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From Cleggan to Croke Park


From Cleggan to Croker and the miles in between

Trips to Croke Park are always special

Wille McHugh

GOLDIE HAWN was the pin-up girl. New World sang Tom-Tom Turnaround and Tony Christie needed directions to Amarillo. The world was young.
I earned my first wage in a summer job with Costello and McDermott in Ballinrobe. It was through good friendship with Eamon McDermott my dad landed it for me.
“Send him in Monday and I’ll look after him” Eamon told him. He was true to his word. And Pat became, and still is, the big sister I never had. It would be highly remiss of me not to acknowledge both their inputs.
Eamon’s best lesson was teaching me work could be fun. Marvellous days around Clifden, Cleggan, Moyard, Letterfrack, Leenane and returning by Cornamona to Mary Burke’s shop in the hollow to chat with Barbara. We gave the retiring postman in Kilmilkin an almighty send-off on our way home one night shortly before Christmas.
Lovely Monday mornings too in Keane’s Shop beyond Maam Bridge and Eamon and the late Joe analysing football matches. Only this week the golden bells rang out for Joe’s wife Mary. She was laid to rest in Breenane Cemetery last Friday. She has already strolled through the portals of Heaven with fifty miles of elbow room. She was a lovely woman. Many a grand cup a’ tae she made us.
A trip to the All-Ireland Football Final was Eamon’s reward for summer toil.
The 1973 meeting of Galway and Cork was my baptismal day. We got the work done early on Saturday and gave the late Bina McLoughlin a lift from Leenane to Maam. Bina assured us Galway would win and confided that she’d placed a curse on the Cork skipper. Seemingly Bina’s sorcery went slightly askew because it was Galway captain, Gay Mitchell, who ended up picking the ball from his net on five occasions.
Dublin was the long haul. The Bog Road and the midlands before crawling snake-like through the narrow streets of Leixlip, Kilcock, Maynooth to Lucan and the Strawberry Beds.
Paddy McDonnell, Noel Galvin, Eamon, Joe Heneghan, Luke O’Malley, the late Tommy McTigue and Eugene O’Malley to name but a few were the Ballinrobe troupe making up the cast. The Four Courts Hotel on The Quays was base camp.
We discovered there was a well-heeled businessman resident in Room 68. So were we when it came to breakfast and dinner in the dining room. We played it tight and it worked a treat. Cork outclassed Galway and a 19 years-old named Jimmy Barry-Murphy left his signature on the day.
I returned to Eamon and Peter Costello for further fun the following summer. The trips to Cleggan and Croker were the extra bonus. Accommodation arrangements got a ferocious setback coming down the banks of the Liffey in 1974. The Four Courts was closed. Trading losses we discovered later. And the custom we’d brought them. Was someone on the take?
Mike Burke from Kilmaine was our neighbour playing centre-forward on the Mayo Minor team against Cork that day and Ballinrobe’s Tommy Moran was among the substitutes. In players like Mike, Stephen Sweeney, Patsy Mohan, Willie Nally and Mickey Mannion we longed for Sundays when boys would be men.
It was also the afternoon Kevin Heffernan and a swashbuckling Dublin appeared and changed the football landscape forever more. Paddy Cullen saved Liam Sammon’s penalty and Jimmy Keaveney pinched inches on his midriff but was slide rule precision from placed balls.

WE’LL skim over 1981 for obvious reasons and onto 1985 we’ll go.
Mayo encountered Dublin and it ended in a draw. That was the day some happening on the pitch irked the late and great John Joe Keady from Shrule enough to throw his jacket in over the Cusack Stand fencing. A steward picked it up and took it with him. The garment containing the car keys was retrieved later.
That he was the only witness in Croke Park to the incident that led to John Finn’s broken jaw was John Joe’s claim to fame thereafter.
The John Finn issue fuelled tension enough for people who only visited a passing interest on the first game to now descend on Croke Park for the replay.
Garrymore’s Johnny Monaghan put Dublin’s Joe McNally on his broad backside with a good old-fashioned shoulder and a Knocknageeha man rose from his seating roaring “get up now Rock and break his jaw.” The secret was out albeit through a case of mistaken identity. Padraig Brogan scored the goal of the century that day and still we came up short.
We were back in 1989 for Mayo’s first All-Ireland Final appearance since 1951.
An absence long enough for a know-all from Kilmaine to ask me outside Quinn’s Pub in Drumcondra for directions to Croke Park. We thought the day was ours when Tony Finnerty (not that Tony, he was on The Canal End) found the net.
It wasn’t to be and Cork stole the day. Undeterred we celebrated our loss with a homecoming that lasted two weeks and us burning every wisp of bedding straw in the process.
We were back centre-stage against Meath in 1996 and almost out the gap with the win that would change our lives forever more until Colm Coyle’s ‘Hail Mary’ hopped over the bar to catch us at the death. The replay was the day referee Pat McEneaney became Mayo public enemy number 1. But perhaps the unthinkable notion we might have helped essay our own downfall will ever be too bitter a pill to swallow.
In 1997 we afforded Maurice Fitzgerald too much freedom. He ran amok but in truth 1996 should have been our Promised Land.
2004 and Mayo eyeballed glory again. I had the best seat in Croke Park that day next to the cameraman on the third tier of The Davin Stand. I was sitting on the veranda of Heaven but, as the game unfolded, I was staring down the hobs of hell.
2006 and we’re back again. It was the year our takeover of Hill 16 spooked the Dubs in the semi-final. The greatest point ever scored in Croke Park by our genius Ciaran McDonald booked us to another final date with Kerry. We’ll leave it at that because the less we dwell on it the quicker the hurt will heel.
And still we travel east towards the rising sun and always will whilst Mayo has a cause to chase. Let us never take the journey for granted. Where else would we have for going?
We’ll presume Tony found his way to Amarillo because ne’er a word from his since. But thanks to Eamon McDermott and his good minding I’ll never ever need directions to Croke Park.
Or to Cleggan either.

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