Gabriel Irwin tended nets for Mayo between 1989 and 1993, a relatively successful period for the county as they captured three Connacht titles. However, the All-Ireland remained out of their grasp.
Mayo came closest in Irwin's first season of senior inter-county football in 1989. They made it to the final that year but lost to Cork by three points. "It was within our grasp but it just slipped away," says Irwin.
Anthony Finnerty's miss when clean on goal is often cited as the turning point that took the game away from Mayo. Irwin, though, feels Finnerty was unduly criticised as he believes the 'keeper saved it rather than it being a miss. "I haven't watched it in years but I think when you look at the replay he got his fingertips to it but it was given as a wide."
Irwin doesn't think anyone really knows where Mayo are at this year. "You don't really know what Mayo are like. London was such a wake-up call, even in my day the first match was always a dodgy one. In the Connacht final you couldn't criticise the teams with the weather, the conditions were atrocious. If it was a league game, it would have been called off."
He feels Mayo have a big task ahead of them today. "You'd be hopeful but you can't look past Cork. It's hard not to look at a Cork victory. They were coming in waves against Down. They're a very big, strong, mobile team."
One player he thinks can match the Cork players physically is Aidan O'Shea. "I was impressed by O Shea, he moves well for such a big physical guy."
Irwin thinks that one thing the modern game has been missing is the dead-ball specialist. "The lack of the dead-ball free taker, I know it's coming back, but it really is such an advantage to have one in your team. On a windy day it's easier to kick off the ground and you can get more distance."
Irwin lives in Ballina where he works for Connacht Gold. He is no longer involved with the game. "Once I got away from it, I didn't get the appetite back."
Sunday Indo Sport