to commemorate that one time he held a concert in Dalymount.

Within the first few hours of Bohs taking pre-orders for the strip it had sold out. Club officials said it had sold more than the previous two away jerseys combined.

For a club whose merchandise revenue for all of 2017 was just over €71,000, the cash to be made from this would help Bohs close the gap on the clubs who make bank from European money.

One of Bob Marley’s sons even proclaimed, ‘This is the dopest shirt I’ve ever seen.’ Maybe because he seen the publicity the jersey was getting and sensed a major payday coming.

And that’s when the game was up. Bohemians thought they could side-step any legal issues by purchasing the rights to a Shutterstock drawing inspired by Marley’s image.

With their tail firmly between their legs, the club pulled the jersey and redesigned it after ‘consultation’ with the Marley estate.


France 1 – 1 Republic of Ireland (18/11/2009)

The World Cup qualification play-off against France in 2009 was the first time in my memory I was excited about Ireland in international football. Giovanni Trapattoni had come in and sacrificed any last remaining shred of creativity we had in the pursuit of defensive solidity. But I didn’t care about any of that at the time, Ireland were winning again and that’s all that mattered to this ignorant child.

The French won the first leg in Dublin 1-0, but I was convinced we could beat Henry et al. back in Paris. And that is exactly what we did, all the while going toe-to-toe with the French. The players ignored Trap’s ultra-defensive game plan to play their own game.

Duff was like a bolt of lightning down the left-wing and when he cut the ball back, all Robbie Keane had to do was place the ball past Hugo Lloris.

I was in disbelief.

We had beaten France in Paris over 90 minutes and took the game to extra-time. But because this is Ireland, it was always destined to be glorious failure. 13-year-old Ryan just hadn’t realised this fact of life yet.

Henry handles the ball twice, William Gallas scores the winner for France and Ireland miss out on a trip to South Africa 2010. And try as they might, life goes on.

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