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Tuesday 26 September 2017

Mayo fans try to 'keep it real' with a low-key build-up but final fever rising

Left: Don McGreevy and Martin Keane with a subtly altered painting of the Mona Lisa in Westport. Photo: Mark Condren
Left: Don McGreevy and Martin Keane with a subtly altered painting of the Mona Lisa in Westport. Photo: Mark Condren
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

A Garda on points duty. A teacher coaching first-year students in football. A shop owner selling his wares. All Mayo footballers, going about their business as normal in the run-up to what may turn out to be the most important clash of the last 66 years.

This is the strategy - keeping it real, the fans proudly proclaim, scoffing that the Dublin players are probably spending the week getting massages.

Keeping it real is the thing, they say.

"I won't be getting excited if we win - there has been too much excitement in the build-up over the years. We need to just keep calm," declares one man in Staunton's pub in the foothills of Croagh Patrick.

An elderly man, he is still too young to remember the last time the Sam Maguire was tied with green and red ribbons, he nevertheless believes the county will remain calm whatever happens.

Chance is a fine thing.

Tom Deering in his car customised with Mayo colours in Castlebar. Photo: Mark Condren
Tom Deering in his car customised with Mayo colours in Castlebar. Photo: Mark Condren

Mayo fans might be telling themselves they are keeping it low-key but the tension is building steadily, even though the county is not awash with fluttering flags and banners.

In the windows of Don McGreevy's shop in Westport - where the queues for his famous 99s spill out onto the pavement in the summer - the 'Mona Lisa' smiles strangely out at the world, the county's newest good luck charm, in a new dress of green and red for this most special of occasions.

"She arrived yesterday," declares Don. Painted by retired teacher Noreen Saddler, he isn't sure if there is a price tag on this piece of the campaign to bring Sam to the West.

"There's been an unreal reaction to her," he adds.

The atmosphere in Mayo is low-key overall, he believes, because "everybody is too busy looking for tickets.

"But the way the GAA has done it through the clubs is 100pc right. Look after the players' families, the officials and the supporters."

He is hopeful that victory is very close at hand.

"They've experience and a lot of hours put in. And that piseóg is a load of rubbish," he says of the infamous so-called 'Mayo curse'.

"Dublin are going for three in a row and they will be hard bet. But mentally and psychologically, Mayo are up for the challenge."

The secret in victory will lie in "coming out of the traps and landing two or three goals," he believes.

"It'll be in the hop of a ball," says Don.

Devoted Mayo fan Sandy Moran, who works in Don's shop, is going up to Croke Park because she has a season ticket. She says: "This is the year."

"This is indeed the year," agrees Martin Keane, who works in the Plaza hotel in the town.

"I'll have a bonfire on the Castlebar road for their arrival," he says.

Legend

In Castlebar town, 'Tom Tom' Deering - a true Mayo legend - has arrived in original style in a green and red chequerboard VW Beetle, with a honk of a 'Dukes of Hazzard' horn. Everyone springs to attention with their camera-phones out.

"I got it done to surprise my grandchildren," he says, explaining that the car was part of the excitement back in 1996, when Mayo made it to the final only to lose out to Meath.

"They lost their life when they saw it. We'll be driving up to the match in it," he says.

Irish Independent

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