Sunday September 29th 1996

Our championship ambitions for 2011 would seem to stretch no further than a possible provincial title and the need to avoid embarrassment if and when we make it to Croke Park.  If this is truly our aim for this year, it’s worth reminding ourselves, as ontheroad does here in his latest appearance on the guest slot, that we weren’t always so diffident in this respect.

For one glorious summer in 1996 Mayo shed their Clark Kent suit and became Superman. The humiliation of Cork 1993 and Leitrim a year later were shoved into the recesses of our minds.

Meath, or the “Rile” as they nauseatingly called themselves, got off the hook in an All-Ireland final that Mayo should have won twice over, such was their overall superiority a week earlier. Sunday September 22nd 1996 was the day when we should have added number four to Corn Sam McGhuidhir’s silver rib cage.

Six points ahead and superior in every position all we had to do was steer the ship the final league into the sanctuary of the harbour. A six-point cushion was defendable but we surrendered midfield and the men from the “Rile” launched a ferocious last six-minute bombardment. No Mayo man needs reminding of those fateful final moments.

A week later we resumed hostilities. The consensus was that Mayo had shot their bolt. We believed otherwise. Meath would be forced to dig deep if they were to win. A toxic semi-final win where Tyrone’s Brian Dooher and Peter Canavan seemed like extras in a hospital movie gave us a clue as to how deep Meath were prepared to plough.

The previous Sunday saw a Mayo defender almost decapitated with a short-arm tackle. As the Mayo doctor tended to the almost beheaded player one of the Meath forwards shoved him to the ground, picked his bag up and flung it over the line. A thought crossed my mind. Those Meath guys would shoot Red Cross workers in a war situation. We were warned.

The replay saw an outbreak of war shortly after the throw-in. Fist, boot and mouth flew indiscriminately. The Mayo man who pulled the pin seemed to be in a foetal position on the pitch. One Mayo player took a full body kick. Had the perpetrator done that in main street Meath he could look forward to a few months on the North Circular road for his troubles.

As the punches and kicks flew so too did the mouthing in the stand. Behind me sat two Meath men, one who smoked a cigar. “Ye fucking land grabbers ye” cigar man spewed into my ear. I turned around and replied “Say that again and I’ll fuck you over the stand…football match or no football match.” I meant it.

His pal soothed the situation but the damage was done. I was thick and he knew it. Half-time came and I turned around and asked him what he’d meant. I knew what he’d meant but I wanted to hear him say it. “Ah don’t heed him…for fucks sake he didn’t mean it”, replied the earlier mollifier.

All week I had listened to the land issue from a handful of people who in the main didn’t represent the decent Meath man. Now this clown had driven me mad with his smart comment. Looking at him in the eye I told him I wasn’t scared by him or his big mouth and reminded him that half the Meath team was always made up of those so-called land grabbers.

The second half was as close as I ever was to being spiritually out on the pitch with the men in the Green and Red. We were as one. Mayo goaled … hurrah! “Keep the head” we screamed. Then the referee gave Meath a free-kick. Geraghty, the much touted Meath hard man was in Pat Holmes pocket for the guts of two games. He kicked a short free to Tommy Dowd but the ball hadn’t travelled more than three yards.

All day long the ref had pulled back the quick free, now he let it go. Dowd scored a goal. Luck, as my mother said, wasn’t Mayo’s friend. Bob Dylan described such stuff as “A simple twist of fate”. We battled to the end. Tom Reilly came on as a sub. Making his way up to the corner forward he was greeted with a “Rile” shoulder and a mouthful of verbiage.

Now Tom did what I and a thousand Mayo followers wanted to do to this particular guy all afternoon. He drove his fist into his markers puss and left him sitting on his arse. Too little and far too late. However Tom Reilly went up in my estimation that day, and I will carry that cameo with me to my last breath.

When the whistle went my septic thorn from Meath tapped me on the shoulder and said “Ye will never come so close again…ye blew it”. His friend apologized but the fight was gone in me and deep down he was right. We left it behind…twice. Men like James Horan, Pat Fallon, Brady, Kenny Mortimer didn’t deserve to leave the field as losers. Neither did Mayo.

Nobody but nobody will ever come as close again as we did in that glorious summer of 1996. The question now was simple: would Mayo revert to being plain Clark Kent or would they still wear the Superman rig. The winter would be long and time would tell.

