Sport Gaelic Football

Saturday 29 April 2017

Tribal passion rocks the stands as Mayo set up All-Ireland final clash with Donegal

Mayo fans celebrate their victory over Dublin in the All-
Ireland Senior Football semi-final yesterday
Mayo fans celebrate their victory over Dublin in the All- Ireland Senior Football semi-final yesterday

Joe O'Shea

THERE was no need for hotdogs or cheerleaders here. Notre Dame and Navy may have had the glitz and the razzmatazz, but this All-Ireland football semi-final between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park had raw, tribal passion.

Mayo fans streaming up towards GAA headquarters were enjoying what was an elusive emotion for many of them: confidence. Just as the Donegal faithful did last Sunday, they truly believed this was their year.

Reports coming out of their camp had been very positive. This Mayo team were united, determined and ready to ditch the county's reputation for being a bit flaky when it comes to the crunch.

However, as it turned out, Mayo hadn't quite lost the old habit of putting their supporters through the fiery torments of hell.

Kieran O'Donaghue was with a group of friends from Belmullet and Castlebar, enjoying the pre-match build-up outside Gill's Bar.

"We've heard the team has been working with a sports psychologist. Horan's got them flying, totally up for this. Everyone's really positive," he said.

For a group of nearby Dubs, the pre-match talk was mostly about Alan Brogan, their talisman and last year's footballer of the year, who, according to the gossip at least, would not be starting.

Game on

"The word is he won't be on from the start. And if he's not fully fit, he shouldn't be playing. We can always have him in the final if we get there," was the verdict of Jason Doyle from Clondalkin.

This wasn't an afternoon for neutrals. One group of middle-aged Mayo men, sitting in the upper deck of the Hogan Stand showed just how high passions were running for men and women from the west of Ireland.

The group of friends spent almost the entire game on their feet, roaring at every score, tackle and interception. They punched the air, hugged, screamed and bellowed instructions at the players, management and officials.

At one stage, the match cameras and the big screen caught one of the men, who was in his late 50s, as he screamed and shook his fist in the direction of Hill 16. It was an extraordinary sight, and there were plenty of Mayo men and women reaching similar levels of excitement.

It had started as early as the seventh minute, when the Dublin fans on Hill 16 whistled and booed Mayo's Cillian O'Connor as he lined up to kick a 45 towards them.

When the ball went over, the response from the Mayo faithful shook the stands. Many of the Mayo fans rocketed out of their seats to roar abuse at the Hill. Game on.

Dublin staged a big rally towards the end as Mayo fans, conditioned to always expect the worst, were suffering every torment imaginable. They surely couldn't lose this, could they?

As Mayo prayed for the finish line, the announcement that there would be five minutes of extra time brought an agonised groan from three sides of the ground and a roar from the Hill.

Mayo made it to the end. Their supporters somehow survived and stayed behind at the end to sing along to The Saw Doctors' anthem, 'The Green and Red of Mayo'. They will have another Sunday of high emotion very shortly.

Irish Independent

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