Paddy McCarthy scored six goals in his 151 appearances for Crystal Palace. A threat in the box and disruptive at set plays, McCarthy was far from an ineffective defender pushing forwards but his goal tally didn’t scream prolific.
One afternoon in 2008, though, the centre-back would write himself into Palace goalscoring history with one of the most remarkable strikes the south Londoners have netted this century.
“It was on the back of us having an attacking set play,” McCarthy recalls, taking a pause from his duties as the Under-18 Head Coach as the day winds to a close. “The ball came back to me, I think Nick Carle played it across the midfield. I’d taken a touch and there wasn’t an awful lot of options.
“It seemed to me all the players were running towards me and one of the players, Clint Hill I think it was, just said: ‘Shoot!’ I thought: ‘Yeah, why not?’ I didn’t see any other option other than to shoot so I just put my laces through it and managed to get good contact on it and it’s flown straight into the top corner which was an unbelievable feeling at the time.”
Just three minutes in to a Championship clash with Derby County, McCarthy’s heroics spectacularly earned his new club the lead in an otherwise quiet season. Palace would go on to win the match at Pride Park 1-2 and finish their 2008/09 campaign in 15th, three places and two points ahead of fellow relegation battlers Derby.
In that context, McCarthy’s goal made all the difference.
But for the future Palace captain and despite the jubilant celebrations of his teammates, the glory of scoring the club’s eventual Goal of the Season would be short-lived.
“I think Neil Warnock was probably a little bit in disbelief himself,” McCarthy recalls with a laugh. “I think he was telling me to stop acting the idiot and get back in and defend. He wasn’t overly complimentary. He knew what my strengths were, he wanted me to get back in and do my job which I was more than happy to do.
“Then not so long after the goal I ended up getting a nice broken nose by an ex-teammate of mine, Luke Varney. He smashed my nose real good in the first-half. So I came back from Derby with a nose that still to this day hasn’t been put back in place and a Goal of the Season award.”
Warnock refusing to heap praise onto his marauding centre-back didn’t faze McCarthy much, mind, who today says that scoring was always icing on the cake of a solid defensive performance.
He says: “I used to get in some good positions and I scored some good goals throughout my career but I probably didn’t score as much as I should have or as much as I wanted to. It was probably normally two or three a season that I’d chip in with. I used to enjoy going forward for set plays and I probably should have really scored from a few more.
“It’s always a great feeling scoring the goal but, typical destroyer/defender’s mentality, I used to buzz more off clean sheets than I did off actually scoring. I know that was always my mentality. I used to just really love the art of defending and love blocking shots, putting my body in the way, organising and stuff like that and that’s what I used to really come away with.
“If I scored and we had a loss that day, the goal, if I’m being really honest with you, didn’t matter to me an awful lot. It was more keeping clean sheets, that’s what I used to love. That would always be my target at the start of the year and the start of each game: to keep the ball out the back of the net. But if I could chip in with a goal here and there and one of that sort of quality, I’d enjoy that as well.”
You’re not the only one to have enjoyed them, Paddy.