18 thoughts on “Sunday September 29th 1996

  1. What are you trying to do to us, bringing all that up again!!!……and i don,t mean the land grab,n!!

  2. Just when my 15 years of therapy was going well, this appears. This has set me right back.

  3. with you facetheball…too welll written ontheroad! Started to get those old feelings back again and they werent pleasant ones. I was as shocked/dissapointed as any mayo man leaving croker that day but in the back of my mind felt it was only a matter of time before we reached the summit!! 15 years on and we’re as far away as ever.

  4. It was disgusting – the whole thing and we still haven’t got over it. I remember feeling sick and feeling robbed. We know that Meath will do anything to win a match. They’d even throw the ball into the net. Why not? They get away with it. The only way to put this behind us is to win Sam. To beat Meath and Kerry on route would be additional spice. But how close do you think we are to doing that?

  5. While i have the utmost respect for Meath teams and their insatiable appetite for winning,their supporters are a different story.they are living proof that man evolved from the ape.I have yet to meet one that didnt either look or sound a tad simple.On the games themselves i saw them as 2 great chances that we left behind.I remember being in castlebar to welcome the team home and you’d swear we had won the damn thing.Backslapping and handshaking like we had won 3 in a row.The worst thing was that we blamed Meath for being too rough,that was embarassing.It made us look naive and foolish.Sure Meath threw some unsavoury slaps but thats what you have to do to win All irelands.When Kerry played total football in the seventies with Sheehy,Egan,Spillane etc,they also had men like Paidi O Se and Jimmy Deenihan who would take the head off you to get to a ball.We didnt have anyone like that,we felt sorry for ourselves and blamed everyone else.We have learned much since.Now we dont even have someone who can take a belt never mind give one.I spoke with a kerryman lately and he asked me what happened to the old Mayo ethos of having big men up the middle who were great natural footballers.I couldnt give a straight an answer.Our players will get tossed around like rag dolls against the likes of Tyrone,Kerry and Cork.We might win Connaught but even thats hard to do without a no 3,6,8,9 or 11.If Horan thought there was serious talent in the county he wouldnt have called back Mortimer,Geraghty or Ronaldson.

  6. I’m not one to normally be blaming refs, you take your chance when you can, and given we had that lead we should have closed it out. But i put alot of blame for what happened on Pat McEnaneny, and in fact told him so the only two times i have been in his company. Before the final he came to both camps to explain what he’d be looking for, he harped on about the fact that he wouldnt allow quick frees, he even blew some back over the two games, but not the one that mattered. That was 3 points to Meath and major momentum. THats not a small thing, that was fecken huge.
    That and of course picking Mayo’s best player and argubaly Meath’s worst to send off, that was unforgiveable also.
    We didnt help ourselves that year but in my mind I’ll always feel Pat cost us an All Ireland and I’ll never forgive him for that.

  7. Nice piece ontheroad. Won’t forget those days but lets face it. It should never have reached the replay stage. 6 points up as you say should have been enough and we should have sealed the deal first time round. We were the best team in the country then and unfortuatly the scars of losing that final were still in the team the following year.
    And it justified the wider nation seeing us as chokers on the big day.

    One stat springs to mind. It was brought up by someone last 2 years ago before the game 1/4 final in Croker. It was claimed that we have never beaten Meath in the championship since 1951. Is that stat correct i.e. the last time we beat them we won the All Ireland ?

  8. i did the exact same thing to pat east cork exile. i might have went a bit far because he threatened to kick me out of his pub in carrickmacross. but to be fair i am still quite bitter about certain decisions that were made.

  9. Thanks guys/gals. I can understand the sentiments why people want to forget. However forgetting is not an option and this in my opinion is where the Mayo county board has been poor over the decades.

    Certain teams get bad decisions lots of the times. Certain teams get all the rubs of the green. Its how you fight your corner that decides how you progress.

    Meath push the envelope to the limit. Us and Tyrone in 1996. Cork in 1987/88. Us again in 2009 with poor refereeing that cost us a turn around of two goals. We on the other hand have had dreadful decisions given against us over the years.

    People laugh and say you have a long memory. But; if we stood our ground once in those times we would not get what happened v Meath 1996 and 2009. Offally did in the hurling, was it 1999 v Clare? Their fans refused to be shafted. Replay and glory.

