After last Sunday’s thrilling draw between Kerry and Mayo, the benefits of having the replay staged in Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds should not be understated – amidst all the adversity – writes Shane Kenny.
The first game of the All Ireland Quarter Finals between Kerry and Dublin on a sweltering Bank Holiday weekend in August produces some of the most memorable moments in GAA history.
From the incredible on-field tension of the last ten minutes – which is fortunately accessible for all to relive again on Youtube – to the red-hot atmosphere created by the royal blue swathes of the “Hill 16 Boys On Tour” at the Killinan End, to the Kingdom’s shimmering green and gold flags at the Town End – that day has successfully transcended time.
The exhausted fans leaving that day were left to ponder when the roller-coaster they had just witnessed would end. Kerry surrendered a seven-point lead in the closing minutes; a collapse all too familiar to the Kingdom faithful on many occasions since.
The tempestuous Vinnie Murphy bullied the opposition defense around from his rousing introduction, and once he had turned up the heat on Kerry with a fine goal, Paidi O Sé had to send on his Caherciveen firefighter, Maurice Fitzgerald, to control the blaze.
With Kerry already on the ropes, the pressure was palpable once Darren Holmes flicked a dropping free into the net with minutes left in normal time for Kerry to avoid surrendering their crown from the previous year’s campaign. Dublin ahead down the closing straight; Semple Stadium was rocking.
Queue a frantic finish, where Glenflesk’s Johnny Crowley shot wide when it was easier to equalize, before the resulting kickout was screwed badly out over the sideline. Fitzgerald, with coolness, picked up the ball and adjusted his shorts.
With an irate Dublin Manager Tommy Carr roaring profanities into his ear, Maurice took his run up in a nonchalant fashion. The rest, as they say, is history.
Many similarities can be produced to compare it to last Sunday’s epic finale between Kerry and Mayo.
As much as that last-minute equalizer was enthralling to behold, the most vivid memory of that day and the preceding damp squib of a replay that followed was the choice of venue.
Thurles is sacred hurling territory; regardless of it being a Munster venue, Kerry and Dublin had equal sentiment to feel as if they were impostors in such surroundings. To have the quarter final being played outside of Croker in those days was not entirely unusual; they had only come into existence themselves in the early days of the backdoor system.
Still, to hear your most vocal, charcoal-voiced Jackeen mingling amongst confused Kerrymen whose internal compass was naturally aligned towards Jones Road in August at the Tipperary venue, was a pleasant peculiarity to behold.
Besides the choking traffic, not unlike the chaos experienced by both sets of supporters last Sunday, there is merit and precedent in experiencing a huge championship game off the beaten track.
The following year’s quarter final replay between Armagh and Sligo at Pairc Tailteann, Navan was a real humdinger, where recently Oisin McConville described it as a standout moment in his career. Add in the 2003 replay in Castlebar between Galway and Donegal, where selecting the Tribesmen’s “home from home” stoked much debate before the game began.
It turned out to be a smashing clash, with Brian McEniff’s men prevailing by three points, leaving the previously bemused Tir Chonaill supporters returning home with positive vibes of a worthwhile trip down to McHale Park. A mission accomplished on enemy territory.
Hard-core Mayo supporters may well return with that same feel-good factor next Saturday evening as they turn their cars away from the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.
Unquestionably, the semi-finals should be played at Headquarters, with Mayo, Kerry, and all GAA enthusiasts having the absolute right to bemoan the turn of events which have led to this unfortunate reality. The fact that the game itself may not even be broadcast on terrestrial television is cause for outrage in itself. Capacity will be topped at nearly 50,000 in Limerick and with the interest generated by Sunday’s drawn game, an extra 30,000 could have been accommodated for.
However, for those who can attend next weekend’s fixture, it has the potential to produce a day even more exciting and memorable than preceding examples.
A little adventure away from Croke Park may be what the GAA will need to look at into the future, with Dublin’s juggernaut of deserved success being undermined by their encampment on home soil for every game. Pairc Ui Chaoimh’s facelift will demand more championship action when it is completed. The acquisition of O’Connor Park, Tullamore, which is a fine facility, for Leinster hurling championship matches has been a roaring success, and this writer even attended a qualifier there between Kerry and Antrim in 2009.
Did the team or I know where we were going? Not a jolt, but with that result and the subsequent All Ireland success that year, one can only look back upon that trip into the unknown with fondness.
Mayo have right to feel aggrieved with the proximity to and familiarity that Kerry have with the Gaelic Grounds, but if Kerry were to head to Pearse Stadium in Galway next weekend, I doubt Eamonn Fitzmaurice or his players would be too concerned about what corner the Supermacs van would be on.
At this semi-final stage in the championship, one cannot imagine either side will place the venue as an excuse for their downfall when all is said and done. They have trained too hard for this opportunity to be derailed by an alternative venue.
This game will also provide both sides with extra preparation for a tilt at Sam, with Dublin, the favourites, or Donegal waiting in the wings. Mayo will be heartened at their rousing display with fourteen men, while Kerry will sweat on injuries to Stephen O’Brien, Declan O’Sullivan and Brian Sheehan for the duration of the six day turnaround.
However, with the “Star” remarkably regaining his lustre at a vital juncture, Kerry may be encouraged to call on the big man once again. Otherwise, Kieran Donaghy’s impact will hope to be felt as strongly as Maurice Fitzgerald’s was in the cauldron of Thurles in 2001.
Besides, why should we not expect that Limerick will be awash with raucous crowd and a sea of Green, Red and Gold colors, and as packed to the rafters as Thurles was on that wonderful bank holiday weekend?
It may even become the standout moment of Championship 2014 if Mayo can defy the odds and travel in numbers to Limerick, and turn over the Kingdom for the first time since 1996.
If we can get a finish reminiscent of last Sunday, or of Thurles in 2001, then how many Kerry or Mayo supporters will strut their stuff in years to come, proclaiming they attended the classic on that faithful weekend, in Limerick 2014?
Shane Kenny, Pundit Arena.