Not all heroes named Willie Joe wear football boots.
I had been let down by my ticketing source. A source that to their credit had supplied me all year but, much like Annie Power in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2015, had let me down at the final hurdle.
It was Wednesday last when the news was broken to me and from then until the early hours of Sunday morning, I scanned Done Deal looking for reasonably priced tickets. However, I soon saw a pattern emerging. A new ad would appear on the website. I would click into it, gather the seller’s information and ring the number with haste.
One of two outcomes would always occur within the twenty seconds it took me to go from spotting the ad to calling the ticket holder. Either, the ticket would be gone, or the seller had gotten a big offer of money for a ticket which I then was asked to counter offer. I preferred the former, the disheartening and disgusting feeling of being asked for €200 or more for a Hill ticket is not one which I am fond of. Touts should have no place in this organisation but sadly they do.
I had lost all hope, I had shut down the laptop and was getting ready to hit the hay for a sad sleep when my phone vibrated. It was Willie Joe of Mayo GAA Blog fame and he had just made my Sunday (even though it was only an hour old).
“I have a ticket for you”.
The shattered demeanour which I had displayed before this had suddenly vanished. I was ready to drive to Dublin that instant in order to grab the hand off Willie Joe and get my hands on the golden ticket.
Common sense prevailed, however, and instead I fell in and out of sleep with excitement before setting off at 6am. The motorway was beautiful but quiet at this time of the morning. Light traffic meant I was in Dublin earlier than I expected and the sky on the way was breath-taking.
The sun was shining brightly as I began my arrival into the capital and I was met with two Mayo flags which hung on the bridges above me. We weren’t here to take part, we were here to take over the capital and the flags planted on the bridges reminded me of that.
Willie Joe’s directions to his house were spot on, my navigation on the other hand was not. He had broken down my path street by street, road by road, and I still managed to get lost. A quick chat and an exchange of a ticket with the man himself (I can’t thank him enough) meant I could relax for the rest of the morning and afternoon … until 3:30pm that is.
I got breakfast and was greeted with ‘good lucks’ and well wishes from the opposition fans upon first glance at my jersey. I wasn’t sure if they were ‘May the best team win!’ or ‘Ye’ll need it’ good lucks but I replied with the same statement.
While waiting for the lads to arrive, I shared a pint of the black stuff with John, a die-hard Dublin fan. I knew he was a die-hard before he opened his mouth, his 1990s Arnotts jersey had been through the wars (and the wash) on various occasions and the peeling and fading of stickers and colours alike could testify this.
John admitted that he wouldn’t begrudge us a win but he did say it at a lower tone than the rest of the conversation. In the brief 30-minute conversation we shared, I could tell he was a gentleman and a great story teller. The jersey reminded me though that he would probably be a different character come half-three and, who knows, maybe he was thinking the same of me.
He’s right and all, whatever it is about Mayo, they turn me into a person I am worried about. A person with a fast heartbeat, high blood pressure, a foul mouth and bad temper. One of the lads thought our Lord had risen again on the third Sunday in September with the amount of times I mistook Conor Lane’s name for Jesus Christ.
What a pulsating game, forgetting the two own goals for a moment, what a first half performance from the boys. Our turnovers and tackling were immense and we kept the unbeatable, untouchable, unstoppable Dubs scoreless for thirty minutes.
It was just a shame we couldn’t kick on in terms of scoring for ourselves, which brings me to the own goals. Joe Brolly mocked Mayo at half-time, promptly shouting ‘curse’ and “when have you ever seen one own goal in a match, never mind two” as if Boyle and McLoughlin had intentionally gone out to put the ball into their own net.
Two freak goals and there could have been two more if it wasn’t for David Clarke, his erratic style of keeping meaning he’ll dive, jump and run anywhere in order to get to the ball first, even if it means battling with Dean Rock on the ’21!
