Former Republic of Ireland international Kevin Kilbane has never been shy in his support of Mayo and if Cillian O’Connor finally lifts Sam Maguire, Kilbane’s late father Farrell will be close to his thoughts.
Although Kevin was born and raised in Preston, Farrell was a native of Achill Island and trips to the Irish Centre in Manchester to watch GAA championship games were a regular part of the former soccer star’s childhood.
“When I was a kid growing up, we would have had to go to Manchester to watch the games in the Irish Centre,” said the man who won 110 caps for Ireland. “We would have headed over with one of my uncles... and watched some of the bigger games like All-Ireland semis or finals. That is where we would have had to get our fix when we were growing up.”
Farrell Kilbane passed away in 2015 and his son knows how much an All- Ireland victory would have meant to his late father and to other Mayo emigrants living in England.
“I just think overall it [watching and supporting Mayo] is probably because of my Dad and the way that he was. I am probably desperate for them to win an All-Ireland just for him in the end… he would have wanted it more than anything else in his life when he was living. That is something which would come into my own reckoning, I suppose, when I’m watching them.
“Growing up with Dad and all my uncles, it [supporting Mayo] meant so much to them,” he said. “That in many respects is what the team in general are playing for. I know they are playing for their families, but when you are over in England... you see what it means to all the Mayo people. When they are watching the games it means so much to them. You get sucked up in that atmosphere when you are watching the matches.”
It was only when Kilbane retired from the game that he had more time to return to Ireland and rekindle his love for Mayo GAA.
He regularly tweets to his 80,000 followers about the Mayo team and even got fellow BBC pundit and former England footballer Garth Crooks in on the act when he tweeted a picture of Crooks in the Mayo jersey with the message ‘Garth says Mayo 4 Sam’.
“Garth would always ask [about Mayo] because he knows I would be a fan. He is one of the best guys I work with and I asked him if he minded putting it on and putting it up on Twitter. He said not at all and he did it in good fun and got a great reaction. I am trying to get them on board and maybe get a few others over for the final.”
Kilbane has attended or watched on TV all Mayo’s nine games this summer, and spent most of the time on the edge of his seat. “I do get very nervy when I watch them of course. I’m sure the people around me watching the games will tell you that. I get nervous watching Ireland [but] it would be probably be more so watching Mayo.”
His media roles with Newstalk and TV3 means Kilbane spends a lot of his time in Dublin and knows the pundits give Mayo little hope of capturing Sam. But he has seen something different in this team.
“I really do have a good feeling. You can’t be overly confident given they [Dublin] are one of the best ever, but I just think by how [Mayo] played against Kerry and even the replay against Roscommon, they look fit and strong and hungry. There is so much you got to admire about them … and yeah, I think they will win it.
“They have nothing to prove (to us) but it is to themselves that they can get over the line.”
Kilbane was supposed to be working at Manchester United v Everton tomorrow, but convinced his bosses to reschedule and plans to be at GAA HQ. “I’ve never seen them beaten at Croke Park this year and I hope it continues!”
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