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Mayo need to park venue row: Duignan

MICHAEL DUIGNAN knows all about playing an All-Ireland semi-final 'down the sticks' ... but he also appreciates that the back story to Offaly's trip to Tipp in '98 was radically different to the circumstances facing the Mayo footballers heading to Limerick this weekend.

The Sunday Game hurling analyst (pictured) has a simple message for the Mayo management and players facing into Saturday's journey into the unknown: "If it was me, I wouldn't even be thinking about (the venue), it wouldn't bother me. As far as I'd be concerned as a player, the match is in Limerick, that's it."

There was nothing remotely straight-forward 
about how Offaly and Clare hurlers ended up in Thurles 16 years ago. They had drawn their first semi-final in Croke Park. Clare 'won' the replay only for one critical detail - Jimmy Cooney's premature final whistle rendering the result null and void.

Cue a refixture, the circus moving to Semple Stadium. 
Offaly, reprieved and relieved, were more than happy to embrace the change of scenery.

Offaly had trained there in the past, just to escape the monotony of Tullamore or Birr. Most of them had played there too. For all Clare's Munster championship experience, it was seen as a neutral venue. The pristine surface was another plus: "As a hurling team, we knew we'd hurl well in Thurles," says Duignan.

He recalls: "Trying to get into Thurles was absolutely mental with the traffic and with people. We had a garda escort but then wherever we went for a cup of tea beforehand, the crowd were already around.

"You wouldn't be used to driving into the square in Thurles, because normally you'd be whizzed into Croke Park, a quiet enough route, and get off the bus.


"But you were actually nearly being slapped off the bus by the supporters, and then getting back on to 
the bus and being surrounded by the whole hysteria of the match. You had that feeling of being an awful lot closer to the supporters and to the occasion."

As a former county dual star, Duignan knows his football and he also knows this Saturday is a bigger ask for Mayo than the ultimately successful Offaly in '98.

"It's nearly going into Kerry's back garden in terms of logistics and transport and travelling. And Mayo's experience of Limerick - did Mayo ever play in Limerick?" he wonders.

"It's amazing, this home-and-away thing, with young lads even. It's something I would have always been unconcerned about. We used to play Birr in county finals in Birr; because we liked playing in Birr, it never bothered me. It's a mindset.

"So if I was James Horan or the players, whenever the decision was made, and it wasn't going to be overturned on Monday ... then put it behind you and get on with it. I think that's what everyone has to do now. It happened; it shouldn't have maybe happened; but that's it."