Poor Mayo. It was a heart-breaking defeat once again for the people of the west, particularly for the players who played so well against a much-fancied Dublin outfit in the All-Ireland football final last Sunday. The devastation and pain was palpable within the magnificent Croke Park stadium. Leaving emotion aside, I feel that Mayo were the architects of their own downfall.
They had Dublin rattled for most of the game. After conceding a goal after only two minutes when Dublin forward Con O’Callaghan finished off a slick Dublin attack. I thought that O’Callaghan over-carried the ball but Cavan referee Joe McQuillan thought otherwise. I thought that McQuillan had a poor game throughout. He allowed a lot of ‘off-the-ball’ incidents to go unpunished. He was inconsistent with his definition of fouling. He got the two sending offs correct but overall, his performance was frustrating to say the least. Mayo fans felt aggrieved with his display.
However, Mayo still had the control of the game’s ultimate outcome. Cillian O’Connor missed a vital close-in free just before half-time. Although he scored seven points, O’Connor wasn’t at his best last Sunday. Jason Doherty missed a great goal chance early into the second half which would have put Mayo into a fantastic position.
Going into the final stages of the game, Dublin’s Jason Small was sent off for a shoulder charge into Colm Boyle but, more crucially Mayo’s Donal Vaughan followed through with an elbow into the face of Small which earned him a straight red card. It was a red mist moment for Vaughan. Had he stayed on the pitch, Mayo with a man advantage would probably have gone on to win this game.
It was a riveting contest. The whole of Ireland has the greatest of respect for Mayo’s courage and endeavour. This is their ninth All-Ireland defeat since 1989. One cannot but feel great sympathy for the players who have put their lives on hold in their quest for the ultimate prize. They will return to their full-time jobs shortly without any reward that would ease the burden on losing a final. If these guys were paid professionals, then the pain may be slightly lessened. They are not and I believe that it our amateur status which sets us apart from other sports. That raw ‘will to win’ is very much evident in our Gaelic games. That’s what makes Mayo’s defeat so much more heart-breaking. Time and Gaelic football have to move on and so will Mayo.
Step back 25 years ago. We did last Sunday when we were guests of the GAA hierarchy. The 1992 All-Ireland winning Donegal team were shown the other side of the GAA machine. We were ushered with military precision to different locations around the glamourous inner sanctuaries of GAA headquarters. There’s a whole different world in there that the ordinary individual never sees. An army of well-dressed officials are at hand to ensure that people don’t get lost and more especially that you stay within the parameters which your colour coded wristband allows. There are bars, restaurants, shops and impressive conference facilities.
We mingled with various dignitaries and celebrities. Among those were Daithi O’Se, Brian Cowen, Bishop Donal McKeown, Terry McEniff and a little man called Michael D. Higgins. I’m sure there were others but these were the people whom I encountered.
We were feted at a luncheon banquet where we were presented with a sterling silver GAA medal engraved with the words “All-Ireland Senior Football Jubilee 2017 Dun Na nGall” by GAA President, Aogán Ó Fearghail.
Soon after, we were whisked out to the Premium Level Food and Beverage area before been taken through a series of corridors and into the players’ tunnel. Lined up in order as we played on the day 25 years ago, we were told by a tall well-versed young TV lady what we should do when our names were called. For us, it was all very amusing. We were then paraded onto the Croke Park pitch where we were individually introduced to the crowd. To be honest, very few in this vast arena paid much heed.
After our few minutes of glory, we were marched back up to the Premium Level and shown our seats at the very back in the corner of the Hogan Stand. We were miles from the action and binoculars would have been a great idea. But for a small monitor in front of us, it would have been impossible to keep up with play. Even being shoved into a corner, it would have been great to have our siblings with us. Indeed, it has been 25 years and most of us have grown-up children. They are our nearest and dearest and I would have liked above all the pomp and ceremony to have them there. I tried to secure tickets for my two daughters through some well-placed sources but to no avail. I absolutely hate having to beg for tickets but, I did. I believe that our own County Board should have used their influence to supply the ‘legends of 1992’ with a couple of tickets (we would have, of course, paid for them) for our siblings.
This was the only disappointing downside to our magnificent weekend. Certain people deserve our thanks. These include Philip McGlynn, Anthony Molloy, Manus Boyle, Joyce McMullin, Tony Boyle and Brian McEniff. They co-ordinated the weekend and ensured our stay in the Skylon Hotel was comfortable and most enjoyable. I again want to thank Magees for togging us out for our 25 years celebrations.
All in all, it was great to meet with all my former playing colleagues and reminisce about the good times and not so good. Until we meet again, keep the faith!