Football final pairing will draw eyes of world to Croker

The draw in the All-Ireland senior hurling final has resulted in Sunday’s football final getting somewhat less coverage than might otherwise be the case in the lead up to the big game.

The draw in the All-Ireland senior hurling final has resulted in Sunday’s football final getting somewhat less coverage than might otherwise be the case in the lead up to the big game.

Sunday’s final brings a unique pairing of Donegal and Mayo to Croke Park. It is remarkable that for the third year in-a-row we have two different teams playing off for the ultimate prize in Gaelic football.

This is a great pairing for the promotion of the sport. We have two counties with passionate supporters who crave success. Many Donegal supporters have vivid memories of their county’s last success in 1992, whereas most Mayo supporters were not born when the county won its last All-Ireland title in 1951.

We may think that the search for All-Ireland tickets is difficult in Kilkenny, but spare a thought this week for supporters of Donegal and Mayo.

GAA Director General, Paraic Duffy, said last week that the ’Association could have twice sold out this year’s football final.

That comment came as no surprise to me.

Mad search for tickets

I am sure some Galway and Kilkenny supporters travelled from many parts of the world for the hurling final, but those numbers will be insignificant compared to the hordes of Donegal and Mayo supporters who will take to the air this week to be in Croke Park on Sunday.

I know from contacts in the US that the search for tickets has reached frenzied levels. Where possible hurling tickets were swapped, but as we head towards Sunday’s final thousands of travelling supporters will come to Dublin hoping to get hold of the last ‘golden’ tickets.

Many will pay a king’s ransom to watch their native county. For some, just being in Dublin in the vicinity of Croke Park will be as good as it gets, but nothing will stop them celebrating victory if their county is successful.

The interest in this year’s final in the US is not surprising given the huge number of Mayo and Donegal people who travelled across the Atlantic in search of a better life. 

In the Catskills, north of New York, over 300 Mayo supporters recently gathered to see their exciting semi-final against Dublin. 

I was reliably informed that ‘the place went wild’ with scenes reminiscent of any major hostelry in Mayo. That same scene was replicated in many Irish bars and clubs across America during both semi-finals.

Long-stuffing Mayo supporters come to Croke Park on Sunday hoping that, maybe after so many years of heartache, their time has finally arrived. Solid performances in the Connacht championship saw their side win their provincial title with consummate ease.

A 12 point victory over Down saw the westerners win their quarter-final at its ease, brushing aside the northerners in emphatic fashion. But it was their semi-final performance against defending champions, Dublin which made many people sit up and take serious note of Mayo’s credentials.

For 40 minutes they led the Dubs a merry dance and looked unbeatable, but the closing 20 minutes were decidedly uncomfortable for the westerners.

Without doubt they deserved to win, but they nearly got caught at the finishing line. A late surge saved the day. A similar collapse on Sunday could well be fatal.

Donegal received a lot of criticism last year for its style of play, but they are a transformed side this year with an attacking style that no team thus far has been able to handle. Manager, Jim McGuinness has a superb group of athletes at his disposal and the energy his side expended in its defeat of Cork was hugely impressive. 

Two Ulster titles in-a-row is testimony to the quality in this Donegal team. Dublin just about got the better of them last year in a game that is best forgotten on their way to winning the title.

This year the Tír Connell men made no mistake at the semi-final stage when deservedly defeating championship favourites Cork. I was at that game and was really taken by the athleticism in the side. Every one of the outfield players attacked and defended throughout the game.

Such was the movement from the players that it was impossible to know where anyone was positioned.

Tears shed

The telepathic understanding between the players was highly impressive and while Cork was never out of the game, there was no denying which side deserved to win. Both sides stand an excellent chance of victory on Sunday, but for me the odds favour the northerners. 

It is somewhat of a cliché to say that some teams reinvent a particular sport, but Donegal has brought an exciting dimension to Gaelic football this year. Who would ever have thought this possible after last year’s ultra-defensive style?

During my term as GAA President I had the honour of presenting an under 21 All-Ireland trophy to Mayo. Grown men (and women) shed buckets of tears in Ennis that evening.

It was a wonderful sight to see the joy in the faces of those Mayo people after so many disappointing results.

This is one All-Ireland final when we can truly say that the world will be watching. By virtue of their isolation on the western seaboard of Ireland many Mayo and Donegal people departed from these lands in search of work and a decent life.

For 70 minutes on Sunday, if they are not in Croke Park, their eyes will be firmly focused on a green field in Dublin 3 with thoughts of home very much on their minds. Win or lose, no doubt, a few tears will be shed.