Mist over Mayo reflects post-match gloom

Candles, prayers and eight centuries of anticipation at Ballintubber Abbey

It could be that chocolate Sam Maguire cup made by a Castlebar confectioner or Jimmy Lawlor's artwork on a Kilmeena gable wall – if there were points for supporters' creativity, Mayo would have won them all.

Instead, a dawn mist caught the post-match mood on Sunday morning – a fog thick as cotton wool and moist with many tears. It rose up from the waters of Lough Mask, carpeting the Partry mountains and Croagh Patrick and extending to the Nephins way beyond.

On the Mask shoreline, where every old Ford car had been spray painted and angling boats recommissioned as plant pots in county colours, a struggling sun failed to dispel the general gloom. Just 12 hours before, those who hadn't been fortunate enough to travel east had converged on hostelries like Corley's in Ballintubber to cheer the home team on.

The cheers had a particular ferocity as Mayo captain Cillian O'Connor, his brother Diarmuid and All-Star player Alan Dillon are from this parish. Its abbey marking the start of the Tóchar Phádraig pilgrim route was built 800 years ago this year. And so, within Corley's bar and lounge, there was a sense of eight centuries of anticipation,making light of a wait of 65 years.


“They dare to hope” proclaimed a line from Lamentations within the chapel, while Corley’s was lined with candles and bedecked in bunting as groups gathered around two screens.

“We thought it might be a bit like the deserted village, as so many people were lucky enough to get tickets,”Hugh Corley, the hostelry owner, said.

As the whooping turned to roars for Lee Keegan's goal for Mayo in the 17th minute, bar staff Nicole Williams and Nomee Denning served up baskets of hot snacks on the house. Williams could barely contain her excitement, at times unable to look at the screen.

Mayo was "not getting enough out of its inside forwards", one voice whispered, amid the ripple of delight each time the players gained possession. The consensus was that the off-ball scraps made it a difficult game for the linesmen and for Maurice Deegan, the referee.

A family party, including Michael Summerville, his wife Carmel, and his sister Mary Lally, were transfixed in the first half - only breathing properly at half time. Several neighbours retreated for a smoke at that point, while others strolled over to the abbey grounds to say a few hopeful prayers.

As the county fortunes ebbed and flowed in the second half, necks craned, shoulders tensed, and cheers were interspersed with sighs. A hands-clapping, foot- stomping chant for “Maigh Eo” rose to a crescendo in the last few minutes. Then, a stunned silence, a sense of disbelief,as the final whistle blew.

"Distraught,"Michael Summerville confessed, as his neighbour Seamus Jordan tried to find the bright side of the situation.

“Most of those men have been in four finals, and this was to have been their year,”Summerville and Jordan agreed. “ We know Cillian would have loved to have been back here with the Sam on Tuesday, but they really couldn’t have done more than they did today.”

Over in Roscommon county, there was a similar sense of respect and admiration, interspersed with moments of disappointment and despair. Ballaghaderreen has strong ties with Mayo when it comes to Gaelic football. Pub owners in the town have been known to draw chalk lines to separate competing fans on occasions when the two counties might meet.

"We're Roscommon through and through, but we're with Mayo this weekend, and my son Thomas just adores Andy Moran,"pub owner Anne Mannion said.

“That team fought as hard as it could have. So if most of Mayo turns out for the Castlebar homecoming, we will all be there in spirit too.”

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times