Friday 17 November 2017

'It's more than just the football ... the club is the lifeblood of this little community '

Des Jennings has thought about little else all week: can Mayo bridge a 62-year gap and return home with the Sam Maguire Cup?

The football fanatic from Breaffy – in the hinterland of Castlebar – was just five years old when the county won its last All-Ireland football title and, as a boy, he would not have believed that they would fail to win another one.

"The 1951 win was their second in a row," he says. "Everyone thought there would be many more, but it took us a very long time to reach another final (1989) and then it was one defeat after another. It has been very hard to take. We've got so near, and yet so far. I thought we had it in 1996 ...

"In recent years, they've started talking about a curse being put on Mayo – but I think that's hogwash."

Des played for Breaffy in the 1960s and has had an involvement with the club ever since. "The club is the lifeblood of this little community," he says. "And it's so much more than just football – it's a big social draw too."

Des's entire family share his love of the game. His wife, Nancy, is devoted to the Mayo cause despite being originally from Edgeworthstown in Co Longford ("another club with a great tradition," he says), and their four children – Gerry, Declan, Trisha and Karl – share a common love of Breaffy and Mayo GAA. The tradition is carried on by Des's grandchildren too. Karl is in Australia at present, but won't miss a second of the final in front of a big screen in Melbourne.

Like so many other families from across the country, a large group of Jennings will travel to Dublin today and make a mini-holiday out of All-Ireland final weekend. "We'll stay up the night before and the night of the game – win, lose or draw," he says. "There's something very special about the weekend of an All-Ireland. There's such huge expectation the night before and the morning of the match – and then you're biting your nails for the 70 minutes of the game."

After watching Mayo succumbing to a powerful Donegal side in last year's final, Des believes the 2013 team can go one step further. "They have looked very good this year," he says. "Their fitness level is better this time around and there's real confidence that they can do it. I took great heart out of the way they played against Tyrone in the second half of the semi-final."

Victory over Dublin, he believes, would be celebrated with a fervour reserved for those who have tasted defeat much too often. He will not contemplate losing: "We just can't think that way," he says. "This is the year."

John Meagher

Irish Independent

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