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The GAA patrons in both Galway and Mayo have one thing in common this week, a frantic search for tickets for next Saturday and Sunday’s two sell-out games at Croke Park. It promises to be a hectic 24 hours of GAA action with Mayo replaying Dublin for a place in the decider against perennial favourites Kerry, and the Galway hurlers trying to bridge a 27-year gap that stretches back to Conor Hayes as team captain in 1988.
GAA patrons in both Galway and Mayo have one thing in common this week: a frantic search for tickets for next Saturday and Sunday’s two sell-out games at Croke Park.
An elderly lady once told me that “Apart from the Irish language, we have nothing more Irish in this country than the game of hurling.” I agree. It is the greatest game of them all. It is probably the number one game in the county, attendances at senior county finals being a very good criterion — the hurling final has always been the bigger attraction than the football counterpart, “even in the balmy days of our football three-in-a-row,” according to the late Jack Mahon.
Ten minutes from time Jack McCaffery swung the ball over the bar and the Hill was in full voice as Dublin went seven points clear and Mayo were hanging on looking for a punchers chance of resurrecting their interest in this years All Ireland senior championship. But they dug in and fought it out to the not so bitter end. Eight minutes from time Andy Moran fired over a nice score from play, a minute later Keith Higgins side stepped his way to a point and the gap was closing in.
"What we do need to concentrate on is being at our very best in June, July, August, and September, and whatever we have to do to be in the best shape we can be, that's what we have to concentrate on," said Noel Connelly on a wet and cold evening last November when he and Pat Holmes sat down to meet the local press for the first time after their appointment as the new Mayo senior management ticket. This coming Sunday is last Sunday in August, and things have gone exactly to that plan so far. If they are to keep going until September then the next step is to get over Dublin on Sunday.
He is one of the hardest, toughest, defenders you are likely to come across on the field of play, the kind of guy who puts his head in where it hurts, without consideration for his own wellbeing in the pursuit of victory. His hard hits are legendary, with the shoulder he put in on Damien Comer in last year's Connacht championship meeting between Mayo and Galway being felt right back up to the rafters in the stand in MacHale Park. But when you meet Colm Boyle off the field, he is one of the nicest fellows you could meet. Boyle has become a regular of the Mayo senior team press events and he is always courteous with his time and willing to ask whatever questions are put to him. For a guy who thought six year ago his inter-county career might have been over, he has become one of the backbones of Mayo success over the last half a decade.
Traditionally, once the starting 15 was announced all talk would move towards the various match-ups that would occur on the field. But even with Mayo announcing their starting 15 on Wednesday night for Sunday's big game, most of the talk was shifted towards "is that how they will actually line out". Since Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly threw the curve ball of dropping Barry Moran into the starting 15 for Mayo's win over Donegal in the quarter final win over the Ulster men, the chances of their doing the same for Dublin became a more real possability.
As Mayo people, it really does not seem to bother us right now because we most definitely dine at the top table in terms of Gaelic football. Not only have the Mayo team won five Nestor cups in a row but more impressively they have qualified for the All-Ireland semi-final five years in a row, beating Donegal twice, Cork twice, and Down in those quarter finals. Two of them, victories against Cork in 2011 and Donegal in 2013, were when they were All Ireland champions.
There is only one topic on the lips of every Galway hurling supporter since the team put in the performance of the season last Sunday to plunder the All Ireland semi-final and transport every fan into a state of ecstasy not experienced for many a year.