Let’s be real … we all want the same thing

Let’s be real … we all want the same thing

In the next of our series of guest posts, we’d like to welcome Shamrocks (yes, of course that’s his real name) to the hot seat to take us on a journey from past to present. For those of you who remember ’89, this will bring back some magic memories.

An unorthodox Mayo man of sorts, born in England and brought up in a rural north Wicklow village ’til I was 11 years of age, before moving to the homeland of Mayo. My father was a native of Achill Island, it was there we spent most of our holidays as kids. It was always Mayo from day one, it was part of who we were and the county team was where I identified my connection to the place that will always be home.

My first memory was the old Salthill in 1984, travelling down with my comrade and chauffeur, my father. This is where it all began , the adventure of the journey down west, the anticipation of seeing the flags out of the car windows and then to the climax of seeing the footballers of Mayo run onto the pitch. Unfortunately we lost out to Galway on that day. My memories of the game itself are not too clear, I was only 6/7 years of age I suppose, but it’s amazing how silly things remain in the head, like only knowing the name of Willie Joe 😀

The years went on and the same journey was taken. ’85 I got to see them lift the Nestor Cup in Hyde Park; that was special but again too young to really take it in . ’87 seems a lot clearer, a really low-scoring game against Galway in Castlebar, but another defeat.

1989 is where it really comes alive for me.

We as a family had moved down home at last, to a rural village in east Mayo, Kilmovee, where my grandmother came from on my mother’s side. The first game against Galway in Tuam. We never won there (at the time) so a draw was a mighty return and we easily did the business in Castlebar in the replay, McHale and Larry with the goals. Next it was the Rossies and another draw, the replay was epic and no Mayo supporter of my age or older will ever forget Jimmy Burke’s goal in extra time. Hyde park erupted into an explosion of green and red; it was just priceless. The semi v Tyrone was of course the first time a lot of Mayo supporters ever seen Mayo win in Croke park in senior championship including father/mother and daughter/son generation. I suppose it was a bit like what winning the All-Ireland would be like now. The weeks leading up to the final were indescribable in terms of excitement – all the towns were decked out, the songs were released. As a child, the memories are of sheer happiness, the crowds at Knock airport to see our heroes off, running after the team coach with my new school mates from Tavrane NS through the thousands of fans singing ‘Willie Joe, Willie Joe’’ – it is just something that will stay with me forever.

Willie-Joe-1989

What a journey we have had since. The losing of finals down the years is what everyone likes to throw at us and of course it has been disappointing but is there any Mayo supporter out there who would swap all those journeys we have had in 89/96/97/04/06/12/13 for some form of mediocrity  like the vast majority of counties experience ?

We are now in a phase where we have reached the last two finals and are about to contest our fourth semi-final on the trot. People are getting uptight about where we are at – have we still a chance or are we burnt out as a unit? There is a sense of supporters being divided on aspects of what should have happened in finals and other issues. The truth is nobody really knows, we can all guess but let’s be real, everyone has one thing in common  – we all want the same thing.

So let’s get behind our bucks the next day in Croke park against Kerry, and roar them on. We are favourites with the bookies to beat Kerry in an all Ireland semi-final. Don’t be frightened by it, embrace it. Horan, Buckley, Prendergast and the panel have earned the fucking right to be a top team, now let us act the same, and fill her up with green and red!

Despite the heartache, I wouldn’t give it up for the world

Despite the heartache, I wouldn’t give it up for the world

Welcoming long-time Mayo GAA fan and one of the most dedicated supporters we’ve ever met, Clíona O’Gara from Charlestown to the Club ’51 hot seat. Cliona sums up below how most of us feel when it comes to following the team, through thick and thin, from winter to summer.

There are days when being a Mayo GAA fan seems like the ultimate punishment for something you thought you didn’t deserve. Those moments after an All-Ireland final defeat when you feel like you’ve done something horrendous in another life to feel such gut-wrenching pain and heartache. That horrible pain you get when looking around Croke Park at the opposition’s fans celebrating, and thinking “this can’t be happening again”. Facing that dreadful journey down the motorway, seeing car flags on the road ahead, meeting other MO reg cars at the toll and everyone giving a sympathetic smile to everyone else. Stopping in Supermac’s in Longford, meeting more grieving fans and dissecting every ounce of the game with a complete stranger. Getting home, torturing yourself by watching the Sunday Game and going to bed thinking of what could have been. 
 
