Remembering Liam Watson's 3-7 on All-Ireland club final day
Liam Watson never did things the normal way.
He was his own man, on the pitch and off it. Unapologetic for it. The man doesn't regret a thing.
"People say I was hard to manage, but when I was shown love, there's not a better trainer than me. When managers didn't treat me with respect, that's when I found it hard to give anything back," he tells SportsJOE.
Approaching his 37th year, Watson still feels he has plenty left to give.
"Ask any defender from the Antrim championship this year and they'll tell you I was one of their toughest opponents. I just don't understand it. If you watched the Antrim semi-finals this year, a lot of people said I was the best player on show... but I didn't get a call from Antrim, not even for a trial or anything..."
"So I didn't see a challenge, and that was one of the reasons I decided to retire..."
Watson will be missed. To be the best you must be different in some way and Watson was one of Antrim's finest.
An illuminating talent, a summer's day in 2010 summed the madness of Liam Watson up. The sublime and the ridiculous. Watson mixed them like dilute and rolled them into one. Often on the same day, sometimes in the same minute.
All-Ireland quarter final time and Antrim are still standing for the first time in a long time.
Cork are the opposition and the Saffrons are written off but Liam Watson nearly beats them on his own. Six from play off Eoin Cadogan, Watson ripped up trees that day but it wasn't a straight forward hero in defeat narrative.
It was never that straight forward with the gifted Antrim forward.
John Gardiner played a cute one and Watson lashed out. He was never one to hold back. A second yellow as the game got away from Antrim.
There were some amazing days. Watson will be forever remembered for his 3-7 masterclass in the 2012 All-Ireland club final. That was an iconic performance on the biggest day of all, when his all-round mastery of forward play condemned the Offaly side to an eight point defeat.
Watson hit 1-5 from frees that day, and also added 2-2 from open play on a day when everything he touched turned to gold.
He should also be cheered for the blaze of glory he left on the competition that whole year, that propelled his club to a magnificent triumph.
0-16 against Na Piarsaigh in the semi-final, Watson hit six from play against the Limerick giants.
Loughgiel Shamrocks remain the only ever Ulster club to have won an All-Ireland (they also won it in 1983.) It took something special. Watson was their trump card.
That's his favourite memory in the game.
"It's one of the biggest achievements in club hurling history. I'm watching Tommy Walsh doing it in Division Two now with his club and saying it means more than anything he's done, and that's exactly how I felt back then. To do it with family, friends and for your parish, it's unbelievable like and those days with Loughgiel were something else"
He'd keep it up the following year too, when Loughgiel almost did it again.
Nobody in Parnell Park will forget his stone cold show-stopper against St Thomas', when Loughgiel looked a ripped docket. Three down in extra-time, they won a 21.
Watson stepped up and he stuck it in the roof past 12 men. This man had something most don't.
"That was a bit of a crazy one alright. We had it won and lost. I'll never forget one of our back men ringing me after and thanking me for saving us..."
Liam Watson never did things the normal way.
He was his own man on the pitch and off it.
But he was one of Antrim's best hurlers, and he will always be remembered for his finest hour in Croke Park.
The day he scored 3-7 in the All-Ireland club final.
Happy retirement Liam 👋 pic.twitter.com/dqeIjwTslK
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) December 3, 2019
Then there's Antrim.
They say geniuses are flawed and if not flawed, Watson was certainly divisive.
He had a complicated relationship with his own county. He loved some managers, like Dinny Cahill, but others left him out and they got it in the neck. He hasn't pucked a ball for his county since 2016. He was in and out since 2002.
Watson is never shy to express his views on Twitter. He believed in his own ability.
And though he fell in and out of love with the game, hurling always won him back.
Like in 2017, when he felt harshly treated by Antrim. Warwickshire called and Watson said why not. He inspired them to only their second ever Lory Meagher title, scoring 0-11 against Leitrim in the final.
He'd toast that one in a Jacuzzi.
After winning all ireland at 34.. only way to keep fit is keep at it #recovery#watsylife pic.twitter.com/VanCeyFtA9
— liam watson (@liamwatson5) June 11, 2017
That would be his final big triumph and now, after a whirlwind career, Watson is done.
"I regret absolutely nothing."
After a long hard few months I have decided to retire from hurling altogether. Am very lucky to have achieved nearly the lot in the sport. I've market some great players down threw my time. I regret absolutely nothing, i want to thank my family for there support over the yrs🔴⚪
— liam watson (@liamwatson5) December 2, 2019
Watson always did it his own way, and you'd have to admire him for that.