View from the Hill

View from the Hill

We welcome Dublin fan Neil Franklin into our guest spot as we build up to the big match on Sunday.

I don’t know what my real attitude towards Mayo football is. I’ve never been excited by it in the way that I was excited by Down’s early 90s flair and swagger, or Galway’s late 90s version of the same qualities. I’ve never admired it in the way I admired Tyrone or Armagh’s defiance, I’ve never feared it in the way I feared Meath and Kerry. For a long time it barely registered on my radar. When it did, it came with baggage weighing it down, and it generally made for an uncomfortable watch.

On the day that Mayo demolished Donegal in the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final, I began reading Keith Duggan’s book “House Of Pain”, finishing it three weeks later, the day before Mayo beat Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final. The aim of that book may not be to fill people from other counties with pity for Mayo, but unfortunately that is the inevitable outcome of reading it. Everybody wants Mayo to win an All-Ireland. The truth is, we want you to get it over with so we can stop feeling guilty about cheering against you.

But I’m also jealous of Mayo in some ways. That may sound strange coming from somebody from a county with 24 All-Ireland titles against Mayo’s mere three but to me, it’s rational. Kind of.

I’m jealous of what it must feel like to have a whole county unite and go into the Lion’s den and face Hill 16 and 50,000 Dubs in their own backyard. Jealous of being from a county where GAA is part of the fabric of everyday life in a way that it will never be in Dublin. Jealous of being part of a people and a cause in a way that we will never know. Jealous of being an underdog. Jealous of the chase.

Mayo people want to end the chase, and go back to being a normal county unencumbered by the nation’s pity and “God help us” tags. The chase can only be worthwhile if the prize is won.

Hill 16 - Dublin only?

Hill 16 – Dublin only?

The only insight I can gather into what it must feel like to be a Mayo person as Sam Maguire comes into view in the distance and then disappears yet again is from being a Liverpool fan in April 2014 as 24 years without a League championship promised to end in a glorious climax, and then blew up in a manner that left me feeling despairing, bitter, yet empty. It’s not the same though. Liverpool FC is a basically a television-inspired, one way love affair for me, not much more real than Taylor Swift or Jessica Alba. Mayo football to Mayo people is not that and never will be.

Dublin’s chase, the longest in the county’s history, lasted 16 years, exactly one quarter of the current length of Mayo’s.

Winning in 2011 was great. The manner of it was better, coming from behind as underdogs to overhaul your greatest rivals and beat them in the championship for the first time in 34 years.

I knew then and I know now that that was as good as it could ever get following the Dublin football team. The 2013 semi-final came damn close, but again, that was Kerry. Kerry are the one county who will always be able to waken even the most sated Dub from his well-fed sloth and turn them into a ravenous, bloodthirsty animal again.

I didn’t particularly enjoy the final. September 22nd of two years ago almost felt too perfect and ultimately, it could only disappoint. Closer to the shortest day than the longest, in most years it would have been the hottest day of the year, although perhaps not in that glorious summer of 2013.

I stood beside Donegal, Derry, Armagh and Tyrone people in previous years as they experienced the agonising final minutes before their first All-Irelands, so I’ve seen and even felt what it brings out in people. Being in opposition to that is a strange, conflicted feeling. There was a different kind of tension in the air in 2013 to 2011. I felt our tension and I felt Mayo’s tension as a group of Mayo supporters stood near me on Hill 16.

As Cillian O’Connor lined up that last free, it was difficult to know what to think. I didn’t know what I wanted to happen. Probably for one more play to be allowed and for Mayo to get a draw. That was not to be.

When Joe McQuillan blew the whistle from Stephen Cluxton’s kickout, there were celebrations, flares, flags and blue smoke, but it wasn’t like 2011. There was real disappointment and real emotion in close vicinity and it was hard not to feel some of it.

It’s hard not to laugh at Kerry and Kilkenny people who tell me they know disappointment too. Sure. They don’t even know what it felt like to be a Dublin supporter during our barren spell. Never mind Mayo, never mind counties who have never won the All-Ireland such as Monaghan.

Dublin people perhaps know more disappointment than Kerry or Kilkenny, but it’s still different for us. Winning does strange things to you. Winning when you have an almost obscene population and money advantage, and now talent advantage over virtually every county, as Dublin have, does even stranger things. Dublin should be winning and are winning. You find yourself becoming apathetic, bored almost, as the latest hapless victim lines up to be squashed like a bug. Every match in the cavernous new Croke Park, metaphorical tumbleweed blowing around the place, Dublin people fattened on success, some too bored by the sheer inevitability of it all to even bother clapping never mind cheering, the match day experience usually as stale as a loaf that left Oul’ Mr. Brennan’s factory a fortnight ago.

As a kid growing up, for me Dublin’s year generally revolved around one day – often the last Sunday in July, Leinster final day, sometimes earlier, in which case it would be the unofficial but real Leinster final day, when we would inevitably meet Meath. That day would determine whether the year was a success or a failure.

All this time we in Dublin would have considered Mayo not much more than a joke, a team that might have an outside chance of sneaking through to make up the numbers in the All-Ireland final in those triennial years when Connacht teams got the “soft” draw of the Ulster champions in the semi-final.

The things began to change. The GAA decided to give teams a second chance and rivalries and certainties blurred. Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Armagh and London came onto Dublin’s horizon. Kerry returned to it. And then, later, came Mayo. Respect wasn’t something that came naturally to Dublin people when they thought of Mayo. Mayo have had to earn Dublin’s respect.

The 2013 final was the apex of what is mainly a modern rivalry, but it is pockmarked by the far apart yet symmetrical semi-final meetings of 1955 and 1985 to which this year’s edition is the latest descendant. Both took place in the midst of decades in which Ireland was blighted by emigration and both ended in draws. The circle turns again.

