Lise Hand: Painting the town blue as Dubs send Mayo packing
MAYO midfielder Aidan O'Shea was curled up on the pitch, inconsolable and adrift in a sea of blue. The whistle had sounded a few minutes earlier, ending the match but not the agony of the men in green and red.
There was one point in it after 74 tense minutes. Just one more point would have secured a draw, and Mayo could have lived to fight another day.
They could have had another tilt at the 62-year-old windmill. They might have finally silenced all the doom-laden talk of curses instead of once more dispatching their legions of heartbroken supporters back along their own personal Via Dolorosa out of Dublin and towards the setting sun.
Or a last-minute goal would have propelled the Mayo men into the Hall of Heroes for posterity.
Instead, the team stood or slumped on the velvet surface of Croke Park and silently watched the Blues en fete again for the second time in three years.
Maybe it was a portent of things to come when the capital found itself under a cloudless azure dome yesterday for All-Ireland Final day – an occasion that more often than not takes place under grey skies.
From early doors, the streets of Dublin were paved with green and red. Mayo had travelled in huge numbers, pouring out of Ballina and Ballyhaunis, Castlebar and Claremorris. They made the pilgrimage to the Croker crucible with a sense of conviction that Sam would cross the county borders for the first time since 1951.
But when the Dubs fans eventually fell out of their beds and headed for Croker, both sets of supporters milling around Jones's Road agreed on two things: firstly, that it would be a close contest, in all likelihood decided by a small handful of points, and secondly, it was sure to be a thing of beauty – flowing football by the two best teams in this year's championship.
In the end, the fans were half-right.
But on the way in, most Dubs, Mayo supporters and neutrals were unwilling to make a guess at the final score.
"It's too close to predict," said Bertie Ahern as he strolled in.
A fan spotted the former Taoiseach and shouted: "Hey Bertie, are you sitting beside Enda?" (That would only happen over both men's dead bodies, one suspects),
Another former Taoiseach, John Bruton, was sporting a Mayo headband around his wrist. "My wife Finola is from Westport," he explained.
Jimmy Kirrane's shirt was getting a lot of attention, as it consisted of half a Dublin shirt and half a Mayo shirt sewn together.
"I'm from Drumcondra, but both my parents are from Ballyhaunis," he explained. And had he stitched his shirt himself?
"No, my mum made it," he confessed.
But not all arrivals were so conflicted. Raymond O'Shea and Anthony Nelson, from Crumlin, had painted their faces dark blue.
"Dublin to win by two," reckoned Raymond. "It's a shame Mayo haven't won for so long, but they can wait a bit longer."
But everyone who was anticipating a classic encounter was to be sorely disappointed. On the pitch there were nerves in abundance, and mistakes abounded, too. The leaden weight of six lost finals was surely a heavy burden for the Mayo men, for all their swagger in the pre-match ceremony.
By half time, Mayo were ahead by a point. But nobody was lighting bonfires in Belmullet just yet. The formidable boot of Bernard Brogan and also the Dubs' ability to knock over points from all angles was too real a danger.
And the Dubs began to look more dangerous. As the clock ticked down, the action took on a frantic quality.
And then Ballintubber's Cillian O'Connor stepped up to take a 20-yard free, with four minutes' extra time already played.
He faced a phalanx of anxious blues crowded on to the goal-line. Only three points would do for Mayo. The ball sailed over the bar.
The final whistle went. Heads bowed, the Mayo fans trudged towards the exits, unable to look at Sam on the pitch.
The Dubs had been there for the taking, but Mayo had faltered yet again.
So off they set again, a caravan of mournful Mayo men and women snaking back along their boulevard of broken dreams.
In the stands, the singing followed the victorious team on their lap of honour and continued on the city streets as the sun set and night fell.
And a blue moon over the city.
By Lise Hand