A momentous day in Croke Park
There were a number of Mayo people sitting around me at the All-Ireland final last Sunday. When it was over, there was nothing I could say to them. ‘Hard luck’ or ‘Ye were the best team’ was absolutely useless. They heard all that last year, and the year before, and the year before, etc. etc. Telling them that they will be back next year is also a load of codswallop.
They may well be back next year, but telling Mayo people that a couple of minutes after this game was akin to turning the knife when it is already deep in their hearts.
In fact I can never remember a stranger atmosphere in the streets surrounding Croke Park after an All-Ireland final than prevailed last Sunday. The Dubs were lapping it up inside the stadium but Mayo people just kept on walking to wherever they had parked their cars or to get on the trains. They weren’t talking. There was nothing to say.
They have witnessed some bitter and heartbreaking defeats over the years, but this beat them all. The fact is that there was not much else their team could have done. They went out with all guns blazing and were by far the best team in the opening half.
Lee Keegan put the shackles on Ciaran Kilkenny, and despite that opening goal from young O’Callaghan, the Dubs were rattled at half-time. Cluxton was not dominating from the kick-outs as he usually does. Mayo were hunting in packs and disrupting the Dubs.
While they led at half-time there was a nagging feeling that Mayo might pay for some bad first-half misses and they should have had at least 0-12 on the board, instead of 0-9.
As expected, Dublin brought in the cavalry on the resumption. In what other county would you find players the calibre of Diarmuid Connolly, Kevin McMenanon and Bernard Brogan on the subs’ bench? Connolly and McManamon made a huge impact and the switch of Paul Mannion to full-forward was crucial.
Then there were two key incidents, both of which went against Mayo. In the 47th minute, Mayo were awarded a free after John Small upended Colm Boyle. It was a definite yellow card, and Small, who had received a yellow earlier, had to go. But then Donal Vaughan ploughed into Small with a forearm smash, right in front of the referee. It was a stupid challenge and a straight red. Not only that, but the Mayo free, which was in a great position, was cancelled, and Dublin won the hop ball!
Later, Cillian O’Connor’s free from 35 metres out hit the post and Dublin went down the field and won the free that decided the game. That’s how close Mayo were. In fairness to the Dubs, they never panicked and it is no coincidence that they are winning all these really tight games. It is not luck. It is composure and incredible resilience.
It’s hard to know what to say about Mayo. They gave everything, but once again it was not good enough. In terms of personnel, it was strange to see Andy Moran being called off. He was Mayo’s best forward by far. Indeed Moran would be my choice for Footballer of the Year.
It’s three in a row for Dublin, but I am still not sure that they deserve the accolade of the best team ever. Jim Gavin made a major mistake last Sunday in starting Eoghan O’Gara. It backfired badly on Dublin and it is just as well that Gavin had such strong subs to call on.
All in all it was an absolutely titanic contest and a mighty game to be present at. The atmosphere was simply unbelievable and there is really nothing else even remotely like it in Irish sport. It was a privilege to be there.
A word too about young Kerry minor David Clifford. I have to say that this lad is the best minor footballer I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a few. To score 4-4 in an All-Ireland final is some feat – and he set up the other two Kerry goals!
It was a good way to mark the end of the All-Ireland Minor Football Championship – after all the years – with this special display from a special player.
Every Roscommon football supporter has fond memories of the Tom Markham Cup and our great win in Ennis in 2006. Next year it reverts to U-17.
Fond memories of Mickey Durney
As far back as I can remember, Mickey Durney was there.
It was probably as a referee that I first saw Mickey (Mike) in action. In fact, throughout the years, Mickey Durney has always been there, whether it was driving county players all over the country, at meetings, or at thousands of matches over the decades, Mickey Durney was there in the background watching closely.
He was a man that you could not possibly dislike. He was great company, great fun and was a mine of knowledge and information about the game of Gaelic Football, his beloved Clann na nGael and Roscommon county teams. He was incredibly proud of the success of Clann na nGael and the performances of his son Emmet in particular.
Over the past two decades Mickey Durney was a permanent fixture in the press box in Dr. Hyde Park at every game that was going on. He was the nicest man you would ever meet and great company. We spent hours and hours over the years debating about games and players and referees and everything else that we could think of.
He spoke gently but he was never critical of anyone and always saw the positive side, even if things were not going to our liking. He always had a bag of sweets in his pocket and sometimes he had even a choice of sweets!
In a lifetime of service to the GAA, Mickey Durney was a player, referee, official and a huge fan. I know that stories about him are legendary and I can definitely say that it was a pleasure to meet him every Sunday and whenever our paths crossed.
I know that standing just inside the pearly gates waiting for him will be his old Clann friend, Donie Shine. What banter there will be between the two! They do not make them like Mickey Durney anymore. We shall all miss him.
To his wife Annette, to Finola, Emmet, Damien and Cathal, remaining family members and his huge circle of friends, I extend my deepest sympathy. RIP.
Exciting club action locally
So we are now down to the semi-finals in the SFC and IFC and there are some really tasty matches coming up.
In the senior competition, the match between Western Gaels and St. Brigid’s promises to be a cracker.
Both teams scored five goals in their last championship outing and the game between the two (which Western Gaels won by two points) a few weeks ago was a thrilling contest. There will be loads of very good players on view in that game and it promises to be a close one.
In the other semi-final, Boyle and Roscommon Gaels will battle it out. While the Gaels might be the slight favourites, Boyle will look at this game as a mighty chance to reach a county senior final.
This weekend we have the first of the IFC semi-finals, with Fuerty facing a resurgent St. Dominic’s. Fuerty will have to be careful against a Dominic’s team who are improving with every game.
In the Ladies final last weekend, Kilbride turned on the style to overpower Strokestown. Great credit is due to the coaching people and the Kilbride players who have come from nowhere to a position of dominance in the ladies club game in the county and they play some marvellous football too. Well done to all concerned.
My GAA Team of the Year
I know the Sunday Game picked their Football team of the year last Sunday night – here is my tuppenceworth: Stephen Cluxton; Michael Fitzsimons, Cian O’Sullivan, Keith Higgins; Colm Boyle, Chris Barrett, Jack McCaffrey; Colm Kavanagh, James McCarthy; Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea, Con O’Callaghan; Paul Mannion, Paul Geaney, Andy Moran. Player of the Year: Andy Moran. Young Player of the Year: Con O’Callaghan.
I have one change on my team from the RTE one with Tyrone’s Colm Kavanagh in the team instead of Tom Parsons.
Can Cora lead Mayo to glory?
Mayo have another chance to ease the heartbreak somewhat when they face Dublin in the All-Ireland Ladies Football Final on Sunday in Croke Park.
It would be fantastic to see Cora Staunton getting another All-Ireland medal. She is the greatest ladies footballer of all time and is running out of time to win another medal. She already has four winners medals and an incredible 10 All Star awards. It would be great for Mayo to win it but once again the Dubs will be the favourites to claim yet another major title.