But even though being a Mayo fan has carried heartache on the third Sunday in September, I wouldn’t give it up for the world. We have a lot more good days than bad. I love the feeling when waking up on a cold, January Sunday morning and heading for an FBD game in Ballyhaunis or Ballinlough dressed from head to toe in your winter woollies. You look around and spot the usual 20 people that you know you’re gonna see at the rest of the games in every part of the country. You soon forget about the previous year and what might have been, and focus on what might be, and the blood starts pumping for a new season. The league flies by and before we know it, were wearing short sleeves and anticipating the championship. There’s no feeling like going to a championship game. Hearing the roars of the fans, feeling the shivers run down your spine when the National Anthem is playing, seeing those fans that have come late and cursing them for standing in front of you, but most importantly being there. Being there to watch your team, your county, your lads that you feel like you know personally from following them on twitter to Croker. 
 
Yes, not every day is a good one being a Mayo GAA fan but the good ones are nothing short of great. No, we haven’t landed that ultimate prize,; no, we haven’t seen our boys walk the Hogan stand and lift that cup we desire so much, but we will. In the meantime, we continue to get behind the team that has given us so many hours of enjoyment and entertainment. Mayo are very close to landing that prize and there will be a time when that final whistle will go in Croke Park and we will be All Ireland Senior Champions. We will experience that feeling that I’m pretty sure compares with nothing else for a GAA fan. We will cheer down the motorway, we will forget about our chips in Longford so we can get to Castlebar as quickly as possible and most of all, the journey of heartache over the years will all be forgotten.We won’t hold any grudges.

2014 may just be that year. Maybe.

 

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Planning for Game 5

Planning for Game 5

Here we all are again: for the 4th year in a row preparing ourselves for the trip east to cheer on our boys in an All-Ireland Semi-Final. It’s all very positive. But I’m very cynical as ye know.

It’s great to see us travel in such numbers and we comfortably outnumbered every other county there last week. But some of us tend to forget that we have two outstanding football teams still in action this year. Our minors… What a team. And it’s great to see the support in early for them last week. But if one more person asks me “how did the minors get on?” in the jacks of Croke Park after the minor game… If you cared, you would have been in on time. The pubs will still be there after the game, I promise!

Anyways, with that off my chest, it’s time to get to planning for Sunday week. The hotel is booked, the tickets are sorted, train tickets booked and…

Rail Strike

There’s only a bloody train strike!

Well there you go! We’ll have to take the hit and stay the night in the Villa Bella. The rumbles about a possible strike are sure to interrupt the plans of a lot of folk reading this although I do hope it doesn’t affect the numbers travelling. We hate to see anyone stuck so be sure to get stuck into our car pooling section! If you need a lift, post it up on our Facebook page and someone might be kind enough to bring you along (for a fair contribution to fuel and sambos, obviously!). In terms of parking, we’ll follow up with details closer to throw-in but the general rule of thumb is to get in early!

It’s a great time to be a Mayo fan. This excitement never gets old. I’ve spent all day reading articles, message boards, arguing with fellow fans, and watching classic games on YouTube. And there’s still 11 ruddy days to wait! So the overriding message for us has to be this: enjoy it. We are the envy of most other counties in Ireland. Only 4 teams get here every year, 8 including minor, and we have 2 teams representing us.

To stay in touch with the latest updates I would recommend the MayoGAABlog. The content is excellent, some great updates and links to articles in local and national media and some incredibly dubious conversation to boot!

I’d like to wrap this up by wishing the U21 hurlers the very best in their Connacht Under 21 B final in Athleague tomorrow. It would be a very welcome success with our seniors doing the business against Roscommon earlier in the year to win the Connacht title, not to mention  the minors’ second appearance in as many years in the All-Ireland minor C final where they look to retain their title. Also, well done to the Mayo Ladies team who qualified for the last 8 last Saturday after defeating Westmeath, and best of luck to them too as they take on All-Ireland Champions Cork in the next stage on Saturday in Tullamore.

