I don’t plan to be in McHale Park on Sunday – after all the Mayo-related mileage I’ve put up in recent times, I feel justified on this occasion about doing the Kerryman on the minors and waiting until they make it closer to HQ – but one reason I’m sad to be missing the Connacht final pageantry this year is because the Silver Jubilee team being commemorated is the Mayo side from 1985, who gave us some great memories.
I’ve already written at length about that year’s football so there’s little point in my rehashing that piece from last year about the county’s footballing exploits a quarter of a century ago. It was, in many ways, a bittersweet year for us, with the humiliating loss to Limerick in the Open Draw tournament giving way to our confident conquest of Connacht and then that titanic tussle with the Dubs in the All-Ireland semi-final, with all the ballyhoo that surrounded it. It was a year of raw emotion for those of us on the terraces and while we can still have regrets about not having progressed further than we did that year, there was much for us to be proud of too.
We owe a lot as a footballing county to the men of 1985 and to their manager Liam O’Neill – speaking to Daniel Carey in the Mayo News, Billy Fitzpatrick (who won his first and only Connacht medal that year at the ripe old age of 42) says that the Galwayman “changed the route of Mayo football” – who together hauled the county out of obscurity and re-established us as a force to be reckoned with at national level. Our run to the 1989 final would surely not have happened without the groundwork that was put in back in 1985 and it’s likely that our near-miss in 1996 may not have happened either for the same reason.
I can’t believe that twenty-five long years have now passed since that afternoon in Hyde Park when we made a nonsense of the pre-match predictions that Roscommon would win easily and instead steamrolled the Sheepstealers into submission. But it has and next Sunday that great team will take a deserved bow in front of those attending the Connacht final of 2010. Thanks for the memories, lads, such as this particularly wonderful one.