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Sport can be so cruel

Sport

ALONE WITH THEIR THOUGHTS  Mayo’s Brendan Harrison is pictured with his son Fionn after Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC Final. Pic: Sportsfile

A Fan’s View

John Gunnigan

IN an instant, all our hopes evaporated.
We’d gone toe-to-toe with Dublin right from the throw-in, but the free awarded to them deep into stoppage time always had the look of a decisive moment about it. Dean Rock duly obliged and so, for us, the dream had once again died.
The presentation ceremony was still in progress as we made our way out of the Lower Davin, shuffling away from the stadium amidst a sea of hushed, heartbroken supporters. Few spoke as we slowly and grimly trudged back out onto the North Circular Road. Words weren’t needed. A glance, a knowing look, was enough.
How different it had all been a few hours before then. Joining the throng on the Drumcondra Road just up from Fagan’s and seeing all that Mayo colour, brilliantly illuminated in the bright autumnal sunshine, confirmed that on the game’s biggest day, we were going to the show. We were once more gunning for glory.
We passed hundreds on the increasingly crowded pavements who desperately wanted to get to the game but didn’t have a ticket. All manner of improvised signs were held aloft pleading for the precious piece of paper that would gain them admittance to the cathedral of Gaelic games.
I’ve no idea how many of them made it in. As throw-in approached, however, and Croke Park began to fill up, it became increasingly obvious that another monstrous Mayo crowd had assembled.
The blue of Dublin owned the middle of Hill 16, but the wing to the right, as well as the bulk of the Nally Terrace, was green and red. We had a solid majority in the Cusack and good numbers in the Hogan. It was virtually all our crowd where we sat in the Lower Davin.
Support counts. We’ve proved that all summer long – in MacHale Park against Derry, down in Ennis against Clare and to telling effect in Limerick against Cork. But it was here in Croke Park – which this summer truly became a home from home for us – that we really made our presence felt.
The raucous, full-on support we’d given the team both days against Roscommon and Kerry was, in many ways, a dress rehearsal for the big one. We knew that, like the team, we needed to save the best for last. And like the lads out on the field, the supporters put in an All-Ireland final performance on Sunday.
We’re a battle-hardened lot now. On other days, that early goal for Dublin would have been a dagger to the heart, a setback that might ultimately have led to our cowed following spilling out of the ground – as had happened in ’04 and ’06 – shortly after half-time.
But nowadays, we treat major setbacks as no more than a minor irritant. Dublin had got their dream start, but we’d been handed the perfect opportunity to clear our throats.
Back the lads roared, the cacophonous Mayo following erupting as the points tumbled over the bar into the Davin end. Man-to-man battles were being won all over the field, Andy was on fire up front and we were asking serious questions of our much-vaunted opponents.
The going got tougher for us once the match got under way again after the break. Dublin’s now more experienced forward line were the ones taking the game to us.
But we were still hanging in there, and a massive surge of belief erupted within us once again when Lee Keegan smashed the ball to the net with a little less than 20 minutes to go.
At the finish, the final was decided – for the third time in five years in a decider against Dublin – by the tiniest of margins. Cillian’s free into the Hill 16 end didn’t make it, Rock’s one soon after into the other end did.
In a contest so finely poised all day, that was enough to send the Dublin support once more into raptures and, yet again, plunge the Mayo faithful into bitter despair. Sport really can be so unforgivably cruel at times.
But even as our despondent tramp continued up the Drumcondra Road, the early evening air now noticeably chillier, we still had the presence of mind to think back on all the great days the lads had given us this summer.
Which one was the best? It was hard to choose from among them, so many magical moments to pick from a championship summer that, despite its cruel denouement, we’ll treasure for many a long day. Up Mayo.

John Gunnigan (AKA ‘Willie Joe’) runs the Mayo GAA Blog.

 

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