Mayo v Sligo: remember the team? No.1 – 1997

With a bit less than four weeks to the Connacht semi-final clash with Sligo, I reckon that – shorn of much else to write about – it’s time for some reminiscence on past clashes with Sligo in the Championship. One a week should do fine and, as I’m confining myself to games I was at, I’ll be showing my age a bit in the process.

The last time we met them was in Markievicz Park in 2003 (which we won by three points – here’s the match report), the time before that was in 2001 at McHale Park, where we had only a point to spare over them (match report here). The previous year they recorded quite a decisive victory, by 1-13 to 1-10, over us at Markievicz Park (match report here), the first time they had beaten us in the Championship since their landmark 1975 victory over us.

I wasn’t at any of these games – the two more recent ones because we had babbies in the house those years and I can’t remember why I failed to make it to the one in 2000. So this means that the last Championship encounter with Sligo that I got to was the Connacht final of 1997, which took place at Hyde Park.

That was the most elongated Connacht championship I ever remember. It started out in May but didn’t end till the first Sunday in August and we played matches in May (the first round against Galway in Tuam where we finally beat them there for the first time in 46 years) and in June (when we beat Leitrim in the semi-final) but we then had to sit out all of July before taking the field against Sligo on the 3rd of August.

We were, of course, All-Ireland finalists from the previous year – I still can’t fully accept, all these years later, that we did in fact lose that 1996 final but I know what the bare match result says – and having dispatched Galway over two months previously and the Sheepstealers also having fallen by the wayside, we were raging red-hot favourites to lift our second Nestor Cup in a row. Sligo were managed then, however, by a certain Mickey Moran and I remember watching the Magpie lads doing their warm-ups and I couldn’t help but thinking that they looked like a well-drilled side.

I don’t recall too much of the fine detail of the game – my abiding memory is of a dull, wettish and coldish day in the Hyde – but what I do remember was that it was a game we should have won at a canter but ended up almost getting beaten. We won by just a single point, 0-11 to 1-7, in the end but we were six points up well into the second half, with Maurice Sheridan’s frees – he got six points that day, four from placed balls – doing much to keep our noses comfortably in front.

David Nestor missed a golden opportunity for a goal to kill the game when we were still six up with seven or eight minutes to go but then Sligo got a point, a goal and then another point to reduce the margin to the minimum. We were seriously on the ropes at that stage, they had definitely done enough to deserve at least a draw but ref Michael Curley blew time bang on the seventy minutes and so, with our overriding emotion one of embarrassment, we collected the Nestor Cup for the second year in a row.

Looking back, I can say that I’ve never felt emptier seeing a Mayo team accept these victory spoils. We had played very, very poorly and had seen our team of heroes – who had thumped Kerry in that coruscating All-Ireland semi-final the previous year and had then done everything bar collect Sam over the two games with Meath in the final – almost come unstuck against a limited though very determined Sligo side. I think it began to dawn on us then that all that “you have to lose one to win one” crap we’d heard the previous year was just that. Crap.

We did, of course, go on to beat Offaly a month later in the All-Ireland semi-final but were never really at the races against Kerry in that year’s final. That Kerry team, which will surely be forever recalled as the worst ever All-Ireland winning Kingdom side, had only to get past Tipperary, Clare and Cavan to reach the final, whereas our lads had had to peak four months before All-Ireland day for the match with Galway in Tuam. That match saw us end one hoodoo but the bigger one was still there in September, as it still is today.

Oh yes: that team from the Connacht final. Here it is:

P Burke; K Mortimor, P Holmes, D Flanagan; F Costello, J Nallen, N Connelly; L McHale, P Fallon; D Nestor (0-1), J Horan (0-1), M Sheridan (0-6, four frees), C McDonald (0-2), J Casey, R Golding (0-1). Subs: K O’Neill for Golding, D Byrne for Horan.

Next week: 1987.

11 thoughts on “Mayo v Sligo: remember the team? No.1 – 1997

  1. Hi WJ , Hope all is well…. my abiding memory of the 97 final will always be the amazing pint scored by a terrific player ( in my opinion ) paul taylor… he was out on the left sideline and sent it flying between posts….
    Just wondering ….. what would your outstanding moment in connacht championship football be wj with regards to mayo over the the course of your supporting life ?
    Tuam 97 would have to be up there … as well as 2006 …. maybe even 89 and jimmy burke !

  2. I think you’re right, Perseus, that was Paul Taylor. Eamon O’Hara was playing for them that day as well and I think he got the point that came just before their goal.

