Mayo could go solo in their quest for Sam

September 12th, 2006
by Weeshie Fogarty

Whenever a Kerry team is preparing to head to Croke Park on All-Ireland final day, it's time for a little bit of reminiscing in the Fogarty household and this year is no exception. The day was August 10, 1969. I sat in the Kerry dugout under the old Cusack Stand in Croke Park as the final minutes of the All Ireland semi-final against Mayo approached. My position that day was as sub goalie, on standby for my Legion team-mate and captain, Johnny Culloty. Kerry had been coasting all through the game but a hat-full of scores had been squandered and, indeed, we should have been as much as 10 points to the good at the short whistle.

As it was, the sides retired to the dressing rooms level with seven points each on the tally sheet. When goals looked certain, Kerry had hit the uprights on three occasions and the crossbar twice as they dominated all areas of the field. The Kingdom had faced a very strong breeze in that opening period. Jackie Lyne, the trainer, and his assistant, John O'Donnell, laid down the law in no uncertain terms during the break and within 12 minutes, we had added on four unanswered points and everything in the garden looked rosy. Sure, Mayo's reputation of lying down under pressure was known far and wide. But Kerry were playing around coming to the final minutes, and it's ironic that all those years ago, following that particular game, the players were fiercely criticised for the over elaboration with the hand pass. Some things never change.

Then, out of the blue, came a Mayo goal when centre forward Des Griffiths was on hand to finish a great move to the Kerry net. Within two minutes there was just one point between the sides and Kerry were hanging on for dear life as Mayo came forward with wave after wave of attacks. That goal gave Mayo the bit of fighting backbone they seemed to have lacked earlier on and they might well have lived to fight another day had they not committed a grievous error of judgement just two minutes from the end. They were awarded a free in a very favourable position - not too easy but very scoreable nevertheless. Seamus O'Dowd was the man entrusted with the responsibility as the attendance of 32,258 held their collective breaths. But to the utter dismay of all Mayo people, he sent the ball harm-lessly wide. No one could figure out why Mayo's ace sharpshooter Joe Corcoran had not been entrusted with the kick. In fact he'd already scored six points from placed balls.

Then, just before referee Paul Kelly of Dublin blew full time, PJ Loftus also had a great chance to kick the equaliser but he ballooned the ball hopelessly wide. Mayo had choked under the pressure once again. They were building a fine reputation for themselves in this respect. Kerry won on a 0-14 to 1-10 scoreline. Full back Paud O'Donoghue was the man-of-the-match and the Kingdom went on to beat Offaly in the final to come of age and win their 21st title.

Did you know that it was a Mayo man who introduced the solo run to Gaelic football? In 1921 in a game against Dublin in Croke Park a young Mayo footballer named Sean Lavan simply picked up the ball, set off in a toe-to-hand run, scored a point. It was disallowed by the referee. Gaelic football was changed forever. Sean Lavan was born in Kiltimagh in 1889. He became a teacher and played for his club and mayo in the years 1918-24. He then concentrated on athletics becoming one of Ireland's top sprinters and he won ho fewer than 15 Irish titles in the years 1923 and 1928. Lavan also represented Ireland in the Olympic games of 1924 and 1928, captaining the Irish team in Amsterdam. He attended UCD in 1922 studying medicine. He played in the Sigerson Cup in 1923, on a team captained by Seamus Gardiner, later to become GAA President, and that team also included Kerry's own legendary trainer Dr Eamon O'Sullivan. Sean won a Sigerson Cup in 1928-29 and his team mates were Kerry stars Frank Sheehy, Joe O'Sullivan and our own Olympic athlete Eamon Fitzgerald. He later played for Dublin before returning to his native Mayo as well as visiting America on Mayo's first tour in 1932. Sean Lavan died in 1973, and Kiltimagh honoured the man by erecting a plaque in 1996 to commemorate him in his native place.

So next Sunday, when you marvel at the solo running skills of Colm Cooper, Sean O'Sullivan, Darren O'Sullivan and, in particular, the wonderfully gifted Ciaran McDonald, remember only for Sean Lavan bequeathing us with that beautiful distinctive skill away back in 1921, we would have a totally different type of game to day. Will a score following a solo decide the destination of the Sam Maguire? As always, we await the battle with mounting anticipation.

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