1955 was a key year in Dublin GAA history. It was the first year of what we now know as “The Dubs”, the first time a Dublin football team made up entirely of Dubliners, most of them St. Vincent’s men, won a Leinster title. With Kevin Heffernan starring, a 20 point humiliation of Meath led to an All-Ireland semi-final meeting with an ageing Mayo team trying one more time to get back to the summit they had reached in 1950 and 1951. Although famous names such as Tom Langan, Paddy Prendergast and Sean Flanagan were still there, they were shorn of their star forward Padraic Carney, who had left for the USA the previous year to pursue his medical career. In rain and thunder and lightning that made conditions almost unplayable, the teams drew 1-4 to 0-7, Dublin eventually drawing level late on through Nicky Maher.

The replay went ahead in much better weather as the second part of a double-bill with Kerry and Cavan, who were also replaying their semi-final. This time Dublin took the initiative early and would never really lose it after Ollie Freaney’s first half goal cancelled out Jimmy Curran’s effort. Despite Curran’s efforts in hitting every score of Mayo’s 1-7 tally, Dublin’s 1-8 was enough to win by a single point. They would lose the final to Kerry, the first chapter in a storied rivalry which has rarely relented ever since.

The 1955 Clash

The 1955 Clash

1985 is remembered mainly for two things – Padraig Brogan’s screamer of a goal in front of Hill 16 and John Finn having his jaw broken.  A whole other article could probably be written about that, but we won’t go there …

The drawn game of 1985 was significant in that it marked the first, tentative step towards Mayo being a genuine national force in the game since the corresponding semi-final 30 years earlier. An eight point replay defeat turned out to be their lot, but the genesis of the 1989 final team was there in those matches. Again, Dublin lost the final to you-know-who. In fact all four Dublin-Mayo semi-finals since 1955 have seen the winner go on to lose the final.

The semi-final of 2006 was the day the modern day rivalry of Dublin and Mayo really began. Before the match had even started, farcical scenes almost reminiscent of a Benny Hill Show sketch had the crowd laughing and shouting angrily in equal measure.

Mayo weren’t the first team to warm up in front of Hill 16 in an All-Ireland semi-final. Tyrone did likewise in 1984, and subsequently were made to pay in a comprehensive beating.

But that was a Dublin team who were reigning All-Ireland champions and were never going to be undermined by such nonsense. In 2006 Mayo knew that while they weren’t a champion team, neither was it a champion team they were facing, but one with a soft underbelly which could be exposed. While it would be fatuous to claim it genuinely affected the result, Dublin having their territory claimed undoubtedly rattled them. It was the ridiculous prelude to the sublime as the game of the year and possibly the decade ensued.

It was Mayo’s day of blond ambition. Conor Mortimer led the way, but Ciaran McDonald’s contribution is undoubtedly the more enduring.

Like Mayo football as a whole, McDonald had to earn people’s respect. Now considered an almost mythical, mystical figure of Mayo football, a diffident, avant-garde, mysterious leftfield genius,  it’s hard to believe that for a long time he was treated as a bit of joke figure. A flash harry, a “Swedish Maid”, as Joe Brolly once called him. That changed in 2004, shortly after Brolly made those comments during a Connacht championship clash with Galway. Mayo made the All-Ireland final where, despite McDonald’s not inconsiderable efforts, they were no match for Kerry, but skewered All-Ireland champions Tyrone along the way. That day McDonald made sure nobody would ever fail to take him seriously again.

Elverys beats Arnotts once again.

Elverys beats Arnotts once again.

His performance in that semi-final against Dublin in 2006 seemed as extraordinary at the time as that Mayo team was ordinary, and a look back at the video confirms first impressions didn’t lie. McDonald controlled that game like a matador. In the midst of a Dublin whirlwind, he was like a Gaelic football equivalent of Maradona at the 1986 World Cup, controlling everything, dictating the tempo almost nonchalantly. And at the end, delivering the exquisite coup de grace.

But in truth, that 2006 semi-final was a battle to be runners-up to one of the best Kerry teams ever.

Things had moved on significantly by the time the 2012 semi-final came around, with a sprinkling of survivors on both sides peppering two largely new, and better teams, even if the match didn’t quite attain the all-time classic status of six years before. The flair of McDonald may not have iced Mayo’s cake this time, but it was clear that their power and pace were the framework of a more formidable overall unit.

In saying that, the Dublin of 2012 were not the Dublin of 2011, or 2013, feeling the hangover of All-Ireland success, Pat Gilroy unable to rouse them like he had been a year earlier. It was only the prospect of a humiliation that did so, but the roar when it came threatened to engulf Mayo. That last 20 minutes was one of the most devastating bursts of football that this Dublin team have produced, and had Bernard Brogan slotted a gilt-edged chance past David Clarke with five minutes left, the result would likely have gone the other way. He didn’t, Mayo advanced to another losing final and Brogan stored his disappointment up for 2013 when he would face a different Mayo goalkeeper.

The record shows that Mayo have always troubled Dublin. In those five times the counties have crossed paths since 1955,  on the initial day there have been two draws, two Mayo wins, and a solitary Dublin win by one point, Dublin’s 1955 and 1985 replay wins coming by one and eight points respectively.

Which leads us to Sunday.

Dublin at times have looked unstoppable this year, and the league rout in Castlebar in March was one of those occasions. But lately, they’ve been looking vulnerable. Stephen Cluxton has been doing a fair impression of Iker Casillas at last year’s World Cup. Paul Flynn appears hampered by injury. Michael Darragh McAuley’s engine appears to be running on ordinary rather than premium at the moment.

Mayo people would be foolish to take any of that at face value. This is a champion Dublin team with the ability to explode.

