The fun starts early. The motorways up from the west are busy — so busy that by the time the toll-booths near Enfield are hit, the cars are queuing back five and six deep even though it’s not even close to noon.
And the air at the toll-booths is pure giddy. Mayo fans are blowing their horns for the fun of it. Tourists and day-trippers and others are joining in with them. People are just sitting in their cars, waiting their turn, blowing their horns and laughing their heads off.
On up the road and there are kids pushed up against the back window of buses, looking for lads to wave at them. A fella in a black Jetta goes by. You wouldn’t have thought a car with an 02 registration would get up to the speed it does as it canters past. Especially with the crowd that is in the car. All it is short is somebody sitting on the roof.
Up past the Liffey Valley exit, there’s a young Mayo fan standing on a pedestrian bridge waving a flag and more horns are blown.
The traffic heading for Croke Park is insane. Lane adjustments and the
running of an Ironman Challenge and Luas works complicate the journey. Two couples in a Ford car have panicked and are already eating their sandwiches as they inch their way into the city. Maybe they were concerned that
sandwiches wouldn’t get by the new security checks at Croke Park.
The rain starts to fall, slowly, insistently. And then it builds into a monsoon for a while. There’s no sign of it easing and no doubt that the game will be played out in the wet.
But who will that suit? Walking down to the Croke Park along the North Circular, two Mayo supporters reckon the wet day will be better for Mayo.
“Our lads will be more used to it,” says one. “Yes,” says his friend. They must think Kerry is a bit closer to the equator than it actually is.
The pubs all along are spilling out into the street. There are Mayo jerseys everywhere, definitely outnumbering Kerry ones.
And part of the reason for that is that there are thousands of Kerry fans already in the ground watching their minor team cruise past Cavan.
In the middle of this cruising, David Clifford gives another masterclass. Kerry’s minor team are far from a one-man band, but Clifford gives them a dimension that means they can’t be touched.
Three lads from Tralee in the seats behind are in great form, enjoying the exhibition. They worry that Clifford will head to Australia, understand why he would do it and are clear that if they had the chance, they’d be off there too.
Croke Park fills up as the senior game approaches. The atmosphere is the stadium isn’t always up to much, but today the place is rocking.
A man from Ballycastle is in with his young son and his godson. He has a nappy with him for the son and the speculation is that he has one for himself in the bag if it turns into the usual Mayo rollercoaster.
The Ballycastleman is ambiguous about his own playing career. It appears that he played only a little after minor. “I play the guitar now,” he says. And, in fairness, he does a great job on the national anthem.
And when Andy Moran scores a goal he dances a polka and does the same when Colm Boyle adds a second.
The three Kerry lads behind are not nearly as relaxed as they were during the minor game. Nonetheless, 27 All-Irelands breed a certain self-belief. Despite Mayo’s fast start they are fairly sure they’ll win and when Stephen O’Brien scores a goal of his own for Kerry, the ‘fairly sure’ hardens towards certainty.
But for the rest of this outstanding riot of a match, the one thing that is abandoned is certainty. How could a game where Mayo start Aidan O’Shea at full-back end any other way?
As it is, the way the play sweeps around the field, the way the momentum shifts from one to the next and back again, grabs Croke Park and everyone in it and holds onto them until Bryan Sheehan places the ball for a last-minute free to win it for Kerry.
A Kerry woman further along the row has seen enough. She has ensured the wind and the rain for more than an hour, but it’s not the weather that gets her, it’s the drama of the match. She gets up out of her seat and says that she’s off: “I can’t stand this! I can’t stand it!” The Ballycastleman whispers: “Imagine if she supported Mayo!”
Sheehan is a long way out and it’s a wet day, but he is peerless with long frees. If you’re from Mayo, all you want is a draw. This would be a cruelty that no amount of familiarity with cruelty would leave bearable.
“Come on Sheehan,” roars one of the Tralee lads. “Send her over the black spot.” But it’s too much to ask and he can’t do it and the final whistle blows and it’s a draw. Another drawn game in Mayo’s endless season — and the first real match in Kerry’s one.
Immediately, the talk turns to the replay. The Kerry boys are confident. They’re talking up the way their lads will improve. It’s not convincing though. There’s a doubt there that’s grown and grown across the afternoon. They know that their team has met its equal and that the replay holds many perils.
As the crowd files out towards the exit, one joker asks loudly: “Will Kerry rest Maurice Deegan for the replay, do you think?” And everybody laughs.
All around is good humour. The replay promises another epic. The summer lives on.
Some days are just different. This is one of those days: Sunday, 20 August 2017 when Kerry and Mayo play out a great draw in Croke Park.
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