The Malaysian Mayo Car

The Malaysian Mayo Car

 

 

Pat Gorham from Belmullet has taken his skills to the other side of the world but when he cruises down the streets of Kuala Lumpur there is no doubt where he is from.

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Check out his Aston Martin Rapide adorned in the Mayo colours as we await the throw in versus the Dubs.

It’s parked outside Healy Macs Pub in Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur and could be there for a few days if we win this evening.

Surely good enough for the Malaysian Grand Prix

Surely good enough for the Malaysian Grand Prix

 

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

 

Club ’51 Remembers

Club ’51 Remembers

Exactly one year ago today. A cold, wet, windy day in east Mayo. Mild excitement and high hopes for the year ahead.

That morning was just like any normal match day: up early, a decent breakfast and on the road in good time. You’d never know what might happen. Breakfast came in roll form. Feck it, it was match day so we said we’d treat ourselves. 2 sausies, 2 rashers and bit of black and white. Plenty of butter. I don’t care what the song says. Egg in a breakfast roll is an abomination. I’m a big egg fan generally. In fact, I like eggs so much I think that one day I might even turn into a big giant egg, but it has no place in a roll. I’m pretty sure it says that somewhere in the Bible too.

No egg

See?

Like many others from around the county, for a 2pm throw-in we were on the road to Charlestown around midday to get a good spot, especially after the bumper crowd that showed up to the NUIG game the Friday night. I sat in the passenger seat in my dad’s 05 Scenic, the wind and rain pelting the windshield. We discussed what players might be tried out and if the new lads that featured in the first game would get another crack at the whip. About 10 miles outside of Charlestown the rain was absolutely teeming down and we started to question whether this game would – or indeed could – be played at all. We turned up the radio in case we missed any important announcements. BREAKING NEWS! Our hearts sank. We feared the worst – the game was off. But we were bang wrong. The game had been moved down the road to Bekan as the pitch in Charlestown was apparently unplayable. “Not too bad”, I thought. How naive I was.

Mayo v Sligo IT in Bekan FBD League 2014We turned the car around and headed back for Bohola. Luckily, I had an idea where the pitch was as I’d ventured there a few days earlier to see the U21s in action. We pulled up to the gate to see a couple o’ happy chappies in high-viz jackets standing there to welcome us with a big, warm smile. And outstretched palms. “A TENNER?!” Yep, €10. Ten of the finest €s to get into a game that was changed, on a whim, from a ground with decent spectator facilities to a ground with some very few  limited  ABSOLUTELY NO SPECTATOR FACILITIES. I guess it was logical to move the game 20 minutes down the road to Bekan. In fairness, if there’s a 40,000 seater stadium within 20 minutes of Charlestown where everyone  could have sat in the stand with room to put their feet up with a flask of tea on the seat beside them and a sandwich on the other seat beside them, I’d like to know about it! But I still have nightmares about that €10. The amount of headbands and Dime bars it could have bought. I could have saved it for Christmas 2014.

Mayo v Sligo IT in Bekan FBD League 2014Anyway, after we parked, our attention soon turned to the action. We assumed, like everyone else, that the game was on the all-weather facility. Seeing as we were in Bekan in the first place. A perfect platform for Mayo’s fast, athletic footballers against the students from Sligo IT. A fairly large crowd gathered along the fence to watch the Mayo lads warm up, but after about 15 minutes (there’s a bit of a bite in it at this point) it transpired that the game was on the grass pitch. Which grass pitch was anybody’s guess, so we just followed one of the crowds. We went to the nearest pitch. “Ah, here we are”, I thought. Ah, poor young Mark’s naivety strikes again! Of course it wasn’t on the closest pitch to the car park where people could stand on the surrounding footpath. It was on the OTHER pitch, on the far side of this pitch. So off we go walking across muddy goodness. I was upset that my new waterproof shoes were getting a bit dirty, but all in all glad that they were getting a decent run-out. Next thing on the agenda: where to stand? Option A: The mud behind the goal. Option B: The mud on the sidelines. C The mud under the trees in the far corner (potential shelter). Option D: The grassy hill behind the goal but a bit to the left that would soon be muddy. Option D it is, obviously, to get a decent vantage point. And, you know, it started to clear up a bit. Things were looking up.

And then it got worse. And worse again. And then a bit worse than that. And we got wetter than anyone has ever gotten ever before. In fact, I’m still a bit damp. The football slowly became more and more irrelevant. Now, it was about survival.

Bear

About 15 minutes into the game, Bear bailed. It was just too much.

The grassy hill was no longer safe. It was high so the rain hit us first, which obviously meant it was wetter rain than the rain on lower ground. Our thoughts turned to the lovely stand in Charlestown. Cold, but dry. Dry. I tried to remember what that felt like, but the memory was slipping, fading away. We moved down a bit lower. It seemed like the best idea, but I couldn’t help thinking “But Mark, heat rises!” We were delirious. We didn’t know what we were doing. Every step was torture. Standing still was torture. For the first time in my life, I considered going home at half-time. But we knuckled down, shook ourselves off and prepared for the second half.