Mayo’s early season form is now forgotten, their performance against Donegal as complete as any they’ve put in since 2011. James Horan did a superb job in his four years, but perhaps the fresh voices of Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes, who have won an All-Ireland under-21 title with many of this team, and a fresh role for Aidan O’Shea, can make the difference.

“Miles on the clock”, say the detractors, given that those under-21 players of 2006 are all around the 30 mark now. But if this was a Kerry team, it would be classed as vast experience, and that’s what it deserves to be classed as. Both teams have that experience and a superb, free flowing style at their best, and it’s as tantalising a clash as has been played in the football championship since the great Kerry and Tyrone teams of the last decade met in their two All-Ireland finals.

It’s rare to have a great atmosphere at Croke Park these days. League and Leinster championship matches there are usually a depressing prospect.

Sunday will be different. It’ll be full on and then some. Semi-finals generally provide the best atmosphere of any match in a given year, as Croke Park is filled with supporters from the competing counties rather than the large proportion of neutrals that attend the final. And for Dubs it yet again it provides the prospect of a moment which is exclusive to the patrons on Hill 16 (we’re like the good folk at Augusta, just noiser and with a more colourful vocabulary). Five times in the new Croke Park Dublin have lost semi-finals. On each of those occasions, at the final whistle, the roar that went up from the other three sides of the stadium has been incredible and genuinely spine tingling. Eerily quiet around you, the rest of Croke Park becomes deafening, a wall of noise that Phil Spector couldn’t reproduce. Horrible yet beautiful at the same time.

Few counties have a Dublin diaspora like Mayo. The pubs will fill with them from Saturday evening, and as I wait at my Dublin bus stop on the main road in from the West on Sunday morning, cars and buses zooming past with their green and red flags will signal the main invasion.

green and red Mayo car

Not this photo again lads!?

Whereas in previous decades, Dublin supporters used to wait for the last Sunday in July, it’s now the last Sunday in August we wait for as the day when the real business begins. This is the type of day you wait all year for. But for both teams it’s only a bridge to September. For Mayo, the chase will continue past Sunday, either way.

The big dog versus the underdog.

Every underdog surely has his day eventually.

Maybe.

Neil Franklin loves hurling (especially the golden 90s era), soccer (especially Liverpool), darts, poetry, wine and song. If he had a paper cut he would bleed blue. Follow him on twitter at @hill16bhoy

Winging It: Supporting Mayo Football From Across the Irish Sea

Winging It: Supporting Mayo Football From Across the Irish Sea

We’re delighted to welcome to the guest slot this week a Mayo fan writing from across the water, Rambling Paddy. Based in London Town. Paddy is an avid follower of Mayo’s fortunes from across the water and here’s his account of what it’s like supporting Mayo football from across the Irish Sea. You can follow him over on his blog, A Rambling Paddy.

 Last weekend, the first transatlantic pilgrimage touched down at Knock airport to great fanfare. With a welcome party led by An Taoiseach and witnessed by national media it certainly was a day of great significance for a regional airport that continues to innovate and punch above its weight. Although I should correct myself when I say the plane “touched down”. As anyone that’s landed into Ireland West Airport can testify, that may give an unrealistic impression of what is sometimes a not-so-gentle landing. Not infrequently, adverse winds and fog can mean a  tricky approach and getting wheels on terra firma can be rather abrupt. And that’s not actually a bad (if slightly tortured) metaphor for the experience of following the fortunes of Mayo football. Not always blue skies and we can often end up being brought back down to earth with a bump. Not one for travellers of a nervous disposition.

Following from overseas can both intensify and dilute that experience. Even in such a technologically-connected world, being one step removed from the day-to-day conversations brings a certain sense of exclusion. Who’s going well at training. The rumoured line-ups. The challenge matches. These are just a few thoughts that might merely be easy discussion topics when bumping into a neighbour at home but they don’t usually crop up in the corner shops of Clapham. And although this may seem insignificant, it adds to the latent sense of occasion that only an extended Mayo run in the championship provides.

To compensate for this, I tend to forensically trawl through all coverage of Mayo football online. And if we’re currently spoilt with the quality of the football, then the level of coverage they receive certainly does it justice. Amateur writers such as “An Spailpín Fánach” and Willie Joe of Mayo GAA Blog fame are always compulsive reading. And I use the term amateur in the same sense of the football itself – professional in all but name. We’re also fortunate with the quality of the regional media and the digital supplements of The Western People and The Mayo News are always worth coughing up the few quid for. The Mayo News team in particular deserve extra plaudits for their innovative podcast which has been good company on several tortuous tube journeys. In addition to that local coverage, a few of the national writers seem to have a grá for Mayo football – the ever-excellent Keith Duggan at the Irish Times in particular. All are consumed fanatically.

green and red plane

Photo: Ireland West Airport (Knock)

Additionally, any calls home at this time of year invariably involve a five minute maternal briefing on any local or family matters, followed by a forty-five minute in-depth analysis with the old fella on the next championship game. Now that we’re heading for a semi-final, I’ll probably have to up that allowance to an hour. The ties might be slightly remote, but still maintain a tangible connection to the atmosphere. And anyway I shouldn’t complain. London is a great city, and I’m fortunate that it’s still accessible enough to facilitate regular trips home for family, friends…and football. Or more correctly, I’m fortunate that Knock Airport exists to facilitate it.

The relationship between the airport and those of us that travel over and back regularly can be summarised by a conversation I heard recently while queuing at Stansted. Two middle-aged Mayo gentlemen ahead of me waiting to board, returning after a week’s work on the building sites of London. I gathered it wasn’t their first tour of duty overseas. Having spent twenty minutes complaining about the cost of the departure charge at the airport, they ended up talking round in circles eventually praising its value compared with the cost of travelling to Britain in the eighties. By the time we were ready to board, a general consensus had been reached that for the convenience of having an international airport on their doorstep, donating all their worldly goods at the gate wouldn’t be outrageous. (For any airport staff reading I’d disagree – a tenner is plenty!) In summary: we shouldn’t take Monsignor Horan’s landmark achievement for granted.

