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!”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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