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Mayo fans put the party on hold ahead of All Ireland final

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Mayo fans put the party on hold ahead of All Ireland final
The Mayo football team (Credit: Sportsfile)

A caller to a radio phone-in show on Monday night came out with a statement that sums up the new found attitude within the Mayo football family, a family desperate for something to really shout about.

Malachy Clerkin, a fine young man who works for The Irish Times, was on air with presenter Matt Cooper on Today FM and my old friend Liam Hayes, and together they were shooting the breeze in the aftermath of Mayo’s win over Tyrone.

Monaghan man Malachy, an astute observer of all things GAA, remarked that Mayo people of all persuasions are a bit more sedate about their latest date with Sam than they were this time last year when they also qualified for the All-Ireland decider.

He noted that there were no “ole ole oles” when the final whistle blew on Sunday evening in Croker, no “Mayo, Mayo, Mayo” cries of approval in the minutes leading up to that final whistle.

Instead, the Mayo footballers on the field, their management team on the sideline and their fans in the crowd kept their feet firmly on the ground on Sunday.

Or, as a caller suggested to that radio show or another one, a scalded cat never sits in front of the fire again – as they say in Mayo apparently.

I nearly crashed the car laughing when I heard that phrase used to describe the current trepidation of a county that knows great expectations lead to greater falls.

Waiting 62 years for an All-Ireland final win tends to do that to you.

So does qualifying for successive All-Ireland finals and losing as Mayo discovered in 1996 and 1997 when the bonfires had to be quickly discarded after September heartache in Dublin.

Mayo fans have always been a confident lot but this year, as Malachy observed, they have realism to their armor.  And rightly so.

A year ago, they fancied their chances against Donegal, but Jim McGuinness’s side smashed their dreams to smithereens as goals from Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden had them seven points clear before Mayo found their scoring boots.

Those who know their football, including Messrs Clerkin and Hayes, will tell you that Mayo recovered from that early onslaught to play decent football for the remainder of the 2012 All-Ireland final.

They were probably the better team in the second half, but by then the damage had been done and the big question afterwards was what effect the defeat would have on Mayo.

They could have gone back into their shells. They could have smothered themselves in self-pity, pondered what might have been and never been seen or heard of again as All-Ireland contenders.

They didn’t. A waltz to the Connacht title suggested Mayo had their heads back on this season even if they were never really tested en route to that provincial crown win.

A poor first-half against Tyrone on Sunday – rescued by a couple of late points that restricted the northerners to a one point interval lead – raised several old question marks.

But this Mayo team are more resolute and more determined than ever before. They proved that with a second half display on Sunday that manager Horan summed up best with just one word – grind.

It was a grind for Mayo on Sunday to get their noses in head of Tyrone. The disputed Alan Freeman goal from a penalty helped – Tyrone have lived by the sword with referees all season by the way so ignore their protests – as did their dominance at midfield and the early injury to the great Stephen O’Neill.

But Mayo’s reaction to the win, on and off the field, said more about their potential to finally reach the promised land than any other evidence on show in Croke Park last Sunday.

They didn’t whoop and holler at the end of the game. They didn’t talk with confidence about the test to come against Kerry or Dublin on the third Sunday in September.

Instead they went about their business, in the game and afterwards, with an efficiency and a calmness that suggests this Mayo side is better equipped than any other in recent times to lift Sam Maguire.

That doesn’t mean they will beat Kerry or Dublin of course. But it helps.

They were scalded last year. They were scalded in 1996 and 1997. They’ve learned their lessons. And they’ve learned them well.

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