Aoibhinn expects Sam to see moonlight in Mayo next week

Seventh All Ireland in 24 years to be ‘the one’

 Aoibhinn Ní  Shúilleabháin is convinced Mayo will win All-Ireland football final. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin is convinced Mayo will win All-Ireland football final. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin


Mayo senior footballers have brought only heartbreak to broadcaster Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin. How could it be otherwise for a Mayo woman born in 1983? She has seen her local heroes make it to within sight of the Promised Land six times in her young life, only for them to crash and burn with maximum disappointment at the moment of greatest possibility.

“I’ve left Croke Park broken-hearted on very many occasions,” she told The Irish Times, but as a living incarnation of that great Mayo tradition, the triumph of hope over experience.

“I always go. What makes Mayo fans different is that we always travel with hope in our hearts. It is the same again this year,” she added.

Asked why, she said the clubs in Mayo “are very tight. There’s a great community feeling . . . There’s endless hope.”

She is from Ballyglass, about 10 miles from Castlebar. One shop, one school, a Garda station, one GAA club, two pubs. Classic “gods make their own importance” territory, where all candidates for divinity play Gaelic football.

Included would be Aoibhinn’s classmate at school, Richie Feeney, Mayo senior footballer of the year in 2010, and Alan Dillon from the Ballintubber GAA club, an all-star in 2006.

There is also the current Zeus among Mayo GAA gods, James Horan. Also from the Ballintubber, he was an all-star in 1996 and 1999. He is widely believed to have breathed “bottle” into this Mayo side.

Another factor in Mayo’s endless hope is the loyalty of its emigrants. Few counties have as many. They include Aoibhinn’s grand-uncle George Gibbons, currently “Mayo Man of the Year in New York and avid Mayo fan . . . and there’s my Tourmakeady relatives in Chicago, all of whom will be watching next Sunday”.

At an academic conference in Turkey last week, where she presented a paper related to her PhD studies at Trinity College, people were fascinated to hear about the GAA.

“It does such a wonderful job at giving people a sense of belonging. Starting at 10, your club is your club. It is an amateur organisation and so different, so unique, with never any animosity between the fans. It is something we can be so proud of.”

As for next Sunday? She is convinced Mayo will win.

“This team deserves it,” she says.

Many Mayo people said so in 1989, 1996, 1997, 2004, 2006 and 2012 – but maybe 2013 is the year when hope will finally deliver for Mayo.