Twenty-one years later and the road still winds on­wards for Mayo –

1996 All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal win over Kerry pointed the way for Con­nacht

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Seán Mo­ran

It was a dif­fer­ent world: be­fore the qual­i­fiers re­struc­tured the cham­pi­onship and be­fore the cal­en­dar year re­de­fined the sea­son. Yet the 1996 All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal re­mains the only time in more than 50 years that Kerry have lost in the cham­pi­onship to a Con­nacht county.

It pro­vided Mayo with a pas­sage to the All-Ire­land fi­nal in which they came clos­est to bridg­ing the gap to 1951 – they were six points up in both the draw and re­play against Meath – and served no­tice that the western prov­ince was about to be­come a reg­u­lar cham­pi­onship con­tender.

Within two years Gal­way would take the Sam Maguire across the Shan­non and add a fur­ther ti­tle in 2001. Mayo would reach nine fi­nals – in­clud­ing two re­plays – with­out getting over the line.

This Sun­day in Croke Park Mayo take on Kerry once more in the semi-fi­nals and for the sev­enth time in the cham­pi­onship since 1996. Al­though the drawn match of three years ago re­mains the best that have done since, no-one in Kerry is likely to be feel­ing par­tic­u­larly com­pla­cent.

“Mayo are a team that are learn­ing from their ex­pe­ri­ences all the time,” says Kil­lian Burns, who lined out for Kerry in that semi-fi­nal 21 years ago. “They have taken Dublin right to the edge in a way Kerry haven’t so far man­aged in the cham­pi­onship.”

Burns was one of an up­com­ing gen­er­a­tion of play­ers, who won the Mun­ster cham­pi­onship for the first time in five years in 1996. It was the first sea­son of Páidí Ó Sé’s man­age­ment and he had started to re­build the team.

“We were a mix of un­der-21s and older lads who had had no real suc­cess for a long time,” says Burns. “We were very happy to beat Cork and the younger play­ers who’d had Páidí at un­der-21 were down in Ven­try the next day cel­e­brat­ing. I re­mem­ber there was a pho­tog­ra­pher from The Ker­ry­man there tak­ing pho­tos.

Cel­e­bra­tions

“The one used on the front of the sports sup­ple­ment showed Páidí and a cou­ple of play­ers but be­hind them, stuck in a cor­ner, there I am with a pint. The photo wasn’t used in a crit­i­cal con­text, just a pic­ture of the cel­e­bra­tions but Jack O’Shea had a col­umn at the time in the Sun­day Times and he made a com­ment about the pic­ture, sug­gest­ing we were par­ty­ing too hard and we should be con­cen­trat­ing on Mayo.

“He was look­ing in from out­side of Kerry but he was right re­ally. We were young and Páidí was less mea­sured as a man­ager and still only around 40. He was the age I am now and I like a cou­ple of pints with my old bud­dies. I mean he was prob­a­bly still sore about be­ing dropped as a player! So this was big for him that Kerry were back up there and we just didn’t re­ally think of Mayo.”

Mayo had their own rea­sons to cel­e­brate. Within the pre­vi­ous 12 months they had gone from los­ing a pro­vin­cial fi­nal and getting rel­e­gated to Divi­sion Three to bounc­ing back in the league, reach­ing the 1996 semi-fi­nals, and re­gain­ing the Con­nacht ti­tle.

Like Kerry they were un­der new man­age­ment. John Maughan was a for­mer county player who had his ca­reer ended by in­jury. Still in his mid-30s he had a strik­ing dis­tinc­tion: he had al­ready beaten Kerry in cham­pi­onship. As man­ager of Clare he had taken the county to a first Mun­ster ti­tle in 75 years, beat­ing Kerry in the 1992 fi­nal.

“There were a lot of pos­i­tives to John,” says An­thony Fin­nerty, who played in the 1996 semi-fi­nal and was a vet­eran of John O’Ma­hony’s 1989 side that had con­tested Mayo’s first All-Ire­land fi­nal in 38 years. He knew Maughan from their play­ing days and had been per­suaded to come back.

“He was a good trainer, who worked teams hard. He had Clare very, very com­pet­i­tive and win­ing Mun­ster so of course that im­pressed us. We wouldn’t have had any fear of that Kerry team.

“We’d played them in a chal­lenge in Lim­er­ick and knew they weren’t like the team of the 1970s and ’80s.

“Beat­ing them was still a big thing but more be­cause we were back in an All-Ire­land fi­nal. A few of us had been there in ’89 and we said to the younger fel­las, ‘this is a big deal – getting to the fi­nal’. To an ex­tent we were tick­ing a box, win­ning a semi-fi­nal but it was still a very sig­nif­i­cant win.”

Re­venge

Mayo con­trolled most of the match and won by a com­fort­able six points. Burns had been a stu­dent in UCG since 1993 and was fa­mil­iar with foot­ballers in the west.

“It was weird. I ended up mark­ing Mau­rice Sheri­dan, who I knew well and marked in Siger­son train­ing. There were good play­ers there but it wasn’t as if I was ner­vous about an up­ris­ing of Con­nacht foot­ball.”

The fol­low­ing year Kerry got their re­venge in the 1997 All-Ire­land fi­nal.

“We were in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent state of mind,” says Burns. “I wouldn’t say we felt we had been caught on the hop be­cause Mayo were a good team and bet­ter than us but we cer­tainly said we were def­i­nitely de­ter­mined not to let it hap­pen again.”

Ray Silke be­came the first player from Con­nacht to raise the Sam Maguire in 32 years when he cap­tained Gal­way in 1998. He says that his team were un­doubt­edly in­flu­enced by Mayo.

“It wasn’t so much that they had beaten Kerry but they got to two All-Ire­land fi­nals and should have won in 1996 – the ticker tape was in sight! It made us aware that our po­si­tion in foot­ball wasn’t that far away. Mayo could have won an All-Ire­land and we’d beaten them the pre­vi­ous year so when we beat them again in ‘98 we knew we had a shot.”

Twenty-one years later the road winds on­wards for Mayo. An­thony Fin­nerty hopes that the cur­rent team can take a sign­post from the past.

“I think their con­fi­dence is im­proved with the win the last day and maybe they can look back at ’96 and say, ‘we have beaten them!’”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: INPHO

Mayo’s Colm McMe­n­a­mon cel­e­brates with fans af­ter beat­ing Kerry in the 1996 All-Ire­land SFC semi-fi­nal.

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