McCarthy’s black card only added fuel to the already burning bonfire that is the black card debate. If that was a black card, there should have been many more – Connolly, MacAuley, Aidan and Cillian to name but a few who had similar challenges it seemed.
Who even knows anymore what is deemed bookable black card offence? We’ve just learned not to complain about it as long as the decision goes our way. Funnily enough, Cillian’s incident came a minute before his magnificent equalising score so if you believe in curses, you better believe that was some sort of blessing in disguise.
Anthony Finnerty’s famous goal chance against Cork in ’89 was before my time but I have seen it often enough to be able to recall. Andy Moran’s point mid-way through the second half was an almost carbon copy of that, the only difference between his shot on the acute left angle and Finnerty’s was that his provided a score in the end.
Five points in the opening ten second half minutes, trailing going into injury time – I’ve talked about it before, when this group of players are under the cosh, they stand up and fight. A scoreless Bernard Brogan hitting the bench after 60-odd minutes was a delight to see, an injured Alan Dillon hobbling off after ten minutes on the pitch was not. He scored a wonderful point and his intelligent reading of the game would have been just what we needed to see out a victory in the dying minutes. What a shame.
Connolly and Kilkenny fighting over the sideline ball which Connolly eventually blew wide showed how much the Dubs had been rattled. They were relieved and in disbelief to have the lead in the closing stage despite being outplayed.
If they had been in control all game and were presented with that sideline, they would have played keep-ball until the final whistle. They were in shock and Connolly’s bizarre decision to take on that sideline ball showed just that.
Vaughan’s shot to narrow it down to one was extraordinary, what nerves of steel and confidence must he have to take that opportunity. As for O’Connor’s equaliser, that was out of this world.
Not the shot itself, anyone who has seen O’Connor play at club level or even at county level before knows he is capable of it but the setting it happened in made for an unbelievable score. He got his hands on it in the build-up play, before getting it back, jinking a dummy and hammering over. Voice gone, emotional stability gone, but faith still firmly intact at the final whistle.
Do you think RTÉ focused on our performance? Not likely, this was a poor Dublin performance, they won’t play like that again, Connolly, Brogan, McManamon, Flynn, they will all be improved in the replay. Basically, the replay is Dublin’s for the taking.
It suits me fine if RTÉ want to portray that but they are harshly mistaken if they think that Mayo won’t improve for the replay. There is much room for improvement in the two O’Sheas, while Diarmuid O’Connor played in third gear for the whole game and still put in a big shift. An eight or nine-star performance from those three alone can wipe any team on any given day, never mind if Cillian, Vaughan, Harrison or Durcan to name but a few, replicate their Sunday performances in the replay.
We held, and should have beaten, this Dublin team firing on only seven or eight fully working cylinders instead of the usual fifteen. We’ll need all fifteen to be firing on the 1st of October.
As for Lee Keegan, he kept the country’s best player quiet for 70 minutes with only one point coming from Connolly. Time and time again in these tough Dublin clashes, Keegan sacrifices his usual attack-minded game in order to do a job on Connolly, one which he executed perfectly on Sunday.
Mayo’s loss going forward is also their strength in the back line. He irritates Connolly, (Lord knows it’s not hard) but more so than anyone you can tell that Connolly hates Keegan, a feat which Keegan is visibly proud of and a feeling which is most definitely mutual. The Irish Times described the marking on Connolly like “tickling a grizzly.” I don’t think anyone would like to get ‘tickled’ by Keegan.
So, the 1st of October it is. A county holds its breath for another week and a bit. There was a post doing the rounds on social media about ‘the curse’. Apparently it only ever applies to finals which take place on Sundays in September and won’t be relevant on a Saturday in October. As if the gypsy or priest or ludraman that put this ‘curse’ upon us followed it up with a contract containing terms and conditions which we are forever seemingly trying to find loopholes out of.
Curses and conspiracies eh? But if you do add 1+9+5+1 you get 16!