DON’T tell me you have no interest in borders, it’s all about borders. Any study of the Gaelic Athletic Association or social anthropology for that matter, can’t be seriously considered without spending a large chunk of time making sense of how arbitrary lines on a map can end up defining so much about people, their families, their friends and their neighbours.
Ours starts just a few miles out Quay Road in Ballina, carves out the dividing line with Sligo, all the way to just beyond Charlestown, then defines the boundary with Roscommon (*cough: in a slightly more complicated way initially) before finally marking the demarcation zone between the Tribesmen and ourselves all the way along the south to Killary harbour.
Monaghan’s border is a hell of a lot more complicated when it comes to the lands around the town of Clones. From a political point of view, you surely don’t need me to explain why, but from a purely practical point of view, the shape that it takes is truly mind-boggling.
The road from Butlersbridge in Cavan to Clones is the best way to experience the chaos. The poor lady on Google maps can’t stop yapping during that seemingly straightforward 20km journey. “Continue on the N54 for 3 kilometres….in 600 metres, continue onto the A3 for 2 kilometres…..in 1 kilometre continue onto the N54.” She earns her crust there.
Now a human geography enthusiast like myself knows exactly what’s happening, but if borders aren’t your thing, you might not know that this is an area known as the ‘Drumully Polyp’, a little snippet of Monaghan surrounded almost completely by Fermanagh, so you’re weaving in and out of the Republic of Ireland in what is one of the oddest sections of a border anywhere in Europe.
As the Mayo team took to the field in Clones on Sunday, they heard a roar loud enough to let them know that more than half the crowd were from home.
The country’s most loyal and well-travelled supporters were out in force, but that roar was muted enough to also let them know that it was still January. Almost saying, ‘We’re all here lads, let’s keep this low-key and get the job done.’
Stephen Rochford’s lads stuck to the script for most of the game, although when Cillian O’Connor came on and immediately got himself into a row or two you couldn’t help but wonder if he needed to dial it back a notch. “Settle down Cillian, we know he clipped you and the umpire really should have copped it, but it’s Clones in January, no point getting too worked up” we thought.
After 60 minutes all seemed to be going to plan then (with only Cillian a little off script), but at that point, Monaghan cranked up the hits as their good football deserted them with the match all tied up. Things got tense.
The late hits and schemozzles led to two red cards, and when injury time arrived, the place was heaving with tension and atmosphere.
Paddy Durcan must have said to himself, ‘it’s time for me to sort this’ because he got the ball way out on the right, looked at the posts, and launched the kind of long-range firework that can only be sold on the Fermanagh side of the border a few fields away.
It hit its target and the Mayo folk lost their minds for a second or two, stopping only when they noted Cillian O’Connor was looking at them with a polite ‘settle down folks’ sort of expression. After all, it’s only January!