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!
In the next of our series of guest posts, we’d like to welcome Shamrocks (yes, of course that’s his real name) to the hot seat to take us on a journey from past to present. For those of you who remember ’89, this will bring back some magic memories.
An unorthodox Mayo man of sorts, born in England and brought up in a rural north Wicklow village ’til I was 11 years of age, before moving to the homeland of Mayo. My father was a native of Achill Island, it was there we spent most of our holidays as kids. It was always Mayo from day one, it was part of who we were and the county team was where I identified my connection to the place that will always be home.
My first memory was the old Salthill in 1984, travelling down with my comrade and chauffeur, my father. This is where it all began , the adventure of the journey down west, the anticipation of seeing the flags out of the car windows and then to the climax of seeing the footballers of Mayo run onto the pitch. Unfortunately we lost out to Galway on that day. My memories of the game itself are not too clear, I was only 6/7 years of age I suppose, but it’s amazing how silly things remain in the head, like only knowing the name of Willie Joe 😀
The years went on and the same journey was taken. ’85 I got to see them lift the Nestor Cup in Hyde Park; that was special but again too young to really take it in . ’87 seems a lot clearer, a really low-scoring game against Galway in Castlebar, but another defeat.
1989 is where it really comes alive for me.
We as a family had moved down home at last, to a rural village in east Mayo, Kilmovee, where my grandmother came from on my mother’s side. The first game against Galway in Tuam. We never won there (at the time) so a draw was a mighty return and we easily did the business in Castlebar in the replay, McHale and Larry with the goals. Next it was the Rossies and another draw, the replay was epic and no Mayo supporter of my age or older will ever forget Jimmy Burke’s goal in extra time. Hyde park erupted into an explosion of green and red; it was just priceless. The semi v Tyrone was of course the first time a lot of Mayo supporters ever seen Mayo win in Croke park in senior championship including father/mother and daughter/son generation. I suppose it was a bit like what winning the All-Ireland would be like now. The weeks leading up to the final were indescribable in terms of excitement – all the towns were decked out, the songs were released. As a child, the memories are of sheer happiness, the crowds at Knock airport to see our heroes off, running after the team coach with my new school mates from Tavrane NS through the thousands of fans singing ‘Willie Joe, Willie Joe’’ – it is just something that will stay with me forever.
What a journey we have had since. The losing of finals down the years is what everyone likes to throw at us and of course it has been disappointing but is there any Mayo supporter out there who would swap all those journeys we have had in 89/96/97/04/06/12/13 for some form of mediocrity like the vast majority of counties experience ?
We are now in a phase where we have reached the last two finals and are about to contest our fourth semi-final on the trot. People are getting uptight about where we are at – have we still a chance or are we burnt out as a unit? There is a sense of supporters being divided on aspects of what should have happened in finals and other issues. The truth is nobody really knows, we can all guess but let’s be real, everyone has one thing in common – we all want the same thing.
So let’s get behind our bucks the next day in Croke park against Kerry, and roar them on. We are favourites with the bookies to beat Kerry in an all Ireland semi-final. Don’t be frightened by it, embrace it. Horan, Buckley, Prendergast and the panel have earned the fucking right to be a top team, now let us act the same, and fill her up with green and red!
Welcoming long-time Mayo GAA fan and one of the most dedicated supporters we’ve ever met, Clíona O’Gara from Charlestown to the Club ’51 hot seat. Cliona sums up below how most of us feel when it comes to following the team, through thick and thin, from winter to summer.
There are days when being a Mayo GAA fan seems like the ultimate punishment for something you thought you didn’t deserve. Those moments after an All-Ireland final defeat when you feel like you’ve done something horrendous in another life to feel such gut-wrenching pain and heartache. That horrible pain you get when looking around Croke Park at the opposition’s fans celebrating, and thinking “this can’t be happening again”. Facing that dreadful journey down the motorway, seeing car flags on the road ahead, meeting other MO reg cars at the toll and everyone giving a sympathetic smile to everyone else. Stopping in Supermac’s in Longford, meeting more grieving fans and dissecting every ounce of the game with a complete stranger. Getting home, torturing yourself by watching the Sunday Game and going to bed thinking of what could have been.
