WHEN the final whistle sounded last Saturday evening in Carrick-on-Shannon, Mayo manager Mike Solan was the first person on the field to celebrate.
It was a rare but wonderful display of emotion from the typically cool Ballaghaderreen man, and it summed up the emotion of qualifying for the inaugural All-Ireland Under-20 final at Croke Park.
It will be the second time in three years that Solan will lead a Mayo team into an All-Ireland decider, but a first for him at Croker.
When The Mayo News eventually caught up with the Mayo boss, his over-riding emotion was one of relief.
“I suppose it was pure joy at the final whistle, and relief,” he admitted. “When you get to this stage of the championship you’re always talking about games that hang on a thread.
“We had a couple of goal chances that we didn’t put away, Derry had similar, and at this level, at this stage of the competition, games are really, really tight.
“The last couple of minutes are taxing but it’s just huge relief at the final whistle.”
From a coaching perspective, Solan and his management team of John Ginty, Damien Egan and Mickey Conroy would have been very satisfied in the closing minutes of last Saturday’s encounter when their leaders stood up and were counted.
Tommy Conroy, Oisín McLaughlin and second half substitute John Gallagher all finished the game on the front foot and chipped in with crucial scores and plays when their side needed it most.
“I think they did,” Solan agreed. “But it’s the work you do for 60 minutes that puts you in that position where fellas can stand up in the last two or three [minutes], and we’re lucky that we have all those guys with a great attitude.
“[We have] guys with great leadership skills and guys that are just full of guts, and I think those guts and those skills were on display there in the final few minutes.”
The scenes and emotion in Leitrim after the final whistle were a huge contrast to what has engulfed the county’s footballing fraternity in recent weeks.
After the senior’s early exit in the championship at the hands of Kildare – coincidently Mayo’s opponents on the Under-20 final – last weekend’s victory restored some faith.
Mike Solan was under no illusion of that impact that crowd had on his side and is hoping for much the same when August 5 arrives.
“Any time you win a game at this stage of the competition is great,” he said. “What it means to people, you can see that here today.
“We’re just delighted, as I said we’ve a real narrow focus on what we’re doing.
“We’re delighted with the support we got today but it’s absolutely no surprise. Mayo supporters are known to go the length and breath of the country to support their teams and today was no different, they were worth an awful lot to us.”