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Ladies miss their absent friends


BLOCKBUSTER Kerry’s Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh shoots as Mayo’s Eilis Ronayne, left, and Fiona McHale dive in to try and block the ball during Saturday’s TG4 All-Ireland Ladies SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

Michael Gallagher

WHAT’S it like to play an All Ireland semi-final on one of the hottest days of the year in the pristine surroundings of Croke Park? Of course, I will never know, thanks to age, infirmity, lack of skill and a thousand other reasons, but on Saturday last, the young women who play senior football for our county graced the famous sod with their efforts.
Mayo lost. Kerry won. Mayo were second best on the day. Kerry deserved their victory. However, that’s only part of the story. Mayo were fighting against fate all season.
Some of the finest players in the game were absent from their squad because they’re playing Australian Football on the other side of the planet — and they’re absolutely correct to follow their sporting dreams in pursuit of adventures.
Niamh and Grace Kelly, Rachel Kearns and Sarah Rowe are all ‘Down Under’ at the moment while Dayna Finn (basketball) and Fiona Doherty (soccer) were otherwise engaged, and another handful of squad regulars and starters are currently injured.
Only 10 of the 20 Mayo players that featured in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin lined out last Saturday.
Surviving and thriving without that block of talent was a huge task for Mayo.
That said, there was no point wallowing — sport is about today and tomorrow. There is no room for understanding, comprehension or innovative thinking when the white heat of championship comes around.
Mayo manager Michael Moyles is smart enough to know that all that matters is the score on the board at the end of the game. He’s smart enough to know the gauge Mayo people use to measure success and failure. He’s smart enough to know that many of those not embedded in the game see reasons as excuses when the scoreline favours the opposition.
On Saturday, Mayo went to Croke Park for the All-Ireland semi-final. Their arrival in the last four was as welcome as it was unexpected. A momentous victory over Cork seven days earlier had sent them to the great stadium and suddenly there was a hint of ultimate glory. However, reality arrived with a bang and although Mayo ‘maxed-out’ they couldn’t get the better of the Kerry women.
Moyles, his management team and their players had achieved more over the course of the season than many believed possible and they left Croke Park disappointed but proud.
Conversely, on one of the hottest days of the year the journalists left Croker chilled.
Those of us who threw off the thermals on Friday in readiness for the arrival of the yellow sphere in the sky travelled east with freshly ironed T-shirts, thinking we were mighty.
The Barbados vibes continued as chariots were parked on Clonliffe Road and locals lounged in their front gardens soaking up the rays. Summer sounds boomed through open windows as a watery-eyed resident battled through the smoke billowing from a rarely-used barbecue.
I had a duvet-type rugby jacket in the boot and was very temped to bring it with me as I took the lap-top bag from the car, but the two old ladies perched on sun-chairs across the street were staring at me, and I was too embarrassed to take out the warmth-giver.
Of course, the dynamic duo had absolutely no interest in what I was doing but that didn’t occur to me at the time. Instead, I left the jacket in the boot and headed down the street to the press entrance. All was good with the world at that stage. the sun was shining. There were Mayo people on the street and the always-hospitable Knockmore crew were front and centre. This was going to be a good day.
However, on arrival at my work station on the seventh floor of the Hogan Stand the vivid realisation that a biting wind was already there hit me like a tonne (of very cold) bricks.
I would have swapped almost anything for the opportunity to go back to the car and get my jacket, but shyness and the suppression of reality meant it was sitting in the boot while I was sitting in the eye of the storm.
I will never know what it’s like to play in Croke Park on one of the hottest days of the year, but once the shivering stops I will be able to recall vividly what it was like to sit in the press box on the same day.


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