But even though being a Mayo fan has carried heartache on the third Sunday in September, I wouldn’t give it up for the world. We have a lot more good days than bad. I love the feeling when waking up on a cold, January Sunday morning and heading for an FBD game in Ballyhaunis or Ballinlough dressed from head to toe in your winter woollies. You look around and spot the usual 20 people that you know you’re gonna see at the rest of the games in every part of the country. You soon forget about the previous year and what might have been, and focus on what might be, and the blood starts pumping for a new season. The league flies by and before we know it, were wearing short sleeves and anticipating the championship. There’s no feeling like going to a championship game. Hearing the roars of the fans, feeling the shivers run down your spine when the National Anthem is playing, seeing those fans that have come late and cursing them for standing in front of you, but most importantly being there. Being there to watch your team, your county, your lads that you feel like you know personally from following them on twitter to Croker.
Yes, not every day is a good one being a Mayo GAA fan but the good ones are nothing short of great. No, we haven’t landed that ultimate prize,; no, we haven’t seen our boys walk the Hogan stand and lift that cup we desire so much, but we will. In the meantime, we continue to get behind the team that has given us so many hours of enjoyment and entertainment. Mayo are very close to landing that prize and there will be a time when that final whistle will go in Croke Park and we will be All Ireland Senior Champions. We will experience that feeling that I’m pretty sure compares with nothing else for a GAA fan. We will cheer down the motorway, we will forget about our chips in Longford so we can get to Castlebar as quickly as possible and most of all, the journey of heartache over the years will all be forgotten.We won’t hold any grudges.
2014 may just be that year. Maybe.
When Galway disposed of a poor Sligo outfit the weekend before last, it was Sky Sports first time showing a Gaelic football match. I was closely following the reaction on the twitter machine as the game went on. The British audience seemed nonplussed by the game, whereas the previous week they were enthralled with the hurling.
I always thought this could be the way at the outset, but I’m sure the football will improve and excite our new audiences across the water before the summer is out. Galway won the game with ease in the end and as a result of this victory; they have earned the right to face Mayo in Elverys McHale Park on Sunday 13th July where both sides will do battle for the Nestor Cup.
A Connacht Final against Galway, it does not get any bigger than that folks! The fact that Mayo are going for their 4th in a row will also be motivation for our opposition. Whenever these two teams meet in championship, more often than not there is only a kick of the ball in it. Mayo blew Galway into smidirini last year and Galway will be looking for revenge.
The Galway midfield were made to look good by Sligo, who continued to kick the ball long and straight down the middle even though it was coming back with interest. I am certain James Horan will have watched this and will instruct Robbie to take evasive action if necessary. Having said that, I feel our midfield will have enough to win that particular battle. Aidan O’Shea should be aiming to get back to last years high standards where he was touted as Footballer Of The Year going into the final, with his brother again being the unsung hero grafting away in midfield.
Our backs were magnificent against Roscommon. I lost count of the number or times we turned over possession. Tom Cunniffe and Caff were masterful. Boyler was his usual combative self. Donal Vaughan didn’t bring the shooting boots but worked hard and I’m sure Lee Keegan (for me best wing back in the game at the minute) will be back to himself the next day after a very, very rare off day.
Up front will be interesting. I wonder will James stick with the team that started or will he reward those who made such an impact against Roscommon? I’m assuming Andy is fit to play, having come on for Ballaghadereen recently and by all accounts had a great game. What I would like to see is space up front – our lads undoubtedly have the stuff to do it, it just feels at times our attacking plays can actually end up restricting the space for us to attack. Once upon a time I was a right corner forward. I had one particular teammate who told me before games that his main aim when he got the ball was to feed me, that as soon as he got on the ball I was to be moving for a pass from him. I was small enough but I thrived on knowing if I made a run then 9 times out of 10 the centre forward was looking for me. Whoever plays CHF and in the corner forward position should be sitting down hatching plans to terrorise Galway. Clarity of role and effective communication is essential.
As for us folk on the terraces and in the stands, it was noticeable the support given to the team by the Mayo supporters against Roscommon when they were three down with ten minutes to go. I’m sure the team appreciated that and more of the same will be needed on the day. We need to be the 16th man to help our boys drive on to a wonderful 4th Connacht title in a row. See you on the 13th and as always with Club ’51 the message is a simple one. BRING A FLAG AND BRING YOUR VOICE! Mayo forever!!
