Surreal Mayo relish their day
GAA:THIS GAELIC football summer of fabulousness and heartbreak yesterday confirmed itself as unforgettable. Mayo, the team who supposedly could not score, manufactured a staggering 19 points to send Dublin, the reigning All-Ireland champions, out of the championship with much to ponder.
Mayo being Mayo, this latest semi-final coup was Break-On-Through-To-The-Other-Side surreal. After one dazzling series of attacks, they led the All-Ireland champions by a full 10 points with 19 minutes to go. At that point, Dublin seemed to flirt with outright humiliation only to suddenly redeem their pride with a late burst which saw them close the gap to just two points.
The city’s summer will forever spin on that chance in front of the Hill in the 67th minute: a perfectly measured ball from young Ciarán Kilkenny to the waiting arms of Bernard Brogan, who turned to face Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke. The snap shot was quick and clean; the save brilliant.
In that second, the full house of 81,364 was in disbelief because the inevitable hadn’t happened. Brogan had not scored. The Hill had not erupted. And crucially, Mayo had stayed in front. On it rumbled: chaotic and magnificent entertainment.
“It was torture, to be honest,” Mayo boss James Horan said of those closing minutes. But it was exquisite torture for the Westerners and it ended 0-19 to 0-16.
The final whistle, after six minutes of injury-time, cleared the deck of the last of the establishment counties to confirm that this is a new time.
Mayo will face Donegal in what will be the first Ulster-Connacht All-Ireland final since 1948. These are heady days indeed for the former members of the old Congested Districts Board.
“They are playing good football,” Horan, the victorious manager, said of Donegal in his delightfully understated way.
“I suppose so are we. It will be interesting. Two different styles. Donegal have beaten all before them. As have we.”
For the second summer in a row under Horan, Mayo have methodically bucked the odds and the All-Ireland champions and now they are back in their first All-Ireland final since 2006 and their sixth September showdown since their last bonfire year of 1951.
But there is something about Mayo under Horan.
Yes, they played some pretty football yesterday, with Jason Doherty, Kevin McLoughlin and Alan Dillon landing gorgeous scores during the period when Dublin looked like a pale imitation of last year’s outfit. But it is their temperament – the bit of flint and cussedness – that has set them apart. Mayo have become a team that refuses to lose. They didn’t accept the injury to Andy Moran as an excuse and after Lee Keegan (broken finger) and Chris Barrett (busted nose) and Kevin McLoughlin (busted head) all left the field, they refused to let that weigh them down either.
“You can’t win it if you are not in it,” said Michael Conroy, who Horan brought back from a five-year exile. “We had nothing to lose. Andy Moran was gone. Nobody gave us a chance. We wanted to play right to the bitter end. One down or five up, it doesn’t matter. You keep going and that is something James Horan has instilled in us. You just keep going. We have knocked out the All-Ireland champions for the last two years and haven’t won the All-Ireland. So there is no good knocking them out unless you win it .”