No room for cynicism in a final made for purists
ALL All-Ireland finals are a ticket quandary because of the unsentimental law of supply and demand; in any given year one county could fill the stadium on its own and still have some people left disappointed, writes Dermot Crowe.
But today's All-Ireland football final between Dublin and Mayo seems to have moved into a different stratosphere of desperate and tragically futile quests to gain admission to Jones Road. Dublin, of course, bring a huge volume of support that's impossible to satisfy. Mayo – well, you know how it is with Mayo.
Obscene prices have circulated on the black market – this match being a tout's dream – and on Friday one Dublin acquaintance had a list of 20 regular dyed-in-the-wool match-goers seeking a miracle. All were rapidly losing hope. They were preparing for surrender and the reality that they would be embellishing the vast television audience figures. Allocations are down. Mayo claim to have had more tickets last year when they met Donegal even though they also have their minors in action today.
Pity the respective county secretaries who are prime targets for ticket hunters and for whom qualifying for an All-Ireland final must always be a double-edged sword. Reports of one having gone to ground for over a week makes sense and invokes a nodding sympathy. His absence has earned him the sobriquet Lord Lucan in the office where he is usually found and he has taken to various crude disguises to avoid being spotted by ticketless followers.
Dublin are the slightest of favourites to win today after coming here with a team containing some All-Ireland winners from two years ago, and a few colts who have made remarkable impressions in their first year. They are part of a new generation of fearless and talented players that have been tutored by Jim Gavin at under 21 level.
Gavin has championed a freer flowing style some feared naive, while accepting that it is highly entertaining to watch. His approach refreshingly rejects the recent devotion to blanket defence. It is pure rather than puke football. It is a simple and implacable trust in attack being the best means of defence. What is there not to like?
Mayo, too, are a team that have thrown away the old maudlin streak of yesterday and haven't been afraid to say they have a good team and that they expect to win the matches they play in. This stems from manager James Horan's own core beliefs and he has overseen a new hard-edged transformation in Mayo mind and body. They have many backers to end that storied 62-year wait since the county last took Sam home. This looks their best chance, even though they have gone to Croke Park before with hopes high and left with the talk and laughter bet out of them.
This, then, is a footballer's final. Whether Sam is to be ribboned in blue or in green and red, the hope is that it sees the championship end in a celebration of all that is good about a game too often blemished by cynicism. Let us hope for a thrilling reminder of why we picked up a ball in the first place and began our different journeys to where that love took us.