TrevorFollow me on Twitter: @trevornaughton
Photo: Michael Maye
Whether you were there or not, we think it’s safe to say that the New York game was a big event. While those of us who were lucky enough to make the trip across are still in recovery mode, talk in the county is now turning to “Step Two” in this year’s campaign on 8th June. But in the meantime, here’s how our latest guest poster Fear an Chomórtais fared over in NYC last weekend. Welcome aboard, sir!
There’s very few guarantees in this life, but but one thing you can guarantee, is that when this fair county of ours takes the football show on the road, we will most definitely enjoy ourselves! The planning for this New York trip for me started 5 years ago, having been out to Gaelic Park in ’04 and ’09, so to say I was looking forward to this trip was a massive understatement.
Getting the pleasantries out of the way and meeting a few fellow Club ’51ers at the airport, after the flight we did the minibus ride into Manhattan, after which a few of our English neighbors were much wiser on the state of Mayo football as we dismounted.
The customary Mayo flags flew out from the Irish hostelries to entice the noticeable gathering inside. You’d get an odd “go Mayo” in a strong New York accent,to which the reply came “good man yourself”. Eugene Rooney’s Irish Pub became the focal point of the weekend for us, meeting a load from home and some not far from there. Friday night we did our own thing, even gatecrashing some local collegiate alumni event in Suite 36 on W36 St between 5th and 6th avenue, indeed getting some alumni souvenirs for our efforts.
The intention was to get up early on Saturday to watch the All-Ireland U21 final, between Roscommon and Dublin, which we more than managed to do in the Old Castle Bar. A large crowd was there and I’d even hazard a guess saying 40% were shouting for the Yellowbellies. I for one wasn’t, but the conundrum was I didn’t want the Dubs to win either! The atmosphere was very relaxed all day. We did the customary sightseeing after, of course in the colours, but at this stage you could see the green and red on every street. I love the way that when away at a match like this you always get acknowledged with a nod or a “Howaya lads” while every other New Yorker has the earphones in and the blinkers on, oblivious to the craic building up all around them! Mayo brought the party to town!
The function in Connolly’s that night resembled Quinn’s or Coppers on match day, wedged and very humid. Hard to get to thebar and getting to the bathroom none better. I did think the band were a bit American to be playing Irish tunes but god bless them they played their hearts out each of the 4 times they played The Green And Red of Mayo! But the craic was good and after a while we ended up chatting to John Casey – sure all the stars were out – wasn’t Mike Finnerty holding court behind us and Willie Joe up at the bar! I was getting plenty chat over my shirt, I wore it knowing well that everyone would get a laugh out of it, who would have known that we Mayo people could warrant a laugh at a t-shirt saying “bollox of a ref”! We’ve met more than a few! Legged it back to the Irish pub about 1am, and had the pleasure of sharing a few drinks with the O’Toole brothers from Inisturk, stars of the documentary “Pride of the Parish”. We won an all Ireland there and then, pity it had to finish!
On to Sunday, started well and ended well! What happened in between is the stuff of legend. We met a few legends at the Irish bar; Bernie Waldron who was involved with the mayo minors in the 90’s and a crew from Ballyhaunis. The beers were flying and the craic was mighty, (already arranged the return leg at the Hyde!). The story of the weekend was the lads got into a taxi, Johnny Devaney from Ballyhaunis hopped in the front, asked the cab driver “Where are you from” he answered “Egypt” without a missed breath Johnny replied “and do you walk like an Egyptian?” well when we heard that I split my sides laughing!
We got the subway out to the match – not before stopping off at the Playwright to see if Nicky Joyce was tending bar – he wasn’t – so we moved on. We had a singsong all the way out, cameras were taking pictures and videos, the Yanks didn’t have a clue what was going on but surprise surprise they wanted pictures of us all, and we duly obliged. The Punch Bowl just before Gaelic park provided a comforting pit stop but the one toilet proved torture!