And to flog that airport metaphor to death, we similarly shouldn’t take the achievements of this current Mayo team for granted either. For that reason, I had sufficient confidence prior to the Donegal clash to go ahead and book flights back for the semi-final. A gamble on meeting the Dubs in Croker on the last weekend of August. Another flight, another trip to headquarters.

Expect some turbulence.

All The Way From Tuam

All The Way From Tuam

Club 51 welcomes Galway fan Francis Creaven onto the site to give his view of our famous rivalry.

I must make this clear from the start. I do not like Mayo Football.

My experiences with the Green & Red have largely been negative. Games we should have won, disasters we should have avoided, supporters who weren’t very gracious in victory. For me, Mayo typify everything your average sporting rival should. Though, as I grow older, my feelings for the antagonist and my neighbours is pacifying ever so slightly. Maybe it was the time I spent working in Mayo and the people within Mayo GAA I met. There a number of honest decent Mayo fans I’ve come across, who I would not begrudge All-Ireland success. Unfortunately I have met many more that prompt reactions of stifled laughter whenever Mayo lose.

Stifled laughter is something I can seldom enjoy anymore as a Galway fan when it comes to Mayo these days. The promised land of an All-Ireland success is a long way away. And we can’t even solace ourselves with a victory over the old enemy. While we are left to navigate through treacherous qualifiers, Mayo are a regular fixture in the semi-finals at the very least. While the ultimate prize still eludes them, right now I wouldn’t mind travelling to Croke Park more often. I’d be grateful to see us win a bloody championship game there sometime soon. Watching Mayo in the latter stages isn’t easy. Usually it is at the expense of us, or in our absence. And there’s the terrifying prospect that one year, the cards will all fall into place, and they will win an All-Ireland Final. That prospect doesn’t enamour many Galway fans I imagine. I was once getting a haircut in my hometown of Tuam when I overheard the person next to me discussing Mayo’s progress in the Championship one year. He was jokingly asked “Imagine if they won it?” to which he said “Jesus! we would have to emigrate if they did!

Francis will be getting the first one of these after Mayo wins Sam

Francis will be getting the first one of these after Mayo wins Sam

Emigration would be a possibility for me, though that’s more because this country is still reeling from recession more than the thought of Mayo reaching the Promised Land. Yet surely the county itself will shut down for a good 6-8 months if they do win an All-Ireland? Mayo supporters are nothing if not vocal. The sheer desire, the lust to attain that Holy Grail is clearly evident in their eyes. And it’s the inability to control that emotion, as large as it is, why you have individuals like Mr. Barrett running onto the pitch to confront officials. Taking that into account, imagine the cathartic experiences that would ensue when a Mayo man other than John O’Mahony lifts the Sam Maguire in Croke Park.
That prospect is one thing that bothers me, the other is the neutrals opinion that wouldn’t you love to see Mayo win an All-Ireland? I have seen this so often and I can’t stand it. Sure, Mayo fans would love it and that’s grand but me? No! Why should I? I’ve grown up regarding Mayo as my greatest rivals. The one team I just love to see us beat year after year. The fixture that stokes so much passion in the build-up to throw in, the opposition that raises your game, raises your voice on the stands. And people think I can suddenly forget all of that when it suits. Mayo don’t deserve to win an All-Ireland because they have lost seven since 1951. Galway have lost as many finals in football & hurling in the same time period. Do we deserve to win one as well? It is something that came up recently when I witnessed my neighbouring parish and fierce club rivals Corofin saunter their way to their 2nd All-Ireland Senior Club title. I don’t have this switch inside my head that automatically makes it OK for me to support someone that any other time I’d want to lose.

Now reading all of that will make you wonder what kind of bitter deluded resentful Galway football supporter am I? Let me re-assure you I am nowhere near as bad as you think. The likes of Corofin & Mayo can do just fine without my support because they are excellent teams in their own right. I am in no state of denial over their ability and their achievements. Corofin have been the standard bearers of Galway club football for some time, the title of being the best team in Ireland is no more than they deserve. And there is no fluke, stroke of luck or miracle that has seen Mayo win four Connacht titles in a row. They are without doubt one of the best teams in the country in recent years. Their exploits and level of performance is the standard the rest of us in the province are striving to match. Unfortunately, Galway have given them nothing to worry about in recent years.

Count  'em Francis

Count ’em Francis

As a devoted follower of the Irish Soccer Team, I am often left cursing the fact I was born in 1991 and thus, missed the glory days of Italia 90 and Jackie Charlton etc. However, with Galway football, the timing could not have been more perfect. The exploits of the late 90’s and early 00’s inspired a passion inside me that will stay with me until I croak it. I can even gloss over the fact that brilliant side came to fruition under the leadership of a Mayo man. As bad as recent times have been, looking back on that time period eases the heartbreak inside, and reminds me why I will never stop following the Maroon & White.

I can vividly recall watching the opening round of the 1998 Connacht Championship at home. The importance of this game and what was at stake was huge. Mayo coming off the back of two consecutive All-Ireland final appearances. A young Galway side full of potential. A full house at McHale Park. A straight knockout tie that defined the summer. All of this on the 24th May. Could you imagine telling Donegal or Tyrone three weeks ago that there would be no second chances? Could you imagine the tension surrounding that game if there was no back-door? For talented players such as Ciaran McDonald and Maurice Sheridan, they only had 70 minutes playing time that summer. To this day, I don’t think there is nothing more beautiful than the sight of a shot hitting the underside of a crossbar and going in. It is for that reason alone, I idolised Derek Savage more than our local hero Ja Fallon during that summer. And it was experienced players like Ja and the free-taking of Niall Finnegan that drove Galway to victory. The sheer magnitude of the win would dawn on me many years later. The fact we went to Castlebar and defeated twice All-Ireland Finalists in such a manner could not have been a greater catalyst for the journey that followed.

