The trip to the match today was a far shorter one for me than yesterday’s but, for long-standing supporters of St Vincent’s, the journey to today’s All-Ireland final success at Croke Park was a long and very hard trek. This proud club on Dublin’s Northside did win the club title once before – back in 1976 – but the years since then have seen precious little success to set alongside all those old memories of past glories. As a result, this campaign – which really only began in the back-end of last year with the annexation of their first Dublin title in 23 years – has taken the club through what its supporters must surely have felt to be entirely new ground. That campaign culminated in the Hogan Stand in Croke Park late this afternoon, with the acceptance of the Andy Merrigan Cup by Vins captain, Mossy Quinn. What a moment that was: I haven’t seen so many grown men crying in such a long time.
I’m not going to attempt a match report of today’s contest here. (RTE has one here). Vins won by a single point (1-11 to 0-13), having led by six in the first half, when, with Kerry’s Michael O’Shea dominant in midfield and Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly and Mossy Quinn wreaking havoc in the forwards, they tore into Nemo and proceeded to build up a significant lead. Connolly smashed home a cracking goal, with Quinn tapping down a haymaker from midfield into his path and Mossy’s frees also helped the Marino club to ease away from their Cork rivals in what was a fairly lop-sided first half.
The match looked over at half time but, with Nemo taking control of proceedings from the start of the second half, the contest was soon back in the balance. Midway through the half, Nemo were only a point down and starting to look like a winning side but then James Masters missed a scoreable free and Vincent’s responded by inching two ahead once more. With five minutes to go, the gap was out to three again and while Nemo did manage to narrow this back down to the minimum, the clock ran out on them to leave Vins the winners by the narrowest of margins.
While this is a win that is (even as I write) being toasted as a Dublin success, Mayo can claim part of the day’s spoils, as well as a good chunk of the rationale for all that emotion. Kilmaine duo Brian Maloney and Pat Kelly have been integral members of this now-fabled Vins side and, having both been on the losing side for their native county in the 2004 All-Ireland final, they have now deservedly got their All-Ireland medals at club level. While the taste of victory is sweet, for Pat Kelly the day must have been tinged with enormous sadness, his father Peter having died suddenly after a short illness the previous day. Pat showed enormous courage to take the field today and, in doing so, he did his dad’s memory proud, with another fine performance in the blue and white and you sensed that his teammates were playing with that same purpose in mind too.
It was a wonderful day for those of us who made it to HQ today to roar on the Vins to All-Ireland success. My two little Vineens certainly enjoyed themselves (the third is that bit too small for active service just yet) and while they may not have grasped the full historic importance of being there to see at close quarters their local club taking possession of the Merrigan Cup for only the second occasion, in time, no doubt, they will. They even got to stroll across the sacred turf itself, the stewards having, once again, wisely decided that the supporters’ desire to celebrate in the traditional manner ought to be accommodated.
And so it transpired that we entered HQ via the Hogan but exited on the Cusack stand side. It was nice, for once, to leave an All-Ireland final as a supporter of the winning team and, as I dried my eyes and let the lump in my throat subside while I looked out across that vast, empty sporting cathedral, I tried to imagine what it would be like to see a Mayo captain lift the Sam Maguire on the same spot as Mossy had claimed the club trophy a few minutes before. One day, perhaps, we will get to feast our eyes – and, yes, our souls too – on such a sight.