Why I believe that Mayo's hour will finally come
My first attendance at Croke Park was on August 12, 1951, for the All Ireland semi-final between Mayo and Kerry. Mayo were the reigning champions and rightly regarded as one of the greatest teams of all time.
In contrast, Kerry were going through a fallow time. Some of their outstanding players were now entering the veteran stage and they were joined by some young and as yet untested players.
Mayo were hot favourites on the day. I went to the match as much to see these outstanding Mayo men as with any hope of a Kerry win.
But to the surprise of everyone, Kerry dominated the match. Kerry led by five points going into injury time – called lost time in those days: 1-5 to 0-3. Paddy Bawn Brosnan had an outstanding game at full back. Tom Langan, an all-time great, was full forward for Mayo but Paddy Bawn had the upper hand – that is until those last minutes of 'lost time'.
In those days, the full-back, not the goal man, took the kick-outs. Towards the end, the kick-outs began to fall short. Langan pounced for a goal and two points were added to force a draw.
Under the headline: "Lost time scores earned Mayo replay: Kerry let victory slip from them", in the Monday Irish Independent John D Hickey wrote: "A goal and two points in lost time saved champions, Mayo, from the jaws of defeat against Kerry and earned them a draw on a score of 1-5 each in a game which had been forsaken minutes before by many spectators who had left the ground convinced that the Munster side, leading by five points starting lost time, must triumph."
Mayo won the replay comfortably and beat Meath in the final to record back-to-back All Ireland victories.
I left the Park reasonably consoled. If a Kerry team cobbled together with old and young could hold – and should have beaten – this all-time great Mayo team, the future had to be bright for us.
Three of the Mayo team survive: Father Peter Quinn, a family friend; Paddy Prendergast and Dr Padraig Carney. In a later life, Eamon Mongey, as a barrister and court official, was a valued colleague. Tom Langan, a garda I met through many court cases; and Sean Flanagan, the Mayo captain, I knew as a solicitor and government minister.
Who in 1951 would have thought that Mayo would go 61 years without another title?
I was in New York when Enda Kenny – his father, Henry, had won an All Ireland in 1936 – was about to form his government. One of the staff at the apartment where we have stayed from time to time inquired: "You have a Mayo man as Prime Minister, elect? I said that was correct. I was surprised at his interest because on previous occasions our conversations cantered on the performance of the Yankees and sundry New York affairs. Ireland was not mentioned. But his next question really astounded me. It was: "Do you think Mayo will win the Sam Maguire Cup during his time in office?" I said: "Taking Mayo's history, it may require the Taoiseach to have a long time in office."
Today, I am not so sure – not to do with the Taoiseach's tenure, but my belief that tomorrow, Mayo's hour will come. Against Dublin they will require not to leave it to lost time to secure victory. That is a Dublin preserve! And the present generation of Kerry followers can be consoled to know that it is not just in the past few years that Kerry has allowed victory to be snatched in lost time.