Two years ago, I jokingly referred to the upcoming Connacht Football Quarter Final as the “Scorcher By The Seaside”. Ultimately, the only thing that was scorched that day was our backsides. I have ignored reflection on that game until I started this piece and it hasn’t been pleasant. Nothing went right for us on the day, our deficiencies were ruthlessly exposed, and the weather wasn’t even nice! I usually abhor leaving a game early but my resistance was finally broken when the amount of injury time was announced. My father and I decided we had enough. As we were leaving Pearse Stadium, a huge roar went up as Andy Moran had scored a fourth goal. It was chilling, I know this isn’t a horror piece I’m writing here but the goal gave a score-line an even more horrific outlook from a Galway perspective. It was a bad game I hope to never reflect on again.

Don't look now Francis

Don’t look now Francis

Pearse Stadium is a contentious venue amongst Galway followers. For a number of years, my father and I didn’t go to games there. We never liked it. Maybe we were more annoyed at the fact we could no longer utilise our shortcut on the railway tracks not far from our house to reach Tuam Stadium. We could never boycott it forever, our love for Galway football was too much. Yet there are those in Tuam and its hinterlands who firmly believe all will come right again with Galway football when the Championship football returns to the ground. I will not subscribe to that notion, partly because it is sentimental nonsense that has no impact upon our fortunes. And mainly because that while Tuam Stadum has a superb pitch, the rest of the ground is in dire need of renovation to be of a suitable standard to host Championship football again.

The last two times Galway & Mayo played in Tuam in the Championship had two things in common. Mayo won both games, and they won both by a 4 point margin. In 1997, it was a beautiful day. The atmosphere around the Town Square that day is something I can still vaguely remember. Back then, I was a naive six year old who had no idea what was going on. Two years later, in 1999, I was very much aware of what was at stake. However, this time the weather was atrocious. The ground itself was packed to beyond capacity. Health & Safety went out the window for what was the biggest encounter between the two counties in a generation. A premium section consisting of two brand new row of seats were installed in the aging stand for Uachtaran Na hEireann Mary McAleese and other high ranking officials. If the occasion a year previous was huge, then this was even bigger.

The game itself was deservedly won by Mayo as the reigning champions struggled in poor conditions. My father and I were at the town end, I still don’t know how we got tickets such was the demand. Sitting to my right were four Mayo fans in particular. All young lads, all in their early twenties and all if I remember correctly, slightly inebriated. With the game slipping away from Galway late on as every Martin Mac kick-out landed into the hands of Mayo, these lads started to celebrate early. The roars and the cheers were one thing, but the incessant barging into me as they swayed from side to side was too much. When the final whistle was blown, I was inconsolable, not just at the result but the louts beside me acting like idiots. I never experienced anything like it before or since at a game. Maybe the occasion got to them. The 1999 Connacht Final has gone down in Mayo GAA folklore ever since but it left an indelible impression on an 8 year old child at the time. Mayo became my greatest rivals that day.

Francis fumes as JM is lifted high.

Francis fumes as JM is lifted high.

The following years eased my pain. Mayo never capitalised on a victory of such magnitude, losing tamely to Cork in the semi-final. Galway however bounced back to make consecutive All-Ireland Final appearances in 2000 and 2001. In the same time, Mayo crashed to provincial defeats against Sligo and more memorably, the 2001 Connacht Final to Roscommon. I think that was the only time I wanted Mayo to win, as the Rossies put us to the sword previously in the semi-final. We would get our redemption against them in the quarter-finals, and another All-Ireland would follow in September in swashbuckling fashion once again. However, if you were to tell any Galway supporter back then that our victory over Meath would be our last such triumph of any kind at Croke Park for the foreseeable future, they would laugh long and hard at your face. As long as fourteen years you wonder? Aside from not winning at Croke Park, in those fourteen years we have also witnessed defeats at the hands of Westmeath & Antrim, scraping wins against Waterford & Louth, big defeats to Tyrone & Kerry, numerous one point defeats and one absolute hammering to Mayo in Pearse Stadium. I grew up watching Galway football that was magic. And it has been nothing short of a tragedy ever since our last All-Ireland victory.

The only summer I can remember with any fondness in the last 14 years was 2008. That year, under Liam Sammon, we reverted to playing fast direct football true to Galway principles. Padraic Joyce’s switch from full forward to centre half forward was a masterstroke that allowed his undoubted talent to flourish. And this was demonstrated with a superb individual goal in the Connacht Final that year. A surging run through the heart of the Mayo defence, sending defenders the wrong way before he buried the ball into the bottom corner. Although Mayo rallied in the 2nd half, Galway surged ahead late on to win by a solitary point. Any Connacht title won in your opponent’s backyard has to be cherished and the football Galway played that day was to be cherished as well. Maybe we cherish it that bit more as it happens to be our last Connacht title to this day!

For whoever wins on the 14th June, there is the potential prospect of meeting an up and coming Roscommon side, provided they get past Sligo in the other semi-final. Connacht football is definitely on the rise with great underage success across the province in recent years. A competitive provincial championship can only enhance each respective county and their development going forward. That said, is it too soon to expect Galway to cause an upset this season? We’ve endured another inconsistent League campaign. It started off brilliantly and then fell apart. The 2nd half against Cavan in March was a nightmare to watch. A week later, my father came in the door after our defeat to Laois in Tuam and said he would never go to another Galway game again! As we both watched Galway tamely defeat Kildare in our last league game, we couldn’t help but lament that the win should have guaranteed promotion, instead of avoiding relegation.

