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Tue, Jul
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Nothing beats the journey for Mayo fans

Sport

On The Road
Michael Commins

BLESSED are those who expect major delays at the road-works in Balla for they shall not be disappointed, especially on big match days. Local knowledge beats Mr Google, and so it came to pass that once again we swung down through Mayo Abbey parish and took one of the back roads to Belcarra.
The sheer joy of not being stuck in traffic saw us reach Castlebar without a single hold-up with the RTE commentary of the Tyrone and Kildare game keeping us company.
No worries about ‘Newbridge or Nowhere’ on this occasion, but still hard to believe that a year had flown by since that epic and heart-draining evening where we shared time with folks from Mayo and Kildare in Rose Johnson’s welcoming hostelry, ‘The Liffey Arms’, close to St Conleth’s Park.
Louis L’Amour, that wonderful writer and chronicler of days in the old American West, was blessed with the wisdom of the ages in an era when people thought big and with a huge measure of independence.
“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning,” he opined in one of his famous reflections. 
Many of us probably felt it was the end of an era in Newbridge that evening, yet it was the beginning of another journey that took us to the summit in March when we were crowned National League Champions.  
For the second Saturday in a row, Mayo and Ulster accents floated on the evening breeze.  The boys from the County Armagh (and the girls too) had made the long journey to the west in style.  It would be late into the night before many of them would be back in places like Newtown, Forkhill, Silverbridge and Keady, not to mention the daring men from Crossmaglen who put whiskey in their tae!
The Mayo faithful had descended on Castlebar from all around the country. There was a real fiesta buzz outside MacHale Park for we all knew there was no safety net this time around. One was conscious that we were the lucky ones to be here, as thoughts turned to those around the UK, America, Canada, Australia, those on vacation in Spain and Portugal and others places, who had gathered in pubs and hotels to watch the game or listen to radio commentaries afar.
I was down in Portlaoise last year for the Roscommon v Armagh game which was one of the best of the season. Mayo and Armagh served up a cracker on this occasion, edge of the seat stuff that pulled at every emotion on our rollercoaster rides with this team over the last decade or so.
Fionn McDonagh’s crisply taken goal, Kevin McLoughlin’s sublime green flag that brought the Mayo crowd to their feet, and the huge ovation for Cillian O’Connor as he returned to the team after a year away from the green grass raised Mayo spirits.
There was that fingertip save by David Clarke, marvellous points by Darren Coen and power-house displays by Colm Boyle and Keith Higgins, with Aidan O’Shea putting in another strapping display on the evening.
On the way out from the game I met Brian and Caroline O’Connor and their lovely family from near Kilroe on the Mayo side of the border, and close to Headford. They were joking about what the atmosphere would be like this weekend should we get Galway in the draw.  No doubt, they will be flying the Mayo flag on the way to Limerick on Saturday.
At least we’ll not have to worry about the road-works in Balla.