On the road
THE unbelievably windy and wet conditions at MacHale Park on Saturday evening made it a veritable game of two halves. Starting off in the morning in quite mild and sunny conditions up in Dublin, and ending up later on in that howling maelstrom in the west, made it feel like a day neatly bisected into two distinct parts as well.
The weather had started to turn by the time we’d begun our trek west in the early afternoon. There was, though, no hint then of the dire conditions lying in wait for us and the rest of the more than 10,000 souls who gathered under the MacHale Park lights to witness Mayo’s opening National League match of the year.
We’d come to see a sporting contest out on the pitch but, as a side order, we were also served up with some dramatic meteorological entertainment.
Howling wind, huge sheets of rain illuminated by the floodlights as they billowed like giant curtains being drawn at speed down the length of the pitch. And the cold: MacHale Park does bone-chilling temperatures better than any place this side of Siberia.
Where had this weather come from?
On most of our drive across the country, the day had been fine. Sure, we’d met the odd shower of rain and the temperature clock in the car – which started off in double digits up in the capital – was slowly counting down towards zero the further west we ventured. But there was no hint then of the tempest towards which we were journeying.
Sometimes the sky makes it easy to read the day. Others – and Saturday was one of these – it’s as difficult to follow as the logic of a bad ref.
Jouncing along that bumpy, narrow stretch of the N5 that traverses Roscommon, we peered into the western sky searching for clues about the conditions that lay ahead of us. But the sky, now a tumult of greys, refused to yield its secrets, much like the way GAA managers and players nowadays rarely offer telling insights when faced with the media.
Shortly after we’d crossed the border into Mayo, the sky threw us a dummy.
This false flag came in the way of a brilliant, back-lit cloud formation, a fluffy concoction of colours Paul Henry would have relished, ranging from bright white through to ruddy ochre. Away in the distance, a tiny chink of blue appeared through the cloud as well.
“The evening’ll be grand,” I pronounced with confidence as I gunned the accelerator, Nephin’s squat bulk having now made it appearance on the horizon up ahead.
Not for the first time – and, surely, not for the last either – my soothsaying prior to a Mayo game proved well wide of the mark.
Hours later, struggling through the hurricane-like winds and lashing rain to get back to the car after the match was over, we got a brief taste of what those conditions must have been like to play in.
Team sports are normally about your side against the other lot. On Saturday night, though, it felt at times as if both were in some kind of elemental battle for survival. Like Andy put it, we were in it together.
Only then the lads remembered it was the Rossies we were up against and, wind or no wind, there was a game there to be won. Which, thankfully, we eventually did.