    In 1939 Mayo got swissed by the authorities in that years semi-final. A free in that would ensure a win for us over Kerry was then turned into a hop ball and the whistle for full time AFTER the Kerry officials spoke to the ref. In 1948 Mayo lost four mins of time in a one point All-Ireland final loss. In 1985 a Mayo player got a serious facial injury but no Dublin player was ever held to account.

    Recently when Dublin and Mayo tried to switch the league match to a Friday night the word from both top tables was the “good relations between the counties”. It didn’t take Mayo long to get over the shoulder John Morrison took in the rear in 2006 or the whack the physio took on the head from an outraged stray ball from a Dub because we took “their” end.

    The injury inflicted in 1985 was forgotten as well even though nobody was disciplined for it. I read a quote from a former Dublin player in a provincial paper around 2005/06. To paraphrase him he said this “Nobody in the GAA world takes Mayo seriously”.

    I was outraged but when I calmed down I saw what his broad sweep meant and actually found it hard to disagree with him. Having been on the pitch that day when the Mayo player got the crocked jaw in 1985 he saw first hand how Mayo do business. Years later he felt bold enough to write the truth.

    Until we stop being victims and stand up in the places where it counts then we will be p****D on when it matters. By the way, the ref who gave the line ball against us that then lead to a penalty and goal for Meath in 2009 and whose umpires allowed Paddy O Rourke to walk inside his own goal with the ball was rewarded with doing the line in that years All-Ireland final. What was it the Dublin player said again?

    * And don’t forget Ray Connelly 2001 and Frankie Falls in Hollywood/Hyde Park

  10. Great piece Ontheroad. You’d be lively company at a game in bandit country I think. But you’re dead right too – it’s standing our ground we should should be, and not tipping our caps and apologising for showing up.

    JPM – Mayo beat Meath in the ’51 Final: An even bigger result when you consider the population loss suffered by Mayo at the time. Emigration of course, but the 50s population loss was also caused by the amount of Mayomen gone up to Meath for the purpose for grabbing their land, as Ontheroad’s neighbour points out. Heh heh heh.

  11. Great piece ontheroad. Like most, I’ve tried to blank those two games out of my mind. Mostly because of my irrational (or maybe it’s more rational than I like to think) dislike of Meath.
    I was sure 2009 would finally lay those ghosts to rest, I’d waited 13 years for the moment.
    But our own shortcomings and inability to finish a team off, along with a shambolic refereeing display proved our undoing once more.

  12. Great writing all; when it’s considered properly it was probably the bauld Ollyeen Cromwell that shafted us all down here in the first place?

  13. I remember 96 with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach, but the worst of it was to become known as whingers afterwards. We have to take our beating when it comes – ref decisions will be discussed til the cows come home but in fairness Mayo is not the only county to suffer bad ones. The only revenge is to win, something we are failing to do so far.

  14. Summer supporter, the whingers tag hurt me too….u suck it in and move on. I didnt whinge! 6 points up in the closing stages of an all ireland…only ourselves to blame. If we keep looking for excuses other than whats within our own control we will never win anything. If that means beating 16 men then so be it. When u do make it to the summit you will then start to get the benefit of the 50/50 decisions from refs….call it a perk!

  15. Well said SS….look at Rory McIlroy last night in the Golf…Revenge is the sweetest of all victorys…

  16. I was living in Meath in 1996. About the last place on earth I wanted to be after that game.

    The genuine Meath supporter knew they got away with murder that day but at the same time we had only ourselves to blame.

    How the ref picked out McHale for the line that day I”ll never know. He sent Coyle off but sure Horan had roasted him alive. That was a blessing in disguise for them.

  17. Here we go again, will it never end! Going on and on about refs will not win us anything. 1996 is gone, no amount of recriminitations will bring it back. What ever happened to taking personal responsibility for what happens? The replay might not have ever occurred if one of our own did not let the ball bounce over the bar in the first place.

    Many teams suffer terrible referring decisions that turn games. Tyrone had a poor Paddy Russell decision in 1985, Tony Davis’ sending off in 1984, even Germany in 1966. But we remain wallowing in the past.

    In relation to 1985, did any Mayo player ever try to exact retribution for what happened, either in the replay or in the league game in Castlebar the following December?

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