The west awaits, with all eyes on Sam

Whole county holds its breath ahead of clash with the Dubs

Irish Independent - - FRONT PAGE - Ni­cola An­der­son

Teacher Ais­ling Do­herty lifts Sam with pupils of New­port Na­tional School – a feat her twin brother, Mayo star Ja­son Do­herty, will hope to repli­cate. Photo: Mark Con­dren

I N the foothills of Croagh Pa­trick, a gold All-Ire­land medal gleams in the last rays of the set­ting sun, a tan­ta­lis­ing tal­is­man for what may come to­mor­row.

“There’ll be plenty more where that came from,” Mayo fan Michael Gill prom­ises Mike (17) and Lucy (14) Daw­son, the grand­chil­dren of quiet Joe Staunton, one of the last men to take the Sam Maguire home to Mayo in 1951 and who passed away in 2011.

Joe never talked much about his own glory but went to all the matches – and re­mained frus­trated when the county failed to re­cap­ture the magic, re­calls his son-in-law, Ger Daw­son.

But this time Mayo is united in cer­tainty that 66 years of famine ends to­mor­row.

And even Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar con­cedes the whole coun­try – bar Dublin – will be root­ing for Mayo.

Mr Varad­kar, who rep­re­sents the Dublin West con­stituency, said he is “sup­posed to pre­tend to be neu­tral but I don’t think any­body would be­lieve that”.

“Of course I’ll be hop­ing that Dublin win the three in a row. But I’m con­scious that the rest of the coun­try will be cheer­ing for Mayo.

“I don’t think any­body would be­grudge them if they won,” he says.

“They’ve been in so many fi­nals now and come so close that I can un­der­stand why any­body out­side of Dublin would be root­ing for them.”

At Michael Gill’s house in Le­can­vey, down the road from Staunton’s Pub, two flags provoca­tively flut­ter in the stiff breeze blow­ing up from Clew Bay, the blue of the Dubs for his wife Ais­ling and the green and red for Michael, a re­tired garda who spent many years work­ing out of Don­ny­brook sta­tion.

Michael made head­lines back in 2006 when a pho­to­graph plucked him out of Hill 16 – a lone fig­ure in his county colours, stand­ing amid a sea of blue.

A song by Gerry Car­roll, ‘Mayo for Sam 2013 Michael Gill on Hill 16’, ce­mented his status as one of the county’s cult he­roes. This year is the first time since 1989 that he hasn’t been able to lay his hands on a ticket.

A mid­wife at Castle­bar Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, Ais­ling jokes that she is only al­lowed “the tini­est Dublin flag” in the hos­pi­tal, but staff pack it neatly away on her day off.

“I think I prob­a­bly scanned all the Mayo team as ba­bies,” she laughs.

The cou­ple’s own three sons are di­vided in loy­alty – but the whole fam­ily be­lieve Mayo can do it. “They’ll have to play out of their skins but they can do it,” says Michael.

Martin Con­nolly, a for­mer Mayo player and county se­lec­tor, be­lieves they have an ex­cel­lent chance.

The team has been well tested while Dublin has not, he points out.

“Mayo will bring ev­ery­thing but the kitchen sink,” he warns.

At New­port Na­tional

‘Mayo will bring ev­ery­thing but the kitchen sink’

School, the en­tire stu­dent body – amongst them for­mer player Colm McMana­mon’s son, Kyle (6) – has turned out in flam­boy­ant green and red and there’s chaos as they scream “Up Mayo!”

Daithí Mo­ran’s mother spent half an hour painstak­ingly de­pict­ing the county crest on her nineyear-old son’s face (in­set left), while even prin­ci­pal Bríd Cham­bers is sport­ing the county colours.

Bríd is an­other fan strug­gling to get a ticket which are like “hens’ teeth”, she laments.

Teacher Ais­ling Do­herty, twin sis­ter of player Ja­son Do­herty, re­veals the team are in good form and “well up for it”.

Her fam­ily will be trav­el­ling to Croke Park to­gether. “I just can’t wait for it to be over now,” she says, the nerves build­ing.

In West­port, pub­li­can Mick Byrne hasn’t missed a Mayo match since 1981 and isn’t let­ting the fact that he is on crutches get in the way this time.

A poster on the wall reads: “They can have the Hill but we’ll take the field.”

But if Mayo lose? “We will just gather up the pieces and go back again ‘til we do win it,” he says firmly.

Michael Gill and wife Ais­ling (above) show off their colours; Left, Mayo fans Mickey Collins (on left) and Ti­mothy Brody with Dubs fan Daniel Halpin at Drim­nagh Cas­tle Pri­mary School in Dublin. Pho­tos: Mark Con­dren and Caro­line Quinn

Mike Daw­son with his grand­fa­ther Joe Staunton’s 1951 All Ire­land medal

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