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Ladies game an occasion to remember

Sport

SOMEBODY STOP ME Mayo’s Niamh Kelly runs at Galway’s Mairéad Seoighe during Sunday’s All-Ireland Ladies SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

A Fan’s View

Anne-Marie Flynn

YOU know it’s a different kind of Mayo match day when you don’t have to queue for the breakfast and instead get table service in Feerick’s.
In fact, you’d be forgiven for not even realising there was an All-Ireland semi-final taking place on Sunday, so unsettlingly quiet were the roads to the capital.
But the lady who, on every match day morning stands on the flyover at Maynooth waving her Mayo her flag to greet the travelling fans, certainly knew there was a game on.
It’s also a rare match day when you can park on Clonliffe Road, a five-minute saunter from the ground and amble in with fifteen minutes to throw-in and sit pretty much where you like – and there’s a lot to be said for it.
This year marked the first year that the Ladies’ semi-finals have taken place in Croke Park. Attendance figures weren’t massive, but it’s a significant step in terms of profile, and if Sunday was anything to go by, it should absolutely happen again. At €20 admission for the two games (and a €10 concession and €2 per child), there can be no complaints about cost. Programmes cost just €2. The GAA could take note, given some of the gouging that has taken place this summer.
Unusually, on Sunday I got to enjoy the match day experience with the family. Fine seats we had too, right on the halfway line in the Hogan Stand. While the lack of a large crowd in cavernous Croker should have made for a dour atmosphere, it was quite the opposite.
The support at the women’s games is markedly more enthusiastic than that of other games; fuelled in no small part by the large number of children who attend, and by god, do they give it socks when it comes to supporting their team.
There are no inhibitions, they just cheer and roar with abandon with no-one telling them to sit down and be quiet. Even from the bathroom before throw-in I could hear the chant of Ma-YO! Ma-YO! rising from the Hogan; and it barely let up for the whole game.
Even Mammy got stuck in with gusto. The lovely, lively Burrishoole bunch sitting behind us were enthusiastic contributors; surely the McManamons sensed their efforts from afar.
The TG4 team was again on hand with their free flags; a team that has done so much to support and promote Gaelic games down the years, especially the ladies’ game.
The Hogan was full of colour and was rocking.
The Connacht teams, who know each other so well at this point, duly obliged the crowd by serving up a thriller. It was physical, it was pulsating, it was dramatic; full of twists and turns and tension, it was anyone’s game up to the final hooter and in true Mayo style, us fans were put through the wringer.
For Mayo it was another cruel loss; our wastefulness in front of the posts cost us as Galway prevailed by the most heartbreakingly narrow of margins.
But given the tumultuous year the Mayo ladies have had off the pitch, it cannot be denied that their achievements this year have been nothing short of remarkable.
A dozen departing players would have broken most teams in rural Ireland; instead 17 new players were scouted, and nearly 40 players got game time in the National League.  To have grown such a bond within a team and have come within a point of reaching an All-Ireland final is an incredible achievement that no-one could have predicted in January.
Personally, I’m just glad I was there to witness Niamh Kelly scoring that wonder goal; like James Carr’s goal against Galway it will live long in the memory.
And so, it was a disappointed crew that turned our faces back West on Sunday, but a fine day was had nonetheless. And how could we not be excited for 2020? If you do one new thing next year, make that a trip to a Mayo Ladies game. You won’t be disappointed.

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