Enjoy the build up!

MayoMark

Horan: one step closer to immortality?

Horan: one step closer to immortality?

James Horan’s first game as Mayo manager was an FBD game in Castlebar in January 2011. His league managerial debut also took place in MacHale Park against Down a month later. He opened up his championship managerial career in West London on a bright afternoon which almost went down in the history books as a black day for Mayo football. Two further championship games in very bad conditions dictated that he brought his men to Croke Park in July 2011 as Connacht champions but with the tag of serious underdogs to face Cork, the All Ireland champions. James Horan That day he made nonsense of Spillane’s ranting about Connacht football’s “Junk Status”, ridiculed Brolly’s assertion that Cork would easily progress and set the tone for some historic Mayo days in Croke Park over the next 3 years. For many that is the day that the Horan era really started. Now the Horan era is surely coming to a close and we face Cork once again. This time Mayo will be installed as favourites and rightfully so. Cork were physically and mentally superior to Sligo in Saturday’s qualifier. In Sky Sports high definition each man looked taller and broader, and even more importantly than this, they had far better ideas when on the ball. Colm O’Neill dominated the game ably assisted by Paul Kerrigan. Sligo had a patch of dominance and took a fine goal in the third quarter but the game was never in doubt. Keeping Kerrigan and O’Neill quiet will no doubt be key to Sunday’s game plan. Cork now have a huge step up in the calibre of their opponents in the space of a week. They started brightly against Kerry but were unable to compete with them as the game progressed.  I think the match-ups will favour the Connacht champions and while we, as Mayo supporters, will never get used to going to Croke Park as favourites, the players and management seem to have no problems with it ,judging by our wins over Down and Tyrone. Regardless of our chances of lifting the blessed chalice in September, and regardless of whether he continues in the job, we cannot doubt that James Horan’s tenure has been a great success.  Let’s keep enjoying it and hope fervently that Sunday’s game will bring him one step closer to immortality.

Defensive football – the new black?

Defensive football – the new black?

It’s August, and we are back to a familiar scene. Our opponents were confirmed on Saturday evening after Sligo were parked up by Cork.

When Cork emerged under the leadership of Brian Cuthbert, they looked to have prowess. They had a steady league performance, and with Kerry looking at sixes and sevens in the league, it looked from early on like they were the Munster team to watch. That theory was quickly demolished after the Kingdom destroyed them in the Munster Final by 12 points. And in a flash, Cork were banished to the dreaded qualifiers. They arrived in Tullamore on Saturday for a date with Sligo. Cuthbert made six changes from their Kerry hiding and unveiled a significantly revised game plan. A game plan that is now the new wave of vogue in Gaelic Football: overpopulate the opposition’s defence and stay there. This new wave was originally designed by Jim McGuinness and now, just like tight jerseys, it’s pretty much the new black!

At times on Saturday Cork played with only one player in the opposing half of the field. This style of defensive football was used on Sligo but in reality it was being introduced for their quarter final meeting with Mayo. But they have a lot of work to do before they perfect this style. On Saturday it worked for a while, then they drifted off course and looked unsure of themselves. Colm O Neill and Paul Kerrigan, seasoned players, were their star attractions; they looked sharp and up for the challenge. O’Neill finished with 10 points and will inevitably be a handful for the Mayo full-back line on Sunday, but with Keith Higgins now firmly back there, he’ll have the measure of the rebel. With the way the game is going now, it’ll be an interesting competition for Mayo, to see how they cope with the defensive approach. Fintan Goold started from the bench but replaced debutant, 20 year old, Ian Maguire and would look to have made enough of an impression to start on Sunday. Cork are jittery though, and tend to fall away when pressure is applied.

Mayo v CorkMayo have never had a great record against Cork in championship. Horan’s men have looked slow to get going so far, maybe they are just warming up to this stage or maybe they are beginning to tire. Sunday will tell a tale. Big performances will be needed by every Mayo player. Will Mayo counteract the defensive trap? Will they need to?

James Horan’s men have shown heart and determination when needed in their Connacht Championship, let’s hope this continues through on Sunday.

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