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.
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.
We 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.
Anyway, 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.
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.
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.
Another inter-county season comes to a close, and Kerry are champions again. I’m not sure what to think of that to be honest, but it is what it is. It was a season of mixed emotions. Nerves, pride, anger, sadness – we had it all. But it’s behind us now. January just can’t come quick enough.
As we all know by now, Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes have been installed as the next management team to take our lads forward. There are also reports suggesting that Donie Buckley and Ed Coughlan are staying on in their positions. This would be a terrific boost and would add to some much-needed continuity for this side. We know the new managers Noel and Pat will represent us brilliantly like they did with many of the current group back in 2006 and we wish them all the luck in the world.
Yesterday’s game in Croke Park drew the curtain down on the 2014 season and while we didn’t land the main prize, our own Cillian “Not a Marquee Forward” O’Connor finished the season as top scorer for the second year in a row. That’s a terrific achievement for someone who was still playing U21 football last year! Well done Cillian. The second of many, I’m sure.
In Club ’51 news, we’re extremely proud to announce that we have made the finals of The Blog Awards Ireland 2014 in TWO separate categories: Best Sports Blog and Best Newcomer Blog. We are thrilled to bits and we want to thank absolutely everybody who has contributed to the site in any way since we kicked off in late December. We’d like to invite everybody and anybody to join us on the 4th October at the Westgrove Hotel, Clane, Co. Kildare for the main event. You can get tickets here. There is an 80s theme for the night too, so bring your best 80s Mayo clobber and we’ll have ourselves a right party!
There’s plenty of GAA action to keep us going this weekend, too. On Saturday at MacHale Park, Noel Connelly’s Hollymount/Carramore side take on Belmullet in the county intermediate semi-final replay (note, this game is NOT in Limerick) with Ballyhaunis awaiting the winners in the final. On Sunday, Mayo and Connacht Champions Castlebar Mitchels continue to defend their crown when they come up against Garrymore in the senior semi-final at 2pm and that’s followed by the second semi-final: a mouthwatering clash between Knockmore and Ballintubber.
That should bridge the gap nicely for another week at least, so get up to MacHale Park and enjoy the show!
In the meantime, we’re off to compile a list for our potential acceptance speech.
Well… Well, well, well… We see some familiar faces here today. Some welcome… Some not so welcome.
Enjoy the weekend!
So that’s it for 2014 for us. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but that’s the way it goes sadly. But we made some great memories, and great friends, along the way. 2014 will ultimately be a year that we look back on with great pride and fondness.
Just after the Club ’51 site made its full debut, along with our Facebook page, our lads took to the field against NUIG in a packed MacHale Park on a cold Friday night. The ball was well and truly rolling at this stage and it was followed by an unforgettable (yet completely forgettable) surprise trip to Bekan to see the lads take on IT Sligo. Quite possibly the wettest, coldest day in history?
The league starts with a cracker down in Newbridge and Club ’51’s first official meet-up took place! Later in the month our giant banner makes its debut.
A meetup in The Greville Arms in Westmeath was the highlight of March. That was followed by one hell of a soaking at the match for anyone who attended. Unfortunately, that didn’t include me. I was at home in bed listening to Mid West suffering through a dose I won’t soon forget! Picking up 2 points eased the pain.
April saw a make or break game in the league for a semi-final spot against Derry in Castlebar. We broke out the big guns for the first time for this game, which we won handsomely in the end.
Pictured: The big guns
We also saw the start of Route ’51, from MacHale Park to Dublin, and its first trip overseas to Edinburgh. It’s currently winging it’s way to the far east after brief stops in Germany, Canada and New York City!
Club 51 flag at Edingburgh Castle
New York, New York! What a trip this was. Thousands of Mayo fans descended on the Big Apple for the first round of the Connacht Championship. We can’t wait to go back!
It started off badly for me, however. I was caught in the shower of all showers for a full hour. It turned out to be the 10th wettest day in the city’s history. Local news reported that it “was wetter than that day below in Bekan.” But I managed to dry off eventually, and we had a blast, eating my weight in Twinkies and Zingers. Meeting old faces in NYC was special.
Mayo fans in Gaelic Park New York.
Our trip to the Hyde was wet, cold, windy and nerve-wracking. But the boys pulled through and showed some serious character. Our hurlers became Connacht Intermediate champions on the same day, just a week after bowing out of the Christy Ring Cup in the semi-final in a brilliant encounter in MacHale Park against Kerry.
Roscommon v Mayo fan photos 2014
Connacht Champions, once again, at both minor and senior level. A bumper crowd at MacHale Park wound back the years as we defeated the old enemy to retain the Nestor Cup for an astonishing 4th time in a row. It ended up being James’ last game in charge in Connacht, which brought his record to Played: 11 Won: 11.
Club’ 51 also hosted its first ever charity event just 3 days before with a Quiz Night in Coady’s in Castlebar. We ended up raising just over €1,000, which was split between Raynaud’s and Scleroderma Ireland and the Irish Motor Neuron Disease Association.
