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Mayo, Michael Jackson and Mortimer - the story of the 2009 Connacht final celebration

In an extract from his new book, ex-Mayo player Conor Mortimer on his famous celebration from the 2009 clash.

Conor Mortimer celebrates a goal Conor Mortimer celebrates his goal against Galway in 2009. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

MICHAEL JACKSON’S DEATH captured the attention of music lovers all over the world. Even if you didn’t like the King of Pop’s brand of music, you couldn’t help but be fascinated by his life, which was bizarre on so many levels.

I had some spare time on my hands that summer. I had no work and I was watching the fallout from Jackson’s death and his subsequent funeral on Sky News. It was practically wall-to-wall coverage and I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough of it.

I guess I was in my own kind of crazy routine. Struggling to occupy my time and my mind, Jackson’s death filled a void. There were the stories about his life, what he was like as a person, his troubles, and the abuse cases against him. I felt sympathy for the guy and, in addition… I’d always liked his music.

To this day, I still do.

As well as that, I’d always liked soccer players who had an extravagant streak, especially when it came to goal celebrations. I’d already received a pair of customised boots from Adidas, who were sponsoring me at the time, with the words “MJ Mort” inscribed on them. I tipped off a journalist that I would be wearing them at Pearse Stadium and the journalist informed a photographer from the Inpho sports agency, who was prepped on what to expect.

The decision to don a t-shirt in Jackson’s honour came later in the week. On the eve of the game in fact. I was sitting at home on the Saturday night,  struggling to while away the time, as usual, when the thought struck me.

Conor Mortimer Conor Mortimer with a Mayo fan after the game in 2009. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Yeah, I’ll get on tomorrow, I was thinking. And when I do I’m going to surprise a few people. 

I sourced a plain white t-shirt from my wardrobe and got to work. I scrawled the words “RIP Micheal Jackson” on the front, tucked in into my gear bag and smiled to myself as I pictured what it might be like to pull my Mayo jersey over my head to reveal what lay beneath.

Getting the t-shirt on in the dressing room before the game would prove more difficult than I could have imagined.

I was looking around, desperately hoping that nobody would see what I was doing. I had the t-shirt half on me, settled on my shoulders, before pulling on my Mayo jersey.

With it now safely concealed, I could reach underneath and innocently pull the t-shirt down over my torso. I was turned into the corner so that nobody could see what I was doing.

I read later that in sporting careers some of the best and craziest stories are the ones that you simply can’t make up. Sure enough, with eight minutes remaining, my chance arrived.

Trevor Mortimer Trevor Mortimer in action in the 2009 Connacht final Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Trevor did brilliantly to get past Finian Hanley to create a two-on-one situation. The pass put an open goal on a plate for me and we were seven points clear.

When the ball hit the net, I forgot that I had the t-shirt on. I was simply lost in the moment. Scoring a goal creates a phenomenal, indescribable rush. It can last for a 20 seconds… half a minute… longer.

I lifted my Mayo shirt to display my special message to Michael Jackson. Job done and back into the game again.

With time running out, Ronan McGarrity and I decided to play some keep-ball in an attempt to wind down the clock. We coughed up possession and Michael Meehan shrugged off Ger Cafferkey before finding the back of the net. Galway, incredibly, were level but there was still time for one last twist as Andy Moran spotted Peadar Gardiner running into space. Peadar split the posts and we were home…with just a point to spare.

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Peadar Gardiner with Nickey Joyce Peadar Gardiner with Nickey Joyce in the 2009 provincial decider. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The post-match headlines should have been about Peadar and his superb winner but it wasn’t long before attention was focused on my t-shirt… and my poor spelling.

I didn’t realise that I had written the name Michael as Micheal. Maybe I tried spelling it in Irish!

If I did, I certainly forgot the fada. I haven’t seen that t-shirt since, incidentally. I left it back in my bag when I went for a shower after the game. It was two days before I realised that it was gone, when I went to empty my smelly bag. I suspect that our kit man, Noel Howley or Pat Harte was the culprit.

To this day, I’ve never gotten to the bottom of it but the knowing smiles on Noel’s and Pat’s faces when I’ve quizzed them about the missing t-shirt do nothing to quell my suspicion!

I decided to get away to Manchester that night.

A wise move, perhaps, as I’d been arrested on a previous night out in Galway.

But it wasn’t long before I gathered that John O’Mahony was unimpressed by my tribute to Jackson. He spoke to me at length when we returned to training a few days later.

‘Why did you do it?’
He must have asked me that question 10 times.
‘You took away from the victory…
‘… you took away from Peadar’s point… it’s all about you…
‘…it’s always all about you… you in the paper again.’

John O'Mahony celebrstes after the game John O'Mahony after the 2009 Connacht final. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

He was furious. O’Mahony mentioned that Trevor Howley’s grandmother had died on the Saturday night and that I should have been more respectful. I genuinely didn’t know that Trevor and his family had suffered a bereavement.

I stressed to John that the jersey stunt was merely a bit of craic. I imagined my team mates felt the same about it.

Some of them perhaps… maybe not all of them.

We went out of the 2009 Championship against Meath in the All-Ireland quarter-final. I didn’t start the game and perhaps that had something to do with the jersey episode. I’m not sure but I was surprised not to get the start. We lost by 1-15 to 2-15 at Croke Park and I came on at half-time, and scored four points after replacing Tom Parsons.

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This is an extract from ‘One Sunday: A Day In The Life Of The Mayo Football Team’ by Conor Mortimer with Jackie Cahill. More information available here.

‘I do believe that Mayo will get there. We will lift Sam Maguire and wash away those years of hurt.’

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