    Outstanding moment in Connacht? Hmm … let me see. I was out of the country for a good while in the late 80s to mid 90s so I missed plenty of action then. Seeing as memories improve with age, I’d have to go back further to, say, the 1985 Connacht final against the Rossies where we weren’t given a prayer by the pundits but won pulling up. Jimmy Burke’s daisy-cutting pass to Sean Lowry who smashed it into the net, John Finn totally outstanding at left-half back, the team backboned by the 1983 All-Ireland winning U21s: that would have to be the one, I think.

    The other great memory I have is further back, in 1981, when we ambushed Galway in the semi-final at McHale Park. Galway were the league champions and once again we were rank outsiders but we caught them on the day. Willie Nally and the real WJ dominated midfield but my one abiding memory of that day is a free taken late on by Ger Feeney from out on the right. We were sitting behind where he was taking it from and I can still see the ball’s flight and how it curled over. That was the insurance point and when it sailed over, we knew we’d done it – we won by two and with Galway out of the way we were on the road to our first Connacht title in 12 years.

  3. my abiding memory is playing dublin in 85 after our convincing win in the connacht final. It was my first time being at a Dublin match and Ill never forget the atmosphere. it was electric. 99 connacht final was a special atmosphere also. i do remember Galway in 81 and i think Jimmy yons socred a goal at the ballinrobe end. I can still see the dust cloud rising as he pulled on the ball. the biggest disappointement for me was loosing to Ross the following year, at a sundrenched castlebar. I remember being devasted. I was hoping against hope, even after the game, that the game would be replayed.

  4. 85 against Dublin sure was special, in particular that second-half comeback in the drawn game. I remember we were sitting high up in the old Hogan Stand behind the press box and I was roaring at the reporters afterwards not to forget to put down in their match reports that Billy Fitz was 42. Quick as you like, one of the reporters shot back at me “that’s his waist measurement, right?”

    I think that Ros game you’re referring to was in 1986, Ted, not in 82, though I too remember being devastated afterwards. In 82, we took an awful hiding from Galway up in Tuam, something like 3-16 to 0-11 I think it was.

  5. Actually you are correct about Ros in 86. We went into the game with massive expectations after a great year in ’85. The disappoinment after that game was unreal. The worst I have felt, all irelands included. I was actually in tuam that day in 82. I remember Charles haughey was in attendance and there was huge pre match excitment. Unfortunately the game was a disaster. Barry brennan played hell.
    The 85 replay, all i remember was Brogans goal and the pre match excitement. the rest of the game is gone from memory.

  6. My memory is exactly the same – I didn’t even want to think about football for weeks afterwards. The fact that Roscommon then went on to lose the Connacht final to a poor Galway side made it even worse.

    I think there was a by-election on that time in 82, at a time when by-elections were very important. The other thing I recall from that game was that it was played the same day the World Cup final was in Madrid, where Italy beat West Germany. There was something in the papers the following day about some Italians getting complaints because they were celebrating too loudly that night, which prompted one of the Italians to say that he thought those complaining might have been from Mayo! The guy quoted could, of course, have been one of the Cafollas from Tuam …

  7. Sorry to drag ye back to the old black and white movies but my greatest memory as a young lad was the 1968 Connacht final in Castlebar V Galway.That was a classic, Mayo behind at half time by eight or nine points, a grandstand comeback to trail by a point, guess the rest, a few bad misses and Galway came in by a single point. The biggest thrill for me was to walk near the Mayo players as they made their way back to a hotel to wash and change. They carried the boots in their hands and it was a privledge to see the late John Morley, Ray Prendergast, along with Johhny Carey, Joe Corcoran and Willie McGee up close. Aparently there was a problem with washing facilities in McHale Park. The crowd was huge and we stuck in the tar after the game.

  8. That’s a good ‘un alright. I might have been at that one too (though I doubt it) but if I was, the only thing that would really have interested me at that early age would have been the cry of “ices! ices! Any more for the ices?”.

  9. One of my earliest Connaught Championship memories was from the 1967 Mayo V Galway game. I remember nothing of the game itself except at the end of the match when I turned to my father and with typical childlike innocence asked “Daddy, why are the Galwaymen crying?”
    As he turned to me, I remember the tears of joy in his own eyes and the huge smile on his face. He wasn’t able to answer me!

  10. It would be good if we could end up making a few Herrin Chokers cry this year too!

  11. Jaysus Doc G….i can feel the goose bumps….lump in the throat stuff. those games are a little earlier than my day but enjoy your recollections for sure. We’re a passionate lot. Im not sure if many other counties have the same passion. Do they dream of winning sam? Do they wake up on a monday morning after loosing on a sunday and have that sick feeling in the pit of their stomachs?? we’re a special breed for sure…

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