Sunday 18 February 2018

The west awaits as Mayo plot end to All-Ireland famine

Whole county holds its breath ahead of clash with the Dubs

Mayo fans Mickey Collins (on left) and Timothy Brody with Dubs fan Daniel Halpin at Drimnagh Castle Primary School in Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Mayo fans Mickey Collins (on left) and Timothy Brody with Dubs fan Daniel Halpin at Drimnagh Castle Primary School in Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

In the foothills of Croagh Patrick, a gold All-Ireland medal gleams in the last rays of the setting sun, a tantalising talisman for what may come tomorrow.

"There'll be plenty more where that came from," Mayo fan Michael Gill promises Mike (17) and Lucy (14) Dawson, the grandchildren of quiet Joe Staunton, one of the last men to take the Sam Maguire home to Mayo in 1951 and who passed away in 2011.

Joe never talked much about his own glory but went to all the matches - and remained frustrated when the county failed to recapture the magic, recalls his son-in-law, Ger Dawson.

But this time Mayo is united in certainty that 66 years of famine ends tomorrow.

Michael Gill and wife Aisling (above) show off their colours Photo: Mark Condren
Michael Gill and wife Aisling (above) show off their colours Photo: Mark Condren

And even Taoiseach Leo Varadkar concedes the whole country - bar Dublin - will be rooting for Mayo.

Mr Varadkar, who represents the Dublin West constituency, said he is "supposed to pretend to be neutral but I don't think anybody would believe that".

"Of course I'll be hoping that Dublin win the three in a row. But I'm conscious that the rest of the country will be cheering for Mayo.

"I don't think anybody would begrudge them if they won," he says.

"They've been in so many finals now and come so close that I can understand why anybody outside of Dublin would be rooting for them."

At Michael Gill's house in Lecanvey, down the road from Staunton's Pub, two flags provocatively flutter in the stiff breeze blowing up from Clew Bay, the blue of the Dubs for his wife Aisling and the green and red for Michael, a retired garda who spent many years working out of Donnybrook station.

Mike Dawson with his grandfather Joe Staunton’s 1951 All Ireland medal. Picture: Mark Condren
Mike Dawson with his grandfather Joe Staunton’s 1951 All Ireland medal. Picture: Mark Condren

Michael made headlines back in 2006 when a photograph plucked him out of Hill 16 - a lone figure in his county colours, standing amid a sea of blue.

A song by Gerry Carroll, 'Mayo for Sam 2013 Michael Gill on Hill 16', cemented his status as one of the county's cult heroes. This year is the first time since 1989 that he hasn't been able to lay his hands on a ticket.

A midwife at Castlebar General Hospital, Aisling jokes that she is only allowed "the tiniest Dublin flag" in the hospital, but staff pack it neatly away on her day off.

"I think I probably scanned all the Mayo team as babies," she laughs.

The couple's own three sons are divided in loyalty - but the whole family believe Mayo can do it. "They'll have to play out of their skins but they can do it," says Michael.

Martin Connolly, a former Mayo player and county selector, believes they have an excellent chance.

The team has been well tested while Dublin has not, he points out.

"Mayo will bring everything but the kitchen sink," he warns.

At Newport National School, the entire student body - amongst them former player Colm McManamon's son, Kyle (6) - has turned out in flamboyant green and red and there's chaos as they scream "Up Mayo!"

Daithí Moran's mother spent half an hour painstakingly depicting the county crest on her nine-year-old son's face (inset left), while even principal Bríd Chambers is sporting the county colours.

Bríd is another fan struggling to get a ticket which are like "hens' teeth", she laments.

Teacher Aisling Doherty, twin sister of player Jason Doherty, reveals the team are in good form and "well up for it".

Her family will be travelling to Croke Park together. "I just can't wait for it to be over now," she says, the nerves building.

In Westport, publican Mick Byrne hasn't missed a Mayo match since 1981 and isn't letting the fact that he is on crutches get in the way this time.

A poster on the wall reads: "They can have the Hill but we'll take the field."

But if Mayo lose? "We will just gather up the pieces and go back again 'til we do win it," he says firmly.

Irish Independent

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