WHEN you have made the game-saving tackle in the 78th minute of a Challenge Cup final at Wembley, your recollection of the moment should not be the pressing need for a calf stretch.
Yet that was the first thing that sprang to mind for Danny Houghton, the tireless Hull FC hooker who etched himself into Wembley folklore on Saturday.
With his jaded side desperately hanging on to a 12-10 lead entering the final seconds, his lung-bursting effort to somehow deny Warrington Wolves’ Ben Currie a second try will be remembered as one of the great feats in the showpiece’s long history.
Houghton brilliantly brought the second-row down after he had brushed aside Marc Sneyd and Mark Minichiello.
It was just enough to see his opponent lose the ball when it seemed Currie was certain to score and break fragile Hull hearts yet again; the East Yorkshire club had waited 151 years to win at Wembley and this was their ninth attempt.
In the bowels of the stadium on Saturday night, Houghton, who has played for his hometown club all his career, was asked by The Yorkshire Post whether he still thought Currie might score despite his valiant effort?
“No. I saw him actually drop the ball so I knew, but I got a bit of cramp afterwards so I couldn’t really enjoy the moment,” he said.
“Someone stretched my calf out which was the more appropriate thing. A few people have spoken about the tackle but I’m sure if it was any of the other boys in that position they’d have done the same thing.
“It was just fortunate it was me there. But it’s not about me making that tackle; it’s about the boys and the character we’ve shown throughout the season.
“We deserve this. It’s been a long time coming, but we deserve this. They’re a great bunch.”
The response was typically self-effacing from the spirited 27-year-old, just what you would expect from the man who tops Hull’s tackle count weekly.
As coach Lee Radford revealed afterwards, the crucial effort on Currie was the 52nd tackle of his draining afternoon, a remarkable statistic which puts its worthiness into even greater context.
Houghton, in the Hull side when they lost the 2008 and 2013 finals at Wembley, continued: “I can’t believe it. My boyhood dream has come true.
“It’s the best feeling of my life other than the birth of my two children. It’s one I will really cherish. It’s so special.
“It’s been long-awaited for the club, not just because we’d not won at Wembley, but because this club belongs at the top.
“Hopefully this can put us back where we belong and we can push on for more success.”
Houghton, one of the few No 9s in the modern game to play the full 80 minutes, was holding the cup as he conducted interviews.
Still hardly able to talk more than an hour after the match had concluded, clearly exhausted, he seemed barely able to hold onto the famous trophy which suddenly looked and felt nearly as big as his 5ft 6ins frame.
His parting note? “My biceps are killing.”
There will, inevitably, be talk now about Houghton finally making the step up to make his England debut in the Four Nations.
Radford said as much afterwards – “he epitomisies what you want in a Test hooker; that heart wins you a Test series” – and few could argue if he did.
People regularly talk about his defensive appetite – Houghton is set to be Super League’s top tackler for the fourth time in the last six seasons – but there is so much more to his game: sniping runs, constant support play and fine kicking out of dummy-half.
There is quality competition; former Hull colleague Josh Hodgson is starring for Canberra Raiders, Daryl Clark impressed on Saturday for Warrington and there’s Test regular James Roby, too, but he must be close.
Lance Todd Trophy winner Sneyd said Houghton should have won man of the match while his colleagues were indebted. Captain Gareth Ellis said: “I missed Joe Westerman for him to go through before it got to Currie.
“I was crossing my fingers and everything. But there’s Mint (Houghton) making his 52nd tackle of the game mopping things up and allowing us all to have smiles on our faces at the end.
“To get back there, make that tackle and force an error, it earns you the Challenge Cup.”
Kirk Yeaman, the sole survivor of Hull’s 2005 Challenge Cup winning side, likened it to fellow hooker Richard Swain’s vital charge down that day in Cardiff.
“Danny was an absolute superstar as he has been throughout his career,” said the centre.
“That tackle was unbelievable. He’s an absolutely top bloke, a fantastic player and my best mate. I love him to bits.”
Prop Scott Taylor added: “There’s no other player I’ve ever played with who would have made that tackle. People talk a lot about Tom Briscoe’s effort on Peter Fox in the derby years ago, but I think everyone now will talk about the tackle Danny Houghton made in the Challenge Cup final on Ben Currie.
“My heart was in my mouth. I thought we’d lost it. Legend.”
A tearful Currie admitted: “I was only inches away from winning the game. I’ve watched the replay. For him to do that after playing 80 minutes every week is unreal. I thought he deserved the Lance Todd Trophy himself. Full credit to him.”