Saturday 1 October 2016

Billy Keane: Solemn Novenas searching for a miracle on the stairway to heaven

Published 17/09/2016 | 02:30

'Dublin’s own power-hose Kevin McManamon would have the vets fitting the bulls with crash helmets in Pamplona.' Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
'Dublin’s own power-hose Kevin McManamon would have the vets fitting the bulls with crash helmets in Pamplona.' Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The smell of candle wax in the Basilica at Knock is stronger than the night Madame Tussauds burned down, and the unmistakeable aroma of the essence of incense brings the Lord in to every nostril.

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Solemn Novenas turn the smaller Mayo churches in to a bee-loud glade.

For those of you not in the know, there's a difference between a solemn novena and a plain ordinary novena. The solemn novena is more solemn.

Mayo of the long-suffering and the perpetual sorrow have never given up. Their story is one of perseverance, but it might well be the perseverance of Dublin that will win through. Dublin keep going right in to the Gavinties. Remember where you first read this new word.

Mayo are an example to all of us, whether it be in the ceide fields we plough or on the football fields we play in. Mayo are the eternal optimists, the team who always come back for more, no matter what.

As for Dublin, without doubt they are the team of the age and a team for any age. As we wrote before the Kerry game, "Dublin made a town out of a city."

And yet we were accused of being anti- Dublin. Here's a quick quote from my preview of the Kerry-Dublin league final.

"Dublin in full flow are as impossible to stop as a sneeze after snuff. Their athleticism and hardness, their speed and skill are a template for how the game should be played."

Where's the anti-Dublin in that?

Whether Dublin fans like it or not, the other 31 counties are rooting for Mayo. I don't think it's a question of the 31 being against Dublin but more of case of being for Mayo.

Yes, there are footballistas and aficionados who would love to see Dublin's greatness rewarded. Indeed but for that shock loss to Donegal in 2014 Dublin might well be playing tomorrow for four in a row.

Mayo need the breaks. It could be Mayo will get lucky. I'm pretty sure their midfield will do well and Aidan O'Shea might score three goals just like The Bomber Liston did in 1978. For Mayo to win, there must be a humongous happening.

The Dublin kickout just has to be attacked. Mayo sat back near the end against Tyrone. You cannot play too defensively against the Dubs. Conceding kickouts is a bail-out, every time. The Dubs must be harassed like a terrier chasing a postman with a summons in his satchel.

The refereeing will be crucial. The refs are under terrible psychological pressure when they adjudicate Dublin. Their forbearance is not in any way pre-meditated, and there are no allegations of any deliberate bias being made here.

It could be the worry over the critics lambastings or the stress of the possibility having a million and more people giving out about your calls has had a profound subconscious fallout, which in some way permeated by osmosis into the psyche.

In other words, the occasion seems to have been too much for some of the referees. And we forget, even in Kerry, refs are only human.

Mayo need everything to go right on the day. All the kickable frees will have to go over.

Fatigue is always a factor for teams seeking two in a row but Dublin will be well fired up. They have it in for Mayo, for some reason that will come out in an autobiography sometime.

Dublin's own power-hose Kevin McManamon would have the vets fitting the bulls with crash helmets in Pamplona. Kevin is also a superb footballer who can fire his gun while his horse is galloping at full speed.

Bernard Junior will surely score a few points.

Dean Rock is very much at home in Croke Park. His granddad ceremonially delivered the ball out to the referee for a good many years. And his dad Barney was the Bernard Jnr of his day.

Mayo's Cillian O'Connor was only a boy the last time the teams met in a final. He's a man now and I expect him to play very well. He has a toughness about him and his younger brother Diarmuid will back him up with work-rate and skill.

The brothers O'Connor and O'Shea will be a powerful force within a force tomorrow. Expect them to play very well.

Earlier this week I was asked to predict the score and I went for Dublin by four. The gap has narrowed.

A man who is close to the Mayo camp told us his team are not in the least bit intimidated by playing in Croke Park. Mayo could win. Surely there must be some sort of cosmic justice. And is Croagh Patrick nearer to heaven than Croke Park?

Our friend John Corcoran didn't make it to Listowel Races as he was otherwise detained in the same heaven. The giant gentleman was Billy Morgan's player befriender for Cork and UCC. I was mad about John.

With Knock, Croagh Patrick and the 31 behind them, this could be the year when Mayo finally reach heaven on earth. Man, but I can just feel the longing every time I speak to a Mayo person.

They are up against one of the finest teams we have ever seen.

But you can make your own miracles and these brave and skilful Mayo men will strain every gram of every fibre of their very being.

'Just once' is their county cry for glory. Just once.

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