The carnival atmosphere at the pitch I’ve experienced before, but you don’t get tired of it. Seriously though, you will not understand it until you’ve experienced it. Met friends who came down from Philadelphia and from Boston – was hard to meet everyone. As for the game, it was hard to see, we couldn’t get a seat so soldiered out a place at the fence. If this was a Premier League match, a “very professional performance” phrase would be used. It’s not the Premier League, but it was a very workmanlike outing. Truth be told it’s a routine fixture, the exiles never expected to get close and they didn’t. The party after was worth coming for! Having read the Sunday Independent and Colm O’ Rourke’s article, it’s plain to be seen that the New York trip was enjoyed by more than just the Mayo diaspora! It felt like a celebration.
I had a chat with Kildare legend Johnny Doyle, what an absolute gent. He was supremely jealous that Kildare and the likes couldn’t be involved in something like this. His opinion on the championship is that it’s the Dubs to lose, but Mayo the only team to challenge them! On Sunday night, it was back to the Oldcastle after Gaelic park, the $30 donation at the door a tad steep but knowing that it was for the players fund it was worth paying. The party atmosphere followed into Manhattan from the Bronx, but already the focus had switched to the Rossies in June.
While I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed every second of this trip Stateside, it’s the start of hopefully a long summer, one which rights a few wrongs over the last few years,and come June 8th be it the Yellowbellies or Lovely Leitrim, we will show up in force like we did in New York and push this team forward.
As we turn our faces towards the summer and the promise of the Championship, we welcome another guest contributor to the site. Sarah McKirdy hails from the south of the county, dangerously close to Galway, but her allegiance is unquestionable! Here Sarah writes about being a Mayo supporter and what it means to her.
“The best thing to come out of Galway is the road to Mayo.”
When you come from a part of the County of Mayo where you are surrounded by the Black River as it winds its way from Shrule into the great Loch Corrib, and more especially when you are surrounded by County Galway and Galway People, it lends itself to people on both sides being very “one eyed”. Such is the case with this poor Writer. From my earliest memories, the battle for glory was mainly played out between the two counties. It was the sixties and Galway were in full flight. Beating Galway was our All-Ireland, no thoughts of Croke Park, no county jersey, no flags and no bunting, we would paint the goal posts red and green (usually two young ash trees ) and we were made up. Mayo God help us and Galway glad to get us.
Much has changed since those days – and yet maybe not. The passion is still there, enough so to make pride in our County burn in our hearts, to make the stuff running in our veins vivid red but with a smattering of green, to raise our voices in song with our adopted anthem The Green and Red of Mayo, to be there when we are winning and when we are losing, triumph and disaster, we have met those two impostors and treated them the same. The love of our County, our native place, and to recognise that herein are our roots, our heritage, our alma mater may go some way to explaining the Mayo mindset. People are very often amazed by the continued loyal following of the Mayo GAA Senior Team by such a vast number of people. Anyone who witnessed the game in Cork in 2013 in the NFL can attest to this, but us Mayo Natives are not surprised at all. Sure where else would we be?
I have travelled the length and breadth of the Country in support of my team, I probably could have paid off the mortgage by now had I stayed at home, but that was never an option. My travelling companion through most of this campaign has now been to thirty (yes ,30) Connacht Finals, and our quest continues. We have the most marvellous memories of places we’ve been, people we’ve met and games we’ve watched. I wouldn’t change or swap one minute of any of it.
On one occasion we headed to Ennis, where our Under 21s were playing the All-Ireland Final against Cork. We landed in good time and parked the car in a housing estate, ready for the speedy exit, or so we thought. When we returned to the car, the All-Ireland secured and the singing at several decibels above the reasonable, a lady from a nearby house had a pot of tea and of course the few custard creams waiting for us. Now we had never met this lady before in our lives, but her generosity of spirit is something that will stay with us forever and is often spoken of. “Ah sure ye have a long trip back to Mayo’’, she said.
In the last couple of years we have experienced the very best of times and maybe the worst of times but the passion is still there. I saw it again in a new guise last week in MacHale Park with the emergence of Club ’51, passionate supporters banding together and bonding together in support of Mayo Football. I’ve seen it over many years in all shapes and forms, parents taking their young children to matches, the old and the young, the great and the good coming together with a common cause.
It’s heartwarming, it’s uplifting, it makes us what we are.
We are MAYO.
(Photos: Michael Maye)