Journey's end for Mayo and Donegal

 

It is the All-Ireland football final that nobody dreamed possible and after everything is said, it is about journeys.

A midweek flight from O’Hare airport in Chicago was delayed by several hours and the passenger list was comprised almost exclusively of Mayo and Donegal people, coming back for tomorrow’s match. The mood was celebratory and anticipatory: come what may, they are in this together.

Mayo expatriates can map the passing decades with these transatlantic September voyages – 1989, 1996, 1997, 2004 and 2006 each provoked similar homecomings. But the real transportation – to a first All-Ireland title since 1951 – awaits them.

For Donegal football people, this has been a novel trip: from nowhere to an All-Ireland final in two years.

This north-by-northwest All-Ireland has captured the general imagination.

In two years, Mayo manager James Horan and Donegal manager Jim McGuinness have transformed their county teams. Mayo 2012 are tougher, quieter and less flamboyant than the stereotypical Mayo teams. And Donegal have locked their freewheeling and cavalier style into a formidable regimen of collective power and defensive excellence.

Mayo are the popular favourites having been the bridesmaids so often.

Donegal – the rolling stone that gathers no moss – have won sway with the bookies but the odds are shortening all the time, with a flurry of slips placed on Mayo yesterday. But the bigger story is that both counties have made it to this special place in the same season. That alone has made for a radically different feel to this year’s showpiece.

Nobody wants to miss this. Half of the crowd on that flight from Chicago flew home without tickets. Even if they can’t be in Croke Park, they will be home.

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