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Keeping the home fires burning

Sport

UP FOR THE MATCH Mayo supporters, from left, Ruth Melvin, Geraldine Cleary, Ann-Marie Casey and Ailish Duffy await the arrival of the Mayo team outside Croke Park last Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile

A Fan’s View
Anne-Marie Flynn

IF 2020 has taught this writer anything, it is the importance of living in the moment, appreciating what you have, and taking joy in small pleasures.
Hankering after what you might have lost or you can’t have is human nature, but brings only bitterness and dissatisfaction.
We know from The Mayo News Football Podcast just how cold it was in Croke Park on Sunday. Yet, given the opportunity, you can be certain that had it been permitted, 80,000 would still probably have braved the collective prospect of frostbite and hypothermia without a second thought.
But once again, the home fires kept us warm, and the lifting of restrictions meant that for the first time I recall since probably 1989, I got to enjoy the privilege of watching an All-Ireland semi-final with my parents.
God help them.
The 2012 final was the last big game I attended with my mother.
Wedged up against the perspex partition that separates the Hogan Stand from the Nally, it was there she decided that the comfort of home was an infinitely more preferable option for big games than traipsing across the country, only to have to contend with not just losses, but the lack of emotional restraint of an adult daughter who really should know better.
Since then she has happily settled for TV, where short walks around the garden provide some respite from the game stress. Sadly, my constantly unfortunate seating placement (usually near the front and in full view of the TV cameras) means I continue to occasionally embarrass the family.
Growing up, my household wasn’t a GAA one. I place the blame for my lifelong obsession squarely on the shoulders of ‘Larry’ Finnerty and Liam McHale. ‘Larry’ for the flamboyance and the goal in the 1989 Roscommon replay, and Liam because you had a good chance of spotting him around the town as frequently as on the telly.
While my parents are obviously invested in the outcome of the games, I envy their ability to put it all into context - like most normal people.
Anyway, it was a joy to congregate, all three of us, in front of the fire with the tea on tap, Cillian on fire, and my mother on commentary alongside Mike Finnerty – the first GAA game I think I have ever watched on Sky. I admit that the absence of Dessie Dolan, with whom many of us have spent more time with this year than our own families, was not mourned.
It was thoroughly enjoyable. The nerves had been at me all week, in the face of all logic of my more knowledgeable friends who were always confident of the outcome.
I felt vindicated in the first ten minutes, and then our ‘Greatest of All Time’ put all my doubts to bed in an exhibition of goal-poaching that was, in fact, the ‘Greatest of All Time’.
Despite the win, the debate around tactics rages on as heated as ever.
What looked like mind-boggling decision-making in the second half may have been deliberate, suggested those who know more than me. When a game is over early, teams sometimes use the remaining time to try out new things, or things that badly need work.
I think most of us can agree that our midfield and defence need work. But the beauty of Mayo is that in two weeks’ time, they could look like an entirely different unit.
Brilliantly flawed, outrageously showman-like and stutteringly vulnerable, all in the space of a single game, our team tore up the script again, to claim what they clearly feel is their rightful place in a final.
I love their defiance; their unpredictability and this new journey they’ve brought us on.
And now we get to take joy in these moments, relish a build-up like no other, and dare to dream big again. What more could you ask for?

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