On the road
THE late, great Evening Press GAA writer, Con Houlihan, popped into my mind on Saturday afternoon as I picked my spot at a barrier on the terrace behind the goal at Cusack Park in Ennis.
Con always used to watch the big matches at Croke Park from a perch on the Canal End terrace, and then proceeded to craft some of the most beautiful prose ever known to man about the game he had seen from those old concrete steps.
‘If it was good enough for Con Houlihan, then it will be good enough for me!’ I thought as I made myself comfortable under the scorching heat of the afternoon sun.
For the day that was in it, your correspondent had decided to forego the luxury and comfort of the ‘al fresco’ Park pressbox and tough it out with the Mayo ‘ultras’ behind the goal.
The objective was to get a sense of what the atmosphere is really like when Mayo goes on tour in the Qualifiers in 2017, and also to get a closer look at our much-maligned forwardline.
As things turned out, getting to throw-in time in one piece turned out to be quite the challenge as Clare’s pre-match shooting drills meant footballs rained down on us for a good solid ten minutes.
Only the grace of God, a few fine catches, and a roar of ‘Heads!’ every few seconds spared one of us behind the goal the misfortune of spending the evening in A&E with a broken nose.
It looked like we would all survive the afternoon in one piece too but, unfortunately, one poor lady caught a size 5 flush on the shoulder in the closing stages of the match when a Clare forward blazed narrowly wide, and the ball landed down on top of her like a missile.
Between the heat, and Mayo’s impressive second half, she had probably started daydreaming about the next round of the Qualifiers, or possibly the traffic jam that awaited in Clarinbridge.
Mayo were so comfortable in the closing stages that we had all tuned out a little, with only the ‘Siege of Ennis’ style-dance between Brendan Harrison and Keelan Sexton to keep us entertained down behind David Clarke’s goal.
Mention of Mayo’s latest centurion, aka ‘Super Clarke’, and we are reminded of one of the highlights of our day in Ennis.
It came midway through the second half when Clare were lining up a routine free in front of the Mayo goal, and one of the backs took advantage of the stoppage to grab a drink.
When he’d finished, he tossed the small bottle of water nonchalantly over his shoulder, sending it flying backwards towards the roof of the Mayo net.
And what does Clarke do?
He sticks his giant right hand out, to flick the bottle up and over the bar! Those of us behind the goal who spotted it couldn’t help but smile, and applaud the sheer audacity and brilliance of his instinctive, reflex save.
Overall, the mood was relaxed and good-natured as Mayo and Clare fans mingled and shot the breeze inside the ground, just like they did in the cafes and bars beforehand.
We were lucky enough to bump into the legendary Toby McWalter from Balla earlier in the day, and he treated us to a few great yarns. But that’s for another column!
Farewell Ennis, next stop Limerick!
On the road