| 22.8°C Dublin

Massive show of support for gay Rose, but all she wants is a Mayo final

THE whole country is supportive of her after she came out as the first gay woman to be crowned Rose of Tralee.

But there was only one aspect of Irish life getting Maria Walsh's full attention yesterday - the KerryMayo All Ireland football semi-

Wearing her Mayo jersey at Croke Park, the new Rose almost got to see the county where she grew up make this year's senior football final - only for Kerry to secure a replay in injury time.

"They make it so hard to leave," she said of the Mayo team.

Her return last night to Philadelphia means she will be unable to attend the replay next Saturday in Limerick.

A guest of GAA President Liam O'Neill at the semi final, Maria was bowled over as she donned a jersey signed by the entire team when she took to the pitch in a special appearance for Inclusion Day.

She got a huge cheer as she put it on 
immediately over her black lacy dress - and looked doubly glad of the extra layer on a bitter day.

As the 56th Rose of Tralee, Maria has welcomed the positive feedback she has received following the revelations that she has been living an openly gay lifestyle for the past two years.

In a statement issued by the Rose of Tralee, she welcomed the support of former Minister Mary O'Rourke, who, on the Marian Finucane radio Show on RTE, had said the news underlined Maria's worthiness as the Rose of Tralee, with "the truth of her eyes ever dawning", just like the words of the song.

She revealed how one of the first people she had met that day was a shop-keeper in a filling station en route to Croke 
Park who had congratulated 
her. "I asked him if it was for being the Rose of Tralee or after reading the story in the Sun. 'Both,' he replied," she said.

Maria said her family are very proud of her, adding: "The most important thing to them is that I'm happy and healthy."

She is being hailed a hero for her openness about her sexuality and the Rose of Tralee organisation are firmly backing their girl.

Executive chairman of the Rose of Tralee Anthony O'Gara said he was delighted with the choice of Rose.

Expressions of support for Maria have also been pouring in with 2005 Rose Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain describing her as "a wonderful representative for the festival and young women everywhere".

The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) said it was hugely positive for young gay people having a "huge role model at the heart of Irish culture".