Kevin Walsh is trying to implement a defensive discipline that doesn’t seem to exist in the average psyche of a Galway footballer. It has been one of our downfalls to in the last decade to overcome the defensive revolution that has swept the GAA. It’s not that we have to start putting 15 men behind the ball. Mayo’s tenacity & pressure in the turnover that day in Salthill two years ago was frightening to watch. Because it is something we just don’t do. Time will tell if Walsh, one of the best midfielders to ever wear the Maroon & White, will succeed in making us defensively solid, and if it will come at the expense of the talent in our forward line.

With James Horan’s departure last year, some are inclined to believe that Mayo will not continue to challenge for an All-Ireland title. I wouldn’t agree with that whatsoever. They haven’t turned into a bad team overnight. It’s a fair question to pose that given the exploits of their last four seasons, is there anything left or we haven’t seen that will keep them pushing at the top? Maybe the new management team of Noel Connolly & Pat Holmes can bring something different that evolve this Mayo side further. Admittedly I haven’t seen a lot of their games this year and while their League form has been inconsistent, it has still been at a higher standard than what we have come up against. However, one wonders what impact the two month break since their last league game will have come throw in. It will be Galway’s 3rd Championship game and that may give us an edge in the opening periods. I don’t think it will be a decisive factor however. There’s enough experience in the Mayo panel to overcome something like that.

“To Win Just Once” has become the official song of Mayo football. However, as recent years have passed, maybe we can start claim it back as our own. To put it into perspective, Michael Jackson was still alive and considering a comeback the last time Galway “bate” Mayo in the Senior Football Championship. And if we’re to mount a comeback of our own to the top table of the inter-county football, then I hope it goes better than what happened to the King Of Pop.

I’ll give Conor Mortimer one thing, he has great taste in music!

He's bad , he's bad , really really bad ( at spelling).

He’s bad , he’s bad , really really bad ( at spelling).

Francis has not scored a goal in a game of football since 2001 and is starting to believe only a Galway win in Croke Park will help him get his shooting boots back on.

You can follow him on  @FCr_91

 

Marvellous Minors

Marvellous Minors

Stephen Coen on the train to Mayo with the Tom Markham Cup

2013 Minor Captain Stephen Coen brings the Tom Markham Cup home. Pic: Mayo GAA

While down the years, there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the drought that has befallen the Mayo senior footballers when it comes to All-Ireland titles, there’s a bunch of young guns on the way up the ranks who are no stranger to the winning mindset.

The Mayo minors throw in their season this Saturday 14th March with an away game against Roscommon, and manager Enda Gilvarry and his backroom team will be no doubt eager to build on the success of his last couple of years at the helm, which has seen more than one trip to Croke Park and a very memorable trip back west with the Tom Markham Cup in 2013.

Some of the faces from that magic year are appearing in the senior panel, including captain Stephen Coen who has already made his mark on the squad. The future looks bright, but what’s it like from the point of view of those who are shaping that future?

As our marvellous minors prepare to challenge again in 2015, Club 51’s intrepid reporter Mayo Mark caught up with Enda recently to get his take on the year ahead.

 Mark: Can you give us a bit of background on your GAA playing and managerial career?

 Enda: I started off with Ballina Stephenites, I came up through the underage ranks there although I’m from Killala, but that’s a longer story! I won most of the county titles at the time that were available and played with some fantastic footballers who went on to play for the county. In ’85 and ’87 I was involved with the teams that won the senior championships.  I played football in Boston one summer and won a Boston Championship there which I’m very proud of as it was the only time I played with one of my brothers. We come from a huge footballing family with a large involvement with Mayo football – something that I’m very proud of.

I started managing Ballina minors in 1999 and won a County “A” title. In 2003 I managed the senior team in Ballina and won the county senior title. I moved to Killala and started to manage them in 2008 where we won the county and Connacht junior titles. I stayed with Killala for a few years and became the Mayo minor selector in 2012, took over as manager at the start of 2013 and I’m still here.

That’s a pretty comprehensive CV and with plenty more in the tank?

Well please God! I don’t play golf or have any other hobby. It’s the one thing that gets me out of the house and keeps me young.

Mayo Minor Football Manager Enda Gilvarry

Mayo Minor Football Manager Enda Gilvarry on All-Ireland Final Day, 2013. Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

Can you talk us through the highs and lows of the 2013 season?

Look, it was a fantastic experience – something I really enjoyed and looking back I think that was part and parcel of the success. As a management team we enjoyed it and I think the players enjoyed it as well and that allowed them to express themselves. It’s a special time when a group of players, managers and any support group from the county board and so on to gel.

Towards the end of the year all we had to do was hand out the jersies, the players deserve a huge amount of credit because they took a huge mantle of leadership.

Some really special characters and some really special memories.

Last year saw another Connacht Championship and a couple of great victories. Can you expand on 2014?

Yeah, Last year was another rollercoaster of a year. We tried an awful lot of players and didn’t get a steady team together until the championship. That resulted in our league position not being as good as it could have been, yet in all of those games we lost by only one or two points, and in each one felt we could have won the game. So, I always knew that there was potential within the championship group. It took us a long time to deliver on that potential but once we beat Galway in Tuam we blossomed from there.

Ultimately in the All-Ireland semi-final, Cian Hanley’s injury and a little bit of disruption through sickness in the camp maybe cost us a little bit. But we also have to remember that we came up against an extremely good Kerry team who showed in the final how strong and competitive they were.

In terms of management and coaching approach, do you have any outside inspiration or favourite coach from any code?

You’ll always get bits and pieces from everywhere. Hugely impressed with Brian Cody’s record, people like Alex Ferguson, and even the way Brendan Rodgers approached last year (with Liverpool) with their style of football and positivity and getting the best out of a limited enough squad was impressive in itself. Closer to home, our own Strength and Conditioning coach James Mitchell in is second to none.

