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Thursday 8 December 2016

Fr Gerry behind enemy lines - but praying Mayo can finally end 'curse'

Published 01/10/2016 | 02:30

Fr Gerry French. Photo: Evita Coyle
Fr Gerry French. Photo: Evita Coyle

A Dublin-based priest will be hoping for divine intervention to help his beloved Mayo finally break their All-Ireland curse.

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Fr Gerry French, a die-hard Mayo fan originally from Claremorris, has been based in Ballymun for the past decade, but that won't stop him cheering on his native team today.

Former Dublin footballer, and principal of Holy Trinity Senior National School in Donaghmede, David Henry (centre) with some of his pupils Photo: Frank McGrath
Former Dublin footballer, and principal of Holy Trinity Senior National School in Donaghmede, David Henry (centre) with some of his pupils Photo: Frank McGrath

The Mayo man attended the final in September, bringing some Dublin parishioners with him.

"It was such an exciting day. I brought some locals from Ballymun with me to the match. It was the first time they were ever in Croke Park but they were cheering on the right side," he said.

The Mayo priest also revealed there had been plenty of banter with his Dublin congregation.

"There's nice banter about it. The Ballymun Kickhams are a very strong club and four or five of the Dublin panel are from there. So it's great fun," he said.

Mayo fans Serene O'Brien-Gleeson (8), Mary Gray, Monica Browne, and Ruairi Browne (5) prepare for the final replay in Claremorris, Co Mayo Photo: Keith Heneghan / Phocus.
Mayo fans Serene O'Brien-Gleeson (8), Mary Gray, Monica Browne, and Ruairi Browne (5) prepare for the final replay in Claremorris, Co Mayo Photo: Keith Heneghan / Phocus.

Fr French has attended every All-Ireland final for the past 40 years but sadly will miss today's vital clash.

"For the first time in 40 years, I'll be missing a match because I'm in hospital but I'll be watching it on television," he said.

And while he's anxious about the outcome, Fr French believes the boys in red and green might just break 65 years of bad luck today.

"There's an opportunity, the favourites usually win replays, but this time Mayo have a lot of spirit and I know they'll definitely play well.

Rita Rafter with Lisa Byrne (her grandniece) and Fran Gillane (Lisa's partner)
Rita Rafter with Lisa Byrne (her grandniece) and Fran Gillane (Lisa's partner)

"If they do it would be great. I might have to postpone getting to Mayo this time for a week but the celebrations will still be going on," he added.

One special fan who will be attending the match tomorrow is 96-year-old grandmother Rita Rafter.

Rita has lived on the North Circular Road all her life, and has never attended a match at Croke Park. But today she'll be in the stands watching the eagerly anticipated Dublin v Mayo clash.

Fran Gillane, whose partner Lisa is Rita's grandniece, managed to find some tickets for the mother-of-five.

"We were visiting her when we went to the last final, and she was telling us how disappointed she was that she would not be able to live out her days in the house she lived in for so long," he told the Irish Independent.

"We told her at least she'd have her memories of all the match days. Then she said: 'But I've never been to Croke Park'."

Fran decided to contact the GAA to see if there were any tickets left for the biggest game of the year.

Touched by her story, stadium authorities sent a pair of complimentary tickets to Rita. She'll be attending the game with her daughter, Carmel.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Carmel said her mum was "in hysterics" when she heard she'd be going.

"Even though she wouldn't have known everything about GAA, she would have looked at all the matches," she said.

"She would be in front of the television, praying to the Sacred Heart.

"Even if she just hears the Artane Band playing the national anthem at the very start, that would be enough for her," she added.

Meanwhile, former Dublin star David Henry said his pupils would be let off homework for a whole week if the Dubs can do the business.

The former half-back is principal at The Holy Trinity Primary School in Donaghmede, but he warned it'll just be business as usual if Mayo win Sam, unfortunately.

"It was good oul craic around the school. All the kids were all dressed in blue, faces painted and hair dyed - the usual kind of stuff, they love it," Henry said.

"When you're playing, you're caught up in your own little bubble and you're trying to block out the outside world but when you finish playing you do appreciate the buzz that there is outside the football camp, especially the kids, they really love it."

Meanwhile in Mayo, 77-year-old Mary Gray is hoping to relive the Mayo win she last celebrated as an 11-year-old.

"I remember all the commotion when they won. I was just a young girl but it was wonderful. I never thought I'd be waiting 65 years for the next one. It's too long to wait for any fan," she said.

The Mayo fan has followed the team all her life, even returning home from America on numerous occasions for matches.

She has decked out her Claremorris home with massive Mayo banners and vowed they wouldn't come down until the team finally brings Sam home.

"I put them up about seven years ago and I keep them up all year round. I've flags all over the place and lots of people call to take pictures of the house. I've been busy praying that they will finally win this time. The posters stay up until they do and I hope they'll take Sam down to me," she said.

Irish Independent

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