Brendan O Sullivan

The 2014 All Ireland Semi-Final against Mayo in Limerick

March 25th, 2015
by Brendan O'Sullivan

Dublin to Limerick - 126 miles, seemed a long journey: Limerick to Dublin-126 miles, somehow seemed a much shorter journey. It was Saturday, August 30, 2014. Kerry and Mayo had played a thrilling draw 6 days earlier in Croke Park, the replay was controversially set for the Gaelic Grounds in order to accommodate an American football match.

We were part of the Dublin contingent supporting Kerry, left the city in mid-morning and were in the vicinity of the Gaelic Grounds by early afternoon. We passed Thomond Park, famed headquarters of Munster rugby, and found a parking place in a quiet suburban road.  A five minute walk brought us to the stadium. It was 3 o'clock, two hours to throw-in, and crowds were already gathering around the entrance although the gates were not yet open. The Ennis Rd was closed to traffic, a pedestrian area for the afternoon, reminiscent of Jones' Rd on big game Sundays.

This was the first All-Ireland football semi-final to be played outside Croke Park since 1983. I was probably one of the few in attendance in Limerick who had also been present on that occasion in Pairc Ui Chaoimh when Dublin overcame Cork en route to becoming champions.

We walked a few hundred yards towards Limerick city and met up with our fellow Kerry supporters outside what appeared to be the only hostelry in the area. The atmosphere was exciting and tense. Rumours abounded about the Kerry lineout. A team had been announced but everyone knew it would be changed. Stephen O'Brien had gone off injured in the first match and could hardly have recovered in six days. Who would replace him, Kieran Donaghy, Barry John Keane, Kieran O'Leary or would Declan O'Sullivan be fit enough to start? No one knew for certain. There were further rumours - Marc O'Se was injured- Killian Young would play.  Crowds thronged around, the sense of anticipation palpable. We spotted Tomas O'Se, Dara O'Cinneide, Micheal O'Muircheartaigh.

An hour before the game we moved down towards the grounds and were in our seats by 4.15. Incongruously, the referee Cormac Reilly was warming up, running over and back across the pitch. Kerry were finishing their warm-up--- and now the rumours became reality. Kieran Donaghy was starting and Marc O'Se was fit, but not playing.

On the previous Sunday, the first half had been quiet, the second a welter of excitement. This Saturday, there was no let-up, it was exciting from the throw-in. Kerry were on top but the scoreboard didn't reflect this. Suddenly, against the run of play, it was a Mayo penalty. Goal! Followed three minutes later by another goal. Mayo seven points in front! Marc O'Se on, set to play one of his greatest games. A lifeline for Kerry as Kieran Donaghy volleys a blocked James O'Donoghue shot to the net. Half time Kerry 1-5 but Mayo 2-5.

Into the second half, a Kerry penalty, James O'Donoghue, Kerry level. Two Kerry points, Kerry ahead. Then, a Mayo goal, Mayo ahead. A second Kerry penalty, the ice-cool James again, Kerry ahead. Kerry two clear with minutes to go, two Mayo points, the teams level, a long range free to put Mayo through, it drops short, another draw 3-11 to 3-11.

Extra time. Mayo by two. Kerry score twice. Still a draw at half time in extra time. The stadium throbbed with tension. The ball thrown in again. Three points in a row from Kerry. Drama at the end as Mayo press for a goal to force a second replay. But Kerry hold on. Winners by three points 3-16 to 3-13. All heroes, 23 players contributing, David Moran outstanding.

Celebrations as if an All-Ireland had been won. Supporters pour on to the pitch. A sense of elation and exhilaration. Kerry, given no chance by most people earlier in the year, were in the final.

Back to the hostelry, not as crowded. Talk about the match, talk about the final. Apart from one nervous Dublin supporter, no one gave Donegal a chance of beating Dublin the next day. Maybe Kerry had an outside chance against the Dubs. Some talk of 1955 and 1975. Mayo supporters unhappy with the ref. Overall, the sense of a special day, a special occasion to which both teams had contributed, senior Kerry players rejuvenated, younger Kerry players coming of age.

Finally, as darkness began to fall, we retraced our steps, back past the stadium, all quiet now, around the corner and up towards the car. The journey home did seem short, back in Dublin before midnight, in time to listen to the last part of the repeated Radio Kerry commentary on the match, to relive the excitement and drama and thrills, to hear it all end perfectly with a delighted Weeshie exclaiming "Up Kerry! Up the Kingdom! Up Eamonn Fitzmaurice! And up to Dublin for the final!"

Radio Kerry - The Voice of the Kingdom