We can all remember well those All-Ireland final defeats to Kerry but the last time we met them in the penultimate round of the championship turned out to be one of the great days we’ve had in Croke Park in recent years. I’m delighted to welcome An Spailpín Fánach back into the guest slot to provide some thoughts on that stirring day in 1996.

It hasn’t been a sixty year wait for Sam to come home to Mayo. For a long stretch of those sixty years, seeing JJ Nestor was an impossible dream, to say nothing of the other buck. One day fifteen years and one week ago changed all that, and made Mayo contenders. When Mayo beat mighty Kerry in an All-Ireland semi-final.

Christy O’Connor did a marvellously perceptive interview with John Maughan in the Irish Independent at the start of this summer. O’Connor made the point that this notion of the County Mayo waiting sixty years and counting for a fourth All-Ireland title just isn’t true.

Mayo won three Connacht titles between 1951 and 1981 – 1955, 1967 and 1969. You’re not dreaming of All-Irelands for those thirty years. You’re dreaming of still playing football when you come down from the Reek, and of nothing else.

And it was Maughan who changed that in the 1990s. It was Maughan who made the idea of a Mayo team winning an All-Ireland a realistic proposition. The Mayo teams of the 1980s suddenly began winning Nestor Cups again.

The trip to the Final in 1989 was just that – a day trip, that came from nowhere and returned to nowhere. A Nestor Cup followed by either a game loss or a humiliation in Croke Park seemed Mayo’s natural setting. And then Maughan changed the paradigm.

It goes back to one game. One game where Mayo suddenly became contenders. The events of August 11th, 1996, fifteen years and one week ago, have been swallowed by history and not given the attention they deserve, but that was the day Mayo football’s third golden era began. When Mayo played and beat Kerry in an All-Ireland semi-final.

Kerry then were not as Kerry now. Cork had dominated Munster for a decade as Kerry went through the agonies of not knowing how to replace their seventies supermen, and even suffered the humiliation of losing a Munster final to Clare – who were managed by John Maughan at that time, as history seems to forget.

But 1996 was the beginning of the Kingdom’s return. Kerry returned to Croke Park, looking forward to a handy one against the Connacht Champions and the restoration of a divine right.

But that’s not how it turned out. Kerry got a scutching that day, going down by six points, 2-13 to 1-10. Six points is a hammering. When you remember the Kerry goal was opportunistic, at best, Kerry got handed their hats in a manner that seldom happens them in Croke Park. Least of all from helpless, hapless, hopeless Mayo.

A different Kerry, of course. But Mayo are not so different this year from John Maughan’s team of the mid-nineties. Built from the back, with the artisan favoured over the artist.

It was an epic win, and a marker for the great summers to follow. It isn’t sung in Mayo though; the games that followed have negated the achievement, even though they shouldn’t. The absence of the kill doesn’t take from the sweetness of the chase.

As they know full well in the Kingdom. Kerry dismiss their defeats while Mayo treasure theirs. Kerry treasure the great days while Mayo cover their roses in the thorns of defeat.

This is not the only reason why Kerry have so few bad days and Mayo have so many, but it contributes. We are always eager to find new sticks with which to beat ourselves.

James Horan himself played that day against Kerry, fifteen years and one week ago. He scored 1-1. Horan was an ornament to Croke Park; the bigger the stage the more he turned it on. J-Ho could do worse than to dig out footage of that game and show it to his team, many of whom are too young to remember it. Sunday could be another day when a foundation for another golden era of Mayo football begins.

20 thoughts on “1996

  1. It was a great day! was in lonodn and would have given all for the price of the flight.

    Not too sure on this J-Ho moniker Spailpin , from my rudimentary knowledge of rap I think it sounds a bit rude 🙂

  2. I saw the J-Ho moniker on the GAA Board Roger. I love it.

    Digits, nothing opportunistic about Horan’s goal that day. The best goal was Nallen’s of course. I went up on the train to one of the finals that year – I forget which one – and I remember fellas at the table beyond me doing the Micheál commentary over and over again: “James Nallen has it now … to Liam McHale … back to James Nallen… goal! James Nallen!”

    Glory, glory days.

  3. it’s true we won 3 Nestors between 1951 and 1981 (14 years without a title from 1952 and 12 from 1969). However, we won minor titles in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s and under 21 titles in the 60s, 70s and 80s, so the cry went up: where is the follow on? There was an expectation that under-age success should translate to senior – automatically.

  4. That was a great day, like the Cork game it was one of those unexpected triumphs. All we wanted going up on the train that day was a performance, our previous trips to Croke Park had involved a 20 point hammering against Cork and a league semi final trimming against Derry. Unfortunately the game has largely been forgotton, not helped by the fact that Horan’s incredible goal was missed by the Croke Park cameras, as it followed on so quickly after a crucial Maurice Sheridan free that gave us a three point lead.

