I know it sounds like an old cliché but tickets for this All-Ireland final do seem to be like gold dust. If I believe everything I’m told some Mayo folk are willing to give limbs and/or offspring just to get their hands on one. Never mind a Willy Wonka golden ticket, just give me a ticket for the All-Ireland seems to be the message. Even with our minors through to the final there seems to be a scarcity in the county. The main reason for this is because of our opponents, they will have an even bigger problem than us because of their large following. Any neutral county players I spoke to in the last few weeks don’t want to offload their tickets as they feel this game could surpass the semi final encounter between the Dubs and Kerry and want to be there to watch it. Spare a thought for Paddy McNicholas, Vincent Neary and the county board who have the grim task of distributing the tickets to success-starved Mayo fans.
We got a real glimpse of All-Ireland final fever last Sunday. We thought the Dublin Kerry football semi-final would not be surpassed this year for excitement but the hurling final between Cork and Clare brought the word dramatic to a whole new level. It was enthralling stuff by two teams who went hell for leather and despite Clare being the better team they will be glad of a replay. It would have been very unjust if Clare had lost that game but the same old rule applies - goals win matches, well almost win matches, and to think a corner back from Clare’s Domhnall O’Donovan who never scored a championship point in his life, was the hero albeit 30 seconds after the final whistle should have blown. I don’t think anybody outside of Cork will begrudge them the draw. If there is any lesson for us to learn from this it’s to make sure your free takers are up to speed and they bring their A-game with them. Clare’s Colin Ryan ended the game with 12 points, despite missing two chances in the second half, and Cork’s Pa Horgan scored 11 points and I don’t think he missed a chance from a dead ball. It was a master class in free taking.
Being the free taker isn’t the easiest job, trust me
Leading to the Cillian O’Connor story, has anyone’s name been mentioned as much as O’Connor’s in the last few weeks? Without any direct knowledge, I’m becoming more confident that he will play and going back to our lesson from the hurling and the importance of free takers – we need him to play. He has such a cool head on young shoulders. I don’t think Kevin McLoughlin will want the added responsibility of being the free taker, and despite Alan Freeman’s semi-final heroics, he can have off days too. It puts huge pressure on a player and your whole game can deteriorate as a result of missing a free or two and I don’t think McLoughlin or Freeman will want that burden. Case in point, the Limerick hurling full forward, Declan Hannon couldn’t miss a free in the Munster championship but when he got to Croke Park for the semi-final he couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo, and as a result his game crumbled and he got substituted with 20 minutes to go.
Personally I hated taking frees and before Maurice Sheridan established himself as first choice in the mid nineties I was given the job in some games and did not enjoy the experience.
It’ll all be a bit mad from now on in for the players
The Mayo players will have experienced a very surreal few weeks in the build-up to the final. They will be treated like pop stars and pin-ups and you can forget about One Direction in Mayo in the next few weeks. All young folk will want is posters and pictures of Alan Dillon, Aiden O’Shea and whatever other Mayo player they can get hold of. The way players are released for media duties now is much different from my time. There was one press night and it’s a take it or leave it for the nation’s journalists and TV stations. Players were forbidden from talking to the press other than on that night. We had press nights in the build-up to our All-Irelands but it still didn’t stop a journalist walking into our shop: “Would you mind if I had a quick chat”. I’m guessing I had about 100 people a day calling into our shop for pictures, autographs etc for the few weeks before the All-Ireland finals I played in, and although it is very kind of people to offer best wishes, it is also very energy sapping and distracting from the job in hand and so the decision was made — I went into hiding on the Wednesday before the All-Ireland final in 1996, I had to. I am wondering how Donal Vaughan is coping as he is in a very similar situation to myself working in the family business. Sam McGuire was present in the McWilliam Hotel on Tuesday last and what a fantastic turn-out to see it. There was huge interest in winning the main raffle prize of two tickets to the All-Ireland but unfortunately my name didn’t come out. I’ll have to keep searching.
If you want to get in touch with John you can drop an email to [email protected]