MEETING THE PEOPLE Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke is pictured with supporters after last Saturday's All-Ireland SFC Qualifier win over Galway. Pic: Sportsfile
A Fan’s View
EVERY so often in life, a perfect day comes along. A day where the road rises to meet you, the sun shines, the birds sing, and all the stars align.
Saturday wasn’t quite one of those days. After a week of being more distracted at work than since the run-up to the 2017 final, the morning finally dawned. Having recently returned to running training, I decided to get a good run at the day – literally – and settle the nerves before settling in behind the wheel by doing the Ballina park run.
The road definitely did not rise to meet me, however, and it was a sweaty slog to the end of Belleek Woods and back and a swollen knee to contend with. Still, first job of the day done.
Happily the road to Limerick was much kinder. Our gang has all had to sit a couple of games out recently for various reasons, and it felt good to be back on the road, especially for an occasion like this.
The mood oscillated between pure giddiness and quiet confidence, but there wasn’t a sign of a nerve between us, which is highly unusual. The plans were made on the way down for the Super 8s, never mind waiting for the result – to a man and a woman we had a Good Feeling. Bar the now infamous Balla roadworks, we flew down the N18 in record time and parked up for the grub. The Greenhills Hotel had set up a carvery for the hungry hordes in the ballroom and the place was jammed to the rafters with starved culchies. After a solid feed of spuds it was up to take the seats in the Mackey Stand, a place that feels curiously familiar and definitely still holds a bit of the 2014 trauma in its shallow heights.
The (interminable) wait for the game after the disappointment of the ladies game allowed for a bit of mingling, a chance to shoot the breeze and compare nerves. At this point, mine had announced themselves and were multiplying like little serpents in my stomach, but the general air of confidence was reassuring.
This game against the Tribesmen was billed in parts of the media as tribal warfare, and it felt appropriate. I vividly remember 1999 in Tuam, and how good it felt to beat Galway that year, albeit in different circumstances. There is no love lost here.
Nothing – nothing - would do but a win.
There is something about Limerick that is conducive to creating an almost primitive atmosphere, and the eruption of noise the minute the ball was thrown in was something I won’t forget in a hurry. It was visceral. The fans gave it their all for the 77 minutes, and it’s probably a good thing that it’s festival time in Ballina this week and there are no meetings in the work diary. I’m not sure we will ever see the likes of James Carr’s goal again, but then again, this precocious young footballer has lots of time on his side, so why not?
The ecstasy of that moment when the ball hit the net will stay with me until my dying days. At the time of writing it has been watched almost 5 million times on Twitter, and I’d say a good chunk of those views are mine.
The euphoria after a hard-fought win is like some kind of drug, that makes you forget the nerves, the tension, the outrage at poor refereeing decisions and the time spent sitting in traffic trying to get home. The euphoria after a win against Galway is extra potent, so we floated all the way back to Mayo. The contrast in fortunes on the dual carriageway out of Limerick was evident, with the Galways keeping their heads down and avoiding eye contact and the Mayos losing the run of themselves as usual. Sure that’s half the fun.
If you can’t enjoy days like these, what is the point?
In the end, it was probably the most perfect day we could have asked for. Sure, the rain fell, the sun didn’t shine, and the poor unfortunate bird I found stuck in the grille of the car on Sunday morning won’t be singing any more.
But didn’t the stars in our forward line align just beautifully? Beating Galway in a Connacht final might have been the plan, but this Mayo team rips up the script time and time again, and getting to beat them in knockout was infinitely more enjoyable.
Like in the Lou Reed classic, for a few hours in Limerick in Saturday, our problems were all left alone. This team just keeps us hanging on - and how we love them for it.
And here’s hoping that after all the magic fan journeys they’ve given us, that one day, they will indeed reap just what they sow.