Thursday 25 December 2014

Next stop Limerick as fans set for another frenzy

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Published 25/08/2014 | 02:30

A Mayo supporter celebrates after Cillian O'Connor's goal in the second half. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Kerry v Mayo, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
A Mayo supporter celebrates after Cillian O'Connor's goal in the second half. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Kerry v Mayo, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
A Kerry supporter watches on as Mayo's Cillian O'Connor takes a penalty during the second half. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Kerry v Mayo, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
A Kerry supporter celebrates a score during the game. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Kerry v Mayo, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
A supporter celebrates after Mayo had scored a goal from the penalty spot. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Kerry v Mayo, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

AS the Kerry team left the main Hogan Stand entrance, there was a smattering of loyal applause but their expressions, exhausted yet steely, never cracked. It's a state of mind both teams will have to maintain solidly for the next week.

With the Kerry players was the Gooch, still injured with a cruciate ligament and just a couple of weeks after the death of his beloved mother, Maureen and he stopped to talk quietly to neighbours.

Facing the prospect, Mayo which had managed to inflict great damage, despite being one man down, there was no sign of any jubilation on the part of the Kingdom. The old Mayo curse could be rattled yet.

"We'll fight another day," said a chipper Michael Ring as the junior Minister for Sport and Tourism - and Mayo man - bounded out of the stadium with a couple of springs in his step.

With the full-blooded frenzy flatlining on a level scoreline, the atmosphere in Croke Park had fizzled out like the air in a released balloon.

Players and fans alike looked at one another aghast. All that for nothing. And no trains home.

It certainly wasn't part of the GAA plans, apparently. In yet another PR headache - though one which comes nowhere near the level of the Garth Brooks fiasco - Croke Park is otherwise occupied next weekend, with a long-standing engagement with American College football.

A hooley for the yanks, who have been planning their trip for months to watch Penn State and University of Central Florida in the Croke Park Classic and what will be both teams' first game outside of the US.

Around 20,000 American visitors are expected to attend, and some 40,000 tickets to the event have already been sold.

Semi-finals rarely tend to be neat affairs but whoever was drawing up the Croke Park annual calendar had managed to ignore that.

And from the very opening moments of this game, it was almost immediately apparent that this was going to be a draw.

Perfectly matched and identically honed for play, Mayo and Kerry were cheek by jowl from start to finish.

It was tough, it was physical - and at times a little dirty. But it made for an amazing game as we lurched from point to point with never a single dull moment. Each point scored was like a body blow which rang out around the stadium like the steel clank of a gladiator's sword as the crowd reacted amid razor-sharp tension.

Cillian O'Connor for Mayo was on fire, with three points under his belt in the opening 15 minutes alone.

And then came the hiccup for the Western men, when they lost Lee Keegan to a red card.

Wounded, they limped on to the end of the first half. And then, with some stern talking to obviously having taken place in the dressing rooms at half time, they were back with a fighting spirit.

"If Mayo had played like this in the first half they'd have walked away with it," observed an offical. It's hope like this that will keep the supporters going over the next week.

Just eight-weeks-old, little Eoghan Horan, son of Mayo manager James Horan, was well muffled up against the notorious Croke Park arctic conditions. "He was brilliant - he slept through the whole thing," said his mother, Siobhan. However, she admitted that she hadn't factored in another weekend of play.

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