CROWDED HOUSE There were 7,000 people at last Sunday's FBD League match between Mayo and Galway at Tuam Stadium. Pic: Sportsfile
PARKING around Tuam Stadium is no easy conundrum to solve. Supporters come from all directions, winding their way in through the medieval streets of the town centre — or the not-so medieval housing estates on the edge of it all.
It’s January and Garda traffic management plans are usually not needed for pre-season games; so it was very much old school parking last Sunday, i.e. wherever you like, as long as it’s not in someone’s driveway.
The new by-pass meant the innocent neutrals trying to get from Donegal to Cork, and many places in between, could avoid most of the traffic. But some of them must have wondered what in the world was going on in Tuam.
A football lovers’ reunion of sorts was the answer.
Sunday’s enormous crowd at Tuam Stadium, estimated at anything between 6,000 and 8,000, was dominated by supporters from Mayo.
There to see all the new faces on the field, to run their eye over the early signs of the new James Horan era. And there also just to see a Mayo-Galway game in Tuam. The memories of great days at the venue are rich and ever-lasting, and even those who have only heard stories of the great games of yonder feel drawn to it all.
GAA grounds can have a personality all of their own, and Tuam is a prime example. Mayo fans love going there as much as Galway supporters.
The stadium is at the epicentre of the football heartland of Galway, but it’s also at the epicentre of football’s heartland in Connacht.
For that reason, people put up with the traffic logistics and the challenges of getting in. That said, many, including the powers-that-be, underestimated just how large the crowd was going to be on Sunday.
The queues outside were huge well before throw-in, and there was legitimate reason for punters to be frustrated by the delay. The crowd was still flowing through the turnstiles 15 minutes into the first half.
Once in there, the memories must have come flooding back for both sets of supporters. The far terrace was packed, the main stand full from 45 minutes beforehand, with those famous old seats where your knees nestle neatly in the back of the patron in front.
Mayo supporters took up the bulk of the stand and made plenty of noise for good measure, rising to their feet on Jason Doherty’s goal.
The Galway folk smiled and gave some bemused glances at their neighbours’ enthusiastic engagement with a pre-season FBD league game.
Much, much later in the contest, it was they who were out of their seats yelping before they even knew what they were at, as Barry McHugh’s goal rescued the game and ensured the three-year unbeaten run against their rivals remained intact. They regained their composure fairly lively, and greeted the penalty shootout win with a more typically reserved response. But their cover was blown.
We’ll get to do it all over again on Saturday, March 2 in Castlebar.