Elation, jubilation, desolation and resignation
Party begins in Dublin after glorious Croker win
Dublin fans celebrate while watching the All-Ireland football final on a big screen in Smithfield in Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
The margin didn’t matter.
Dublin won by a point.
Mayo lost by 62 years.
As the new All-Ireland champions celebrated in front of a sun-drenched Hill 16, the long-suffering supporters of the losing finalists could only watch and reflect on what might have been.
Must it forever be moonlight in Mayo?
Oh, but it was a great day to be a Dub, on an afternoon when the entire country wanted the other team to win.
This one was for Heffo.
A huge, blue-tinged image of the legendary Dublin manager, who died in January, flew high above the Hill yesterday. When captain Stephen Cluxton delivered Sam Maguire to the capital for the 24th time, Kevin Heffernan was looking on.
It made the moment all the more special.
And yet, in the wonderful euphoria that All-Ireland victory brings, it was hard not to feel for the Mayo fans.
Loyal and steadfast and ever-hopeful, yet returning West once more to nurse yet another year of unrequited passion.
If it was elation and jubilation for Dublin, it was desolation and resignation for Mayo.
The fire crackers erupted and golden tinsel showered down, Champions League style, on Croke Park.
The Dubs commenced their lap of honour, skipping and wheeling across the pitch, Sam’s silvery glint plotting their course. They danced on the Hill and they danced in the stands, with cockles and mussels alive alive oh! and their own Philo joyously confirming that the Boys Were Back in Town.
A colleague from Mayo stopped on his way out to watch the happy scenes. He drank it all in.
“It must be lovely” he said, wistfully. “I was just saying to John Maughan: It must be lovely.” What must be lovely? “Winning” he said. “Winning.”
There was no rancour. Just acceptance. Their mood music was hardly noticeable, we’re all inured at this stage to the sound of thousands of broken Mayo hearts.
It didn’t have to be that way.
Before the game, the streets around the ground were alive with promise – fans from both sides mingling and tingling with anticipation. It’s a uniquely Irish atmosphere, that irresistible feeling of Croke Park on the third Sunday in September.
The clamour for tickets outside the barriers seemed more urgent that usual. Mostly Mayo fans, wandering among the crowds holding up signs in the faint hope of securing a seat. You could sense they felt this, finally, was going to be their time.
But the Dubs, no stranger to the big time, had no intention of letting sentiment interfere with business. There was an air of fiesta in this riot of colour and unseasonal September sunshine.
“Hats, flags, headbands or de blowhorns!”
Mayo had a full dress rehearsal before the main event. It went well. Their team beat Tyrone to take the minor championship. With under an hour to go to the Senior decider, young Stephen Coen was lifting the cup and as the fans gave full-throated vent to “The Green and Red of Mayo”.
At last, it was time. The Artane Boys (and Girls) Band leading the parade. Excitement building.
All stand for the National Anthem and tears pricking the corners of your eyes until the emotion escapes and drowns out the final bars.
It was nerve-wracking stuff. Mayo drew ahead, the better team in the first half. But they were just a point ahead by the break.
The Dublin fans took most comfort from the score, reckoning that they had yet to play their trump card. Throughout the championship, when the crunch point arrived, the Dubs “hit them with the bench”. Or mobilised the subs. Both had the same effect.
In the second half, Dublin nudged ahead for the first time. It was unbearably close, yet one could sense Mayo spirits sinking. In the excruciating tension of that final quarter, there was never much between the teams. But Mayo pessimism was written on the tortured faces around us. They rallied with an equalising goal. Dublin got one back.
The Molly Malones became the Molly Blooms – Yes! Yes! Yes!
And the faithful Mayo supporters, silent, staring straight ahead and seeing their past.
They nibbled away at Dublin’s slim lead.
“Dublin, Keep Your Spire. We’ll Take the Sam Maguire. PS – You Can Keep Enda,” said one banner. “Come Back Sam. She’s Not Pregnant At All” read another.
But the optimism was ebbing away, while the Dubs pressed home. Glory for the home team and the party began.
Even Jim Gavin, the cool, poker-faced manager, allowed himself a smile. When Cluxton raised Sam, Gavin, an Air Corps instructor, looked up and gave him a crisp salute.
Afterwards, the fans were gracious in winning and in defeat. They left as friends, the victors sincerely assuring the vanquished: “Your day will come.”
But today belongs to Dublin.