We also announced the winner of our Primary Schools Flags Design Competition. Chloe Courell designed this absolute corker and was presented with a BMX (a green and red one!) courtesy of Brian Cawley at Castlebar Cycle Store.
Chloe Courell of St. Angelas National school Castlebar receiving her prize from Castlebar Cycle stores. Photo by Celine Cullen.
Ultimately, it spelled the end, but we found ourselves involved in 3 absolute classics against Munster giants Cork and Kerry. The game vs Cork was an absolute roller-coaster that had us right on the edge of our seats. The first game against Kerry was one of the best displays the green and red have ever produced, scoring 1-11 in 30 minutes with 14 men. We all left Croke Park absolutely bursting with pride after such a titanic effort. We even managed to get a decent close up on the Sunday Game!
OMG! We’re on the big screen! LOL!
As frustrating as Saturday was (we won’t go into it), it closed the curtain on another trojan effort from the lads. It also, sadly, ended the chapter that will be forever known as “The Horan Era”. It was an incredible 4-year journey of ups, downs, hoarse throats, tears (both types) and immense pride. We can’t thank James and all his boys enough for the pride they brought to our county. It also saw our minor lads bow out at the penultimate stage of the Championship at the hands of Jack O’Connor’s Kerry. They defended their Connacht crown brillianty but just came up short against Kerry. Many more days in HQ lie ahead for these lads. Well done to Enda Gilvarry and his last 2 teams for representing the green and red so well.
However, with the end of this era, we hope it will spell the start of a new one. One that, we hope, will include the growth of Mayo Club ’51. We’d like to sincerely thank everybody for the kind words, the financial contributions, the spot prizes, the plugs in the media, the guest posts, the likes, the shares, the retweets and everyone who waved our flags. But most of all we would like to thank James Horan and his team for giving us a reason to do all of this. In true Mayo fashion, you never showed the white feather. We are in no doubt that ye will be back, hungrier than ever. And we’ll be right there with you. Enjoy your break lads.
‘I am hurt but I am not slain. I’ll lay me down and bleed awhile, Then I’ll rise and fight again.’
Photo by Michael Maye
Wow. Just wow. That’s an experience I’ll not soon forget. I think most of you will have the same view on yesterday. I think we are all immensely proud of our football team. Whatever happens from here on in, nobody, NOBODY, can question the guts, determination and resilience of this group.
As for the support on the slopes yesterday. Well, what can anyone say other than bravo. That is the loudest most determined support I have ever heard at a Mayo game. There was a real feeling of defiance throughout the whole second half and I have no doubt that it helped the boys along. Club ’51 also got quite an airing on RTE during the Sunday Game. Our flags were dotted all over Croke Park and our banner/crowd-cover got not one, but TWO close ups! It’s a pity we couldn’t keep our composure though. I cringe looking at the clip now but I regret nothing!
Pictured above: Composure
So it’s looking like it’s all-aboard for Limerick in 5 days. It can’t come quick enough, even though it’s hard not to feel hard done by playing outside of Croker on All-Ireland semi-final day. It will be a strange experience, but it’s one that could go down in history. The ground will without doubt be full and it’s up to us to make it our own. If we carry on from where we left off last week we will make the Gaelic Grounds look more like MacHale Park. So lets just accept that this is the way it is and get our tickets quickly. No room for complacency!
So, once again, bring the colour and bring the noise. But ye need to act fast. Tickets are ON SALE right now, so snap them up quickly. This WILL be a sell-out and we need all the green and red we can get.
A quick word also to commiserate with our minor team who bowed out yesterday at the penultimate stage. You served us well, lads. Hold your heads high. There will be many more days at HQ to come, of that I have no doubt.
So get hunting for tickets folks. We will keep posting during the week with any further information on tickets, travel, parking etc. See ye Saturday!
And here we all are again! This truly is a great time to be a Mayo supporter. The buzz in the lead-up to these games is something only a handful of counties can enjoy and we’ve had this for 4 years running now.
Hopefully your plans have all been made. If not, take a look at MayoMick’s post on alternative travel options now that the trains aren’t running. But whatever your plans, do your best to get into Croke Park on time for the All-Ireland Minor semi-final between our lads and Kerry. Remember, these lads have put in a serious shift so far this year with wins in Tuam against Galway, against Ross in the Connacht Final and a comprehensive victory in Croke Park v Armagh. These lads are in peak physical condition, something that’s hard at the best of times, but many of these lads juggled their training with exams. Not only that, but this team are a joy to watch. They play lovely football, but are well able to dig deep when it’s needed. So, get in on time (not early!) and roar these lads on to another All-Ireland final.
In other news, the senior 15 has been named for Sunday and, as always, this is followed by our now ritual “rallying call”. Bring your kit, bring your flags, bring your drums, bring your fog horns. Bring it all and make more noise than you’ve ever made before! After the anthem, we want the lads to know that we are there with them every single step of the way. If someone starts a chant beside you, join in,don’t leave them hanging. We’re all in this together! This group of players and management have reached levels of intensity and performance that we have seldom seen before in this country, let alone this county.
They have done their bit. Now let’s do ours.