    Great article to kick off semi final week though, unfortunately we can expect to be treated to another week of stereotypical MayoGodHelpUs shite from the national media in advance of the game.

  5. the media are our friends at this stage , none of them will want to tip us after our last few kerry games thus playing into our hands , this all aids the #nohypeplease

  6. What a great day that was. I remember looking at the size of the lads in the parade compared to Kerry thinking how many big lads we had, just like now. our forwards ran amok that day and we owned midfield……mauruice was on song and our backs were tight. All sounds very familar. Maybe just like now………….Come on Mayoooooooo!

  7. One of my strongest memories from that day was also missing James Horan’s goal: I was in the Cusack and was momentarily unsighted as I getting up to let a few Kerry lads leave. I couldn’t believe that they were walking out with their team only a goal behind but once the second one went in every Kerry person in sight started to bolt towards the exit. Shortly afterwards, we were off too only we were headed for the hallowed turf.

  8. I have watched that game several times on youtube in the last few years, but the video seemed to be removed after our win over Cork last month. Strange one.

  9. GAA: Tomás Ó Sé is facing a battle to be fit for Kerry’s All-Ireland semi-final clash with Mayo at Croke Park on Sunday after reportedly suffering a hamstring injury during training over the weekend. The defender will require a scan to determine the extent of the problem.

    The player has already endured a fragmented season so far. He missed the Munster Championship matches against Limerick and Cork following his dismissal against Tipperary, but returned to the side for their All-Ireland quarter-final win over Limerick. The An Gaeltacht player’s potential absence would also be a major blow to Jack O’Connor’s plans for the meeting with Mayo.

  10. Great to see Kevin McStay making a spirited defence of Mayo last night on The Sunday Game. In response to Tony Davis’ “losers” comment, he pointed out the number of All Irelands reached by Mayo in the last 15 years – second only to Kerry. He even poointed out to Des Cahill that his team, Dublin hadn’t reached any. Well done Kevin – Más maith is mithid

  11. I was watching that game in a London pub with some Kerry lads. One of my sweetest days, particularly after all the patronising comments I was hearing before the game.

    Good to see McStay make an attempt at defending Mayo football last night on the Sunday Game. About time.
    Tony Davis must have felt left out with all the other pundits insulting Mayo and Connacht football. The lack of publicity he was getting must have hurt his pride, so nice to see
    he decided to join in the fun with his “losers” soundbite.

  12. Apologies Grainne Uaile, didn’t see your comment!

    As for Tomas O’Se, I wouldn’t read much into that. There always seems to be some rumour coming out of the Kerry camp in the build up to a big game, normally involving a major player and a suspected injury. They’re probably just up to their old tricks again.

  13. Re Tomas o Shea as Dan says,doesn’t merit a comment-the Yerra’s always always come up with some ‘problem’.I think Jamsie and da by’s will give them plenty of REAL problems come Sunday! Eiri suas A Mhaigheo!!

  14. Check out Sunday World website(PubSpy)where it does a fine article on my fav Dublin boozer,Cassidy’s-where I hope to be happily ensconsed on Sat night washing down some of the trail dust from the long trek up!! Eiri suas A Mhaigheo!

  15. Tomas O Shea looked pretty good against Limerick the last day but I did see him ‘burning oil’ a couple of times after a few runs……. I wonder if he is still up to 70 mins following a lively young fella like McLoughlin.
    Strangely I thought he might be one player we could have targeted by running the sh*** out of him.
    It might sound arrogant but I certainly would not be too afraid of him in any case.

  16. The ‘Mayo God help us’ phrase is misused and misunderstood too often. It was not a prayer by Mayo but a plead by a Galway player in dispair when asked ‘who are you playing on Sunday’?
    I have a strange feeling that Mayos future opponents over the next few years may repeat that phrase over and over again once we leave croke park on sunday with a double digit win over kerry under our belt. Victory comes through effort and we have a squad of it,stars are only their best in dark skies.

  17. One of the best days of my life. finished a night shift in a hospital in north west london at 7am. drove round the north circular and up the M11 to this strange airport in essex for my first ever flight from there which we all now as london stanstead to fly to dublin and see the best result ever. will never forget nallens goal not to mind the one by JH

  18. Good piece…. I remember I was 19 and on the canal that day….we all ran onto the pitch at the end and some lads were chanting stuff about Pat Spillane! I tore up a little sod of grass(muck and all) and brought it home cos it was the first time id ever stood on the pitch at Croke pk …i took that piece of the turf home and stuck it in a little plastic/freezer bag…and wrote the date and result on it. I found it a few weeks ago…doin a clear out of my old room at home…think i mite bring it with me…who knows..it mite bring us some luck!!


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