THIS has been another roller coaster year on the road with our heroes. A home game in Castlebar made for a short trip this time and a chance to enjoy a carnival atmosphere in Castlebar.
My thoughts drifted back to our first long trek of the year when we headed to Omagh for the second round of the National League against Tyrone.
No one knew what the year held in store but I quote here my opening paragraph in The Mayo News on that trip in early February. “The window flags got their first airing of 2019 as we set our sights on the journey north. Overcast and cloud turned to heavy fog on the hill at Knock Airport before descending into clear light at Charlestown. One sensed it was great to be on the road again.”
And what a journey it has been since. Winning the National League in Croke Park was a golden highlight. We hit Castlebar on Saturday with huge hope and confidence and we were not disappointed.
It was an incredible privilege for me to have got the go-ahead to organise the one-hour concert before the game. I want to thank Paul Clesham from Garrymore and Seamus Tiernan from Castlebar for their lovely traditional music and Dave (Daithí) Gallagher from Castlebar for his sean nós and brush dance. Frank McCaffrey from Westport performed four songs, including Memories of Mayo (composed by Eamon Maguire from Blacksod) and My Achill Island Home (written by Lennie Grimes from Westport).
Pat Gallagher and Patsy Gallagher from Goats Don’t Shave got a great welcome from the Donegal supporters. And how about Davy Carton from The Sawdoctors?! “I think that is the best reception a Galway man ever got in MacHale Park!” quipped a delighted Davy as the Mayo followers raised the roof and sang along with The Green and Red of Mayo. It set the stage perfectly for a special evening.
When the Mayo team emerged and all during the game, I never saw such Mayo fervour cascading down from the main stand.
Mount Etna has been erupting in Italy in recent days but this was an eruption of raw emotion and passion on a scale not witnessed here before. It was incredible.
Mayo dominated the opening half with a massive intensity that saw them six clear at the interval. It could have been more. Patrick Durcan was immense, Lee Keegan did what he had to do, and Jason Doherty was sublime. All of us wish Jason a speedy recovery.
Donegal battled to the end but some bad misses cost them dearly. But on the evening, this was a superb all round team effort by Mayo.
No-one can begrudge us a place in the last four.
Back in October, I was with a group of country music aficionado who took a day trip to the Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) Centre in Louisville and also Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.
One quote from the great man is worth mentioning here as Mayo prepare for the one of the biggest showdowns in GAA history. “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it - then I can achieve it.”
For Mayo people, this odyssey is more than just a game. It is a love affair in all it complexities, every ounce of human emotion is invested in this journey. It has assumed Biblical proportions.
For those from outside the county, who don’t understand the intensity of the bond between the Mayo followers and this group of warriors, no explanation is possible. For those of us who are wrapped up and bathed in the baptismal fountain of Mayo GAA, none is necessary.
Under the light of the western skies, we go forth again this weekend with hope in our hearts and gratitude for the journey we have been on, ever grateful for all who have worn the county colours over the years. Our hearts bleed red and green.
We are Mayo and we are in this together.