PICTURES: TONY KEANE
Mayo fans arrived into Newbridge early on Saturday. Red and green jerseys were highly visible on the streets from afternoon onwards.
The early arrivals had obviously factored in some retail therapy time in Whitewater, as many had armfuls of carrier bags from the shopping centre in tow, and they packed the food court to fill up ahead the 7pm start at St Conleth’s Park.
The pavement outside Coffeys - which seems to have been deemed the visitors’ HQ for the day - overflowed with Mayo fans. The Kildare folk were harder to find this afternoon - perhaps opting to enjoy the sunshine in the comfort of their own back gardens before heading to Newbridge.
Outside Clarke’s Menswear, Jim Doyle from Celbridge had his stall set up selling tee-shirts, flags and headbands. He was highly vocal about Kildare’s stance against Croke Park during the week.
“When you have right on your side, you have a duty to pursue that - right has got to win!” he said of the refusal of the Kildare County Board, players and management to play the Round 3 qualifier at Headquarters.
“Fair play to the board for standing firm. A lot more was at stake here than just Kildare flexing their muscles. The rural GAA was at stake and community GAA was at stake.”
He said that clubmen and women the length and breadth of the country were backing Kildare. “Cian O’Neill will send them out with fire in their bellies and they will hit the pitch running!”
Vivian Clarke of Clarke’s Menswear agreed that Kildare were right to stand their ground “We have a lot of sympathy from around the country. It was community GAA versus corporate GAA,” he said.
Visitors Belinda and Paul Lynskey from Foxford had travelled to Newbridge for the first time in years to support Mayo in the match, and were spending some time relaxing in the town before the match, but were confident in a Mayo win.
“Wherever they’ll turn up, we’ll play!,” said Paul. “Ye might have won the battle, but we’ll win the war.”
Kathleen Phelan and her grandson Dáire were watching mural artists paint a huge ‘Newbridge or Nowhere’ painting - sponsored by Brady Family Ham - on the gable end of a house just outside the St Conleth’s Park grounds.
The pair from Castledermot, faithful supporters who travelled to Derry and Longford during this campaign, also backed Cian O’Neill’s men in their stance last week. “We were right to stand our ground!” said Kathleen.
There wasn’t a single Kildare dissenter who believed that the county should have caved and gone to Croker.
Allenwood couple Joe and Mary Murray were at the gates of Conleth’s Park at half three, to find out what time they would be let in.
“There was a great unity in the county last week, with people, supporters, managers and players,” said Mary.
Joe saw the silver lining in the stand-off for the Kildare football team. “After a dull couple of weeks, they got more goodwill out of that one stance. It was a good as a win to them!”
Proud Athy woman Gabrielle Hyland and Kildare man via Holland, Michiel Drost, have two nephews involved in Kildare senior football - David and Mark Hyland. David lines out at number 3 in St Conleth’s Park against Mayo.
Gabrielle said she was “delighted to hold the flag after all the shenanigans this week".
“They (Kildare) were 100% right to stand their ground. 100% the motivation (to play the match in Croke Park) was money,” she said. “I am proud as a Kildare woman that we stood our ground”.
The pair, who actually live within walking distance of Croke Park, were delighted to travel back to Newbridge, where they lived for a year in the 90s, for the game.
Well-known Newbridge fruit and veg seller Dick Wixted from Kilcullen was proudly sporting his Kildare gear at his truck outside Neeson’s, and gave his full backing to the Kildare team.
“Of course we were right to stick to our guns!” he said.
Throw in for Cian O’Neill’s side versus Mayo is at 7pm. Win, lose or draw - for Kildare people, this one was well worth fighting for.