Could you give us an insight as to what’s involved in the background to running a team like the Mayo minors?

The preparation for the Mayo minor time would start… I think I was at trials less than 3 weeks after the All-Ireland final in 2013 preparing for 2014. The U17 academy will train through most of the winter doing strength and conditioning indoors and some of those young men will progress onto the Mayo minors which starts officially on the 1st February, but a lot of background work will have gone on to prepare for that.

Once that kicks off, between our own training sessions and club underage games, travelling to senior games where minors could be playing – that’s a 5 day a week job. Then  analysing videos of ourselves, videos of opposition, it really becomes a 7 day a week job and that goes on right until the end. It is a very demanding job for all of the management but not only for us –  it’s also demanding on our families. Thankfully they are very accommodating on that!

 In terms of the players, 16, 17, 18 years old is an important time in a young man’s life with school and so on. What kind of effort do those lads put in?

The Mayo minors celebrate after beating Roscommon in the Connacht MFC in MacHale Park, July 2014. Pic: Sportsfile

The Mayo minors celebrate after beating Roscommon in the Connacht MFC in MacHale Park, July 2014. Pic: Sportsfile

Oh, huge. Huge. We outline what’s expected of them almost on a daily basis for them to be competitive in inter-county minor football. But we are also mindful that they have their school demands, their school football demands, club demands, and most importantly a lot of them will be doing their Leaving Cert.

We find the most important thing is the structure and in many ways the Mayo minors actually helps them in that regard. With the size of the county you have some lads who leave school, come to training, go home and it’s time for bed.

That’s a huge commitment, not only from themselves but also from their family who have to buy into that.

Right, as a supporters group, we’re looking for brutal honesty here. What kind of effect can supporters have, both positive and negative, on the outcome of any game?

 Those of us who were on the field in 2013 when the final whistle went and Mayo Minors were victorious, nobody can underestimate what that meant to the Mayo public and the Mayo support and the feeling that it gave us all. That group of young men know what it means to win an All-Ireland in front of 40,000 supporters. Hopefully when they get that chance again they’ll remember what it was like because they have done it in front of a packed crowd. If and when they win the seniors there will not be a better reaction. That in itself will serve as a huge memory for those young men, and some older men as well!

There’s no doubt that the tighter games we’ve had, especially against Galway, and the days in Croke Park when the seniors are there behind us, it’s a fantastic place to be and a fantastic county to represent and a fantastic support to have. One memory of 2014 was of a spontaneous pitch invasion after the Connacht Final. I don’t remember that happening before and I like to think that was a mark of the football we played in the last 10 minutes and the excitement it generated.

I don’t find any pressure from the supporters and I hope the lads don’t find any pressure. I think it’s a hugely positive thing.

 There’s a huge challenge for a player to bridge the gap between minor and U21 to senior. What are the main challenges, do you think, in that regard?

 If you look at the calibre of player and the condition of the Mayo Senior team at the moment, to expect a minor, or a 19 or 20 year old to step up to that level easily or quickly is unrealistic. We can only play our part to developing them to a certain extent to indoctrinate them into how important intercounty football is and the work levels that are required at that standard. Then the U21 and the senior academies take over.

You know, the expectation is there that, just because a minor All-Ireland was won, that it’s going to be easy and the players are just going to be there going forward. Without the structures being put in place – the strength and conditioning, the fitness programmes – realistic development opportunities within the senior structure and the U21 structure , those chances, like many before, are going to filter away. I like what I have heard about a group of young men being brought into a senior strength and conditioning programme as a development.  I like the structures that have been put in place to monitor injuries, to recover and rehabilitate properly and the procedures in strength and conditioning to prevent injuries. I think that is hugely important and something we have tried to buy into in the minor team.

 As a supporter, do you have any fond memories yourself of following the Mayo senior team?

I remember back to the late 70’s and early 80’s when winning Connacht or  an All-Ireland Semi-final was beyond us.  I’d go all the way back to 1989 and winning the All-Ireland semi-final. Obviously that was my first time seeing Mayo in an All-Ireland final. No more than anyone else there’s a real frustration when losing when there seems to be no apparent reason. All this stuff about curses drives me absolutely mad.

I spoke about my family history in football. That came from the ’48-’51 era and those young men who won those All-Irelands were in no way special. They were no different to ourselves, only that they had a mentality that nobody else was better than them. I have the mentality that nobody is better than Mayo and that on any given day, Mayo men can take on anyone and when circumstances are right and things go right for us we will win it.

 How do you fancy our chances this year in the senior championship, and what do you think of the appointment of Noel and Pat?

 I’d be very excited and delighted for Noel and Pat and I think that they will bring an awful lot of experience and stability to the Mayo team again. James Horan did a fantastic job after 4 years but it’s no harm that a new voice has come in and it might give a fresh impetus. The senior team have worked extremely hard.  Pat and Noel will have to balance things with bringing in new players and balancing that with maintaining the standards that the team has set over the past number of years. There’s no doubt it’s a hard job. Success for the next year will be winning an All Ireland. Anything else… It’s a tough job that they’ve accepted.

 Do you follow any other sports besides GAA?

 If there was a round or oval ball and people chasing it I’d watch it. I love all sports from football to badminton. I’d even watch cricket! But I very seldom get the opportunity between work and the Mayo minors there isn’t that much time.

Enda, thanks a million for giving us your time. Before we let you go, can you give us your own sporting predictions for the year ahead?

Right!

