Kerry and Mayo are ready to kick off the 2014 All Ireland football semi-finals. So to whet the appetites, this week’s Throwback Thursday jumps back to the 1997 All Ireland final between these two sides.
Picking this particular moment was easy, Kerry were back looking for Sam Maguire after 11 years on the wings, a bit like the Kerry team of 2014, where Sam has been missing since 2009. Mayo are still, like the class of 1997, waiting for a first title since 1951. So the stakes were high for both counties and a tense encounter unfolded.
This particular final, while having a familiar result (a win for the Kingdom), threw up memorable displays, especially from a certain Maurice Fitzgerald. It is thought that the 1997 installment was where he entered the pantheon of legends. Not only did he add that elusive All-Ireland medal to his roll of honor, he upgraded his status to a match-winner.
The game was no classic, the result was never in doubt but what made it so special was how one individual was so responsible for that result. Fitzgerald could have been given his marching orders too, for he caused Billy O’ Shea, a surname as synonymous to Kerry football, to suffer a broken leg just 22 minutes in. If Maurice had walked, would the result have been in doubt? We will never know.
Perhaps his greatest contribution was one of his his last ones. It came in the form of a sublime 45 yard free. The angle? As acute as you could get. It may be said that he was lucky, that the ghosts of great Kerry players gone by willed the ball over the crossbar. However, that would be an injustice to Fitzgerald, whose display that day could not be measured by frees alone.
He executed the ball with grace and pace. The 0-13 to 1-07 full time scoreline was more flattering on him as it was to the opposition. This Kerry victory was an important one.
A win will be just as important for 2014, but the same can be said for Mayo.Whatever happens on Sunday, if Cillian O’ Connor, or James O’Donoghue produce a performance half as good as Fitzgerald’s, they might go one step further in paving their county’s way to September silverware.
Ashling Dalton, Pundit Arena