And then Mayo failed to score for 29 of the 30 minutes. Still, a last minute Alan Freeman penalty earned the emptiest draw of all time. And all for the low, low price of €10! Still, it could always be worse.

Egg

Agh!!

The long walk back to the car was torture. After we dried off, emptied our shoes and checked that our feet were still there, we started off on the long journey home… Which was torture. The day reminded me of that film “Alive”.  Except we had it way worse. Our waterproofs were no longer waterproof. In fact, studies have shown that Bekan has some of the wettest rain on earth (that study was carried out by me that day).

“Never, ever, ever again” is what I assume everyone was thinking after the game. But we never will – nay, CAN never forget. We did it.

We Survived Bekan.

MayoMark

We’re off to Limerick – to do a job

We’re off to Limerick – to do a job

We’re delighted to welcome Gerry in Laois to the hot seat this week, where he’s giving the last rallying call to the troops before tomorrow. Read and obey!! Take it away Gerry …

I think by now we have made our feelings pretty clear on the semi-final replay débâcle. Willie Joe summed it up quite succinctly on Tuesday when he observed that in the eyes of the top brass at Croke Park:

“We truly are Children of a Lesser God.”

But that’s the hand we have been dealt. it’s a crappy one, but one we now have to play. I think we must now grab this opportunity to turn adversity into advantage.

The Gaelic Grounds has a capacity of about 50,000 or so, and this game will probably be a sell-out. We easily outnumbered the Kerry fans the last day, about 4-1 by my reckoning. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the crowd photo taken for eircom.ie/gaa and compare the number of Mayo and Kerry jerseys on show. We won’t have this advantage on Saturday, given Limerick’s proximity to Kerry. (You all have your tickets by now, I hope?!) But that doesn’t mean that we can’t own the joint for the evening and turn this into a de facto home game.

We know all our players give everything to the cause. There is no place for passengers on any top-class team, and on Saturday, there will be no place for passengers in the stands either. If you want to come to the match and just sit and observe in silence, may I respectfully suggest that you use your Sky+ or UPC box for that purpose. We are going to Limerick to do a job, and that is to let our lads know that they have the best supporters in the country backing them all the way.

Last Sunday when the chips were down we did ourselves proud, both on the field and in the stands. The colour and raucous noise were a joy to behold and you could see that it gave the lads a lift, and helped them to go that little bit further and get those vital scores. We need to do that again on Saturday evening from before the match even starts, right to the very end.

Bring as much colour as possible. Flags, jerseys, hats, whatever you can find. If you don’t have anything to hand, look in the hot press and see if you can find two pieces of red and green material and stitch them together. We have immense pride in our county colours, so let’s make the Gaelic Grouds a #seaofgreenandred.

Mayo fans celebrate 25/8/2013

(Photo: James Crombie/INPHO)

The smaller ground means we will be closer to the action, so if we can replicate the noise levels from Croke Park last Sunday, we will have this place rocking. Make sure to be in place well before throw-in. When the stadium announcer reads out the Mayo team names, let us roar out our approval in unison, for every single name. As loud as we can, so that they hear it in the dressing rooms. Then before the teams emerge, we start a chant. Bring anything along that will make a bit of noise – horns, bodhrans, whatever. Stamp your feet as you chant. Can you imagine the effect that would have on our lads as they’re coming out of the dressing room? Hearing tens of thousands of feet stamping in unison and the chant “MAYYYY-OH! MAYYYY-OH! MAYYYY-OH!”

And then when they emerge, we raise the roof.

All through the game, we keep going. We cheer not just every score, but every time a Mayo hand touches the ball. Every pass completed, every kick-out secured, every turnover won, every broken ball won, every free won, every Kerry shot blocked, we shake the rafters. (OK, I know there are rafters and a roof on one side of the pitch only, but you know what I mean!) If it’s not going our way, we keep urging our lads on even more. If it looks like the ref is giving a few too many soft frees to Kerry, we get on his case. If you find yourself behind the Kerry bench, roar even louder so that their players can’t hear their instructions.

If you still have any anger or frustration in you from Sunday, this will help you vent it. Don’t worry if you lose your composure and end up looking like Steve Ballmer, because the result will be worth it. We played Kerry up a stick with fourteen men on the field last Sunday and the equivalent of at least two or three more in the stands. Imagine what we could do with our full fifteen and the same again or more from the stands?

And when it’s all over, and everyone is celebrating our third consecutive All-Ireland Final appearance in one of Limerick’s fine hostelries, we sing with one voice:

“You can stick your American Football up your arse, up your arse!”

MAIGH EÓ ABÚ

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