Tuesday 25 October 2016

Billy Keane: Mayo and their legendary 'Paddy P' hoping the wind blows Sam west

Published 01/10/2016 | 02:30

Mayo legend Paddy Prendergast. Picture: Sportsfile
Mayo legend Paddy Prendergast. Picture: Sportsfile

The Mayo build-up has being going on longer than the construction of a Pharaoh's tomb. But today is the day. Never has a game been more hyped and never has a game been more analysed.

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Such is the talk and such is the excitement that stealthy October snuck up on us unbeknownst. The days are shortening and just after tea-time the floodlights will light up the stairway to heaven for either Dublin or Mayo. And the losers will look up from down below on the field where their dreams of glory ended.

Yes, the song is true - Dublin can be heaven. But for whom? Heaven and hell are in the same postal district.

Dublin is the place where most of us live but Mayo is the place where most people would like to be for the party on Sunday night if their team wins for the first time since 1951.

The nearest some of the rest of us have been is when Munster were trying to win that first Heineken Cup. That odyssey was only island-hopping when compared to the epic voyage the so-often shipwrecked Mayo have come through to get here this evening.

There have been times when old men and women said we'll never live to see the day and the Mayo middle-aged have lived all of their lives without sight or touch of the Sam Maguire.

Yes, the players have never given in and keep coming back for more, no matter what. But this is every bit as important for the people of Mayo. I always think when I meet Mayo people that it's as if they are sealed into a Tayto bag, waiting to burst out when Mayo finally win the All-Ireland.

The old man who waits for 65 years in Tralee is known as 'Paddy P'. He played in '51. Full-back he was. A five-foot, eight-inch full-back but what he lacked in height, Paddy P made up for in brains, courage and footballing ability.

Paddy P is good fun and he hasn't a bad bone in his body. Great company he is with a boy's joy and love for the game.

The old-timers tend to exaggerate and the only proofs are partisan eyewitness accounts of old glories but my Dad, who knew the game, told me that Paddy P was pound-for-pound the best full-back he had seen.

I know Paddy P well. We walked into a glass door together. Like two blinded small birds we were. There was no drink involved. Paddy P was covered in blood. He was in Listowel for the opening of Tony Guerin's rip-roaring play Cuckoo Blue. Paddy was patched up and he kept on going. There was no way he would let Tony down. Staunch is the word that comes to mind.

I cringe when I read and hear about the curse. Those who believe in curses are ageist and ignorant. Live on Paddy P. Live to see Mayo win this one. And when the president's letter comes in the door, Paddy P might have cause to raise a glass several more times.

Dr Pádraig Carney lives in America. He, too, is a hero of '51. Far away you may be, good doctor, but cheers and heroism make light of the Atlantic. Home is where the heart is. Take me home to Mayo.

And then I think of the small boy or girl I've never met. The kid is of African heritage, a refugee maybe, who has been forced to flee his or her own country.

Tender years were tough and the kid witnessed violence and hatred. The child knows from the hate-filled looks on the bus from those Little Irelanders who snap the communion from the priest's fingers at Mass that they don't want him here.

But he's a Dub now, the little boy. Plays a bit at school and wears the blue, just like Jayo. The Dublin jersey is a mantle of blue and confers citizenship and immunity on all who wear the colours.

You have no idea of the incredible work being done by our teachers in Dublin. Integration though sport and Cumann na mBunscol make new Dubs every day.

The small child from Dublin and the old man from Mayo will cheer as one, but for different teams and each is as worthy as the other. Such is the glory and beauty and unity of the game we love.

Can Mayo win then? Yes. I'm not even sure why. It's a hunch as much as anything else. I just feel now is their time. They seem to have it in the head that they can win. Mayo have that ruthlessness about them.

Dublin though are a team that mirror the best of the Dubs. They play with imagination, verve and risks are taken for great rewards. Jim Gavin has never cut the buckle from the Dublin swash.

There's a part of me that wants Bernard Jnr to win his fourth All-Ireland. That would make for nine in the Brogan house and there would have been three or four more if young Paul had not been injured so often. But who with any kind of a heart would begrudge Mayo?

This Dublin team stick together. They are relentless. But have Dublin given too much? Will they be caught once again in the Gavinties, those crucial last few after-hours minutes when legs are jelly and the body is unable to comply with the urgent dictates of the mind.

Do I know for sure? No I don't. I do know Dublin don't do dying. They are do-or-die men. But time and toil take a savage toll when you play the game with such pace and passion.

The answer my friends is blowing in the wind, but this evening the prevailing breezes blow from the west. And the winds of change may well bring the big ship 'Green and Red' to dock at last in the promised land of happy-ever-after.

Irish Independent

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