All Ireland Hurling? Kilkenny

FA Cup? Hmmm … Man City

FAI Cup? Shamrock Rovers .. A Dublin club will win it

Rugby WC? Australia

Superbowl: Wouldn’t have a clue! Apart from the New England Patriots

Wimbledon: Murray will come back …

Thanks to Enda from all at Club ’51 and wishing the management team and of course the marvellous minors another great year ahead. We’ve had nothing but pleasure following these lads since 2013 with an All-Ireland and 2 Connacht Titles to celebrate. The Mayo minors travel to take on Roscommon in Kiltoom this Saturday at 2pm.

EDIT (REPOST): Best of luck to the lads in their first Championship outing this year as they look to join the seniors in Hyde Park on the 19th June. They play Galway at MacHale Park this Saturday evening.

Mayo-minors-v-Monaghan-2013

A tight-knit group. The 2013 minors gather before beating Monaghan in the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final. Pic: MayoGAABlog

Overseas Nostalgia

Overseas Nostalgia

The bauld Ciaran Mac

The bauld Ciaran Mac inspired us to roar at the telly

Nostalgia week continues with a view from someone living far away cross the ocean , far away o’er the foam.

 

The life of the Irish expatriate on the European mainland is, on the whole, a happy and fulfilling one. You have chosen to leave home in order to enjoy the opportunities afforded by a job abroad and you can enjoy the culture of your adopted country and still, thanks to low cost air travel, return home on a regular basis and also invite friends and family to visit. The script for the Irish male on most Saturdays in Europe is along the same lines in every country. Get yourself into the local Irish pub with all the English and Scots and watch as much football and rugby as the landlord can fit onto his screens. Sundays however can take a different turn. On Sunday the pub may still be full but there will be one corner TV showing the big premier league game and in the other corner, the big Irish heavyweight, the GAA.

Our brethren in the US historically have had a different experience when it comes to viewing our games. The Astra satellite shadow does not fall over the North American continent and as such they have always been reliant on service providers to ensure that they see their county men in action. Pubs all over the US welcome hung over Irishmen on a Sunday at hours ranging from 4 or 5 AM in San Francisco to 8 am on the east coast. By welcome I mean greet them with an ignorant door man demanding 25 dollars entry fee.

The down under experience is another step into dedication. I was in a pub in Melbourne at about midnight one night and an Ulster championship clash was just commencing, the place was packed and it was on every screen. How do these lads get up for work the next day?

I have been in Croke Park and Castlebar for many of Mayo’s finest days and for a few disasters as well but I remember watching us beat Tyrone in Amsterdam in 2004, just myself and a lad from Ballina whom I had just met roaring at the telly. I watched us lose to Galway in 2003 from O’reillys pub in Frankfurt. The day we beat Cork in 2011 I was in the Irish Pub in Bornheim. The famous day against Dublin in ’06 I was in the Anglo Irish pub with about 7 dubs, I simply could not afford to come home.

So folks , when you hear about lads turning up for All-Ireland finals from foreign countries I can see where you might feel aggrieved that they somehow manage to score a ticket and you did not. But don’t forget although we left home a long time ago our love for our team is just as strong as it was then. We are blessed with GAAGO this year but it was not always the case ,I know a man who took a flight in America to fly to a city in another state with a pub that was showing a Mayo game. You hear English accents and American ones as well in Croke Park when Mayo play, lads fulfilling their father’s wishes to see Mayo lift that chalice, bitten by that same bug that you yourself have. We are all the same or as they say in Thailand, “Same Same but Different”.

Mayo for Sam.

The First of Many

The First of Many

Kenneth Conway is our latest contributor to our “Nostalgia Week”. I’ve just this second made that up, but it works. So it’s Nostalgia Week from now on. Take it away Kenny!

I’m a 19 year old and for someone of such a young age I have seen and been at an amount of Mayo games you would need a few sets of hands to count and even then you might need an extra hand or two. I have been going to Mayo matches for the last 10 years or more. In 2004 I went to my first All Ireland Final and that was an experience in itself and I am going to tell you a little bit about the experience in the lead up to it and after the match itself.

At that time it was a week or so off my 10th birthday and I remember I kept asking my dad to bring me to Croke Park for the final but he kept saying no that it was too expensive. So me like most children when they didn’t get their way went to their bedroom and sulked. Little did I know he had actually got tickets for us both.

It was the night before the final and I went to my room and there it was right in front of the telly was a ticket and I felt as if I was after getting the golden ticket like Charlie from the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My parents were in the sitting room which was directly below my bedroom and I’d safely say they thought I would come through the ceiling with the way I was jumping for joy.

I remember running down the stairs and going straight over to my dad giving him the biggest hug. I was absolutely ecstatic at the fact that I had got a ticket after asking him over and over again to get me one and him repeatedly telling me no.

My dad soon told me to go and get my jersey and flag ready for the morning and head straight to bed as it was going to be an early start in the morning. I ran straight back up to my room got my jersey and flag ready and jumped into bed. Tried as I might I just couldn’t get to sleep that night with the excitement of going to my 1st All Ireland Final. I know I was already in Croke Park previous to the final but this time was different as it was going to be my 1st final.

The big day came and we headed up to Dublin. So eventually we got there found a parking spot and made our way to Croke Park. Walking up Jones’ Road is another experience in itself being among tens of thousands of people who are all there for the same thing you are.

We finally got inside and made our way to our seat. The teams came out done their warm ups , had their photo’s taken , had the team talk and stand and face the flags for Amhrán na bhFiann. With all of these out of the way it was game time.

Croke Park

As we all know it didn’t end up being our day like it has every year we have been in a final since then and we suffer heart ache each year. For me as a 9 year old yes I was obviously disappointed that Mayo didn’t win but at the same time I was so happy that I was able to see an All Ireland Final for the 1st time.

Since then I have been to every final Mayo have been in and many a match since and hopefully I will be at another final this year and many more finals and matches in years to come.

Maigh Eo Abú !

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