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Westportif and a Mayo win – a good day all round


On the road
John Gunnigan

TWO wheels, four wheels. The alluring beauty of the countryside in glorious sunshine enjoyed while cycling the Westportif gave way later on Saturday to the high-octane excitement of seeing Mayo inject a sudden burst of pace to floor Kildare and march on in the championship.
Setting out from Westport just after 9am in the company of my twentysomething nephew Brian, we were already clock-watching. We had 120km to cover on the bikes and then a quick dash afterwards back to the home place near Aghamore to get changed, fed, the young lad collected, and back over again to Castlebar for the match.
But the sun was shining, displaying to the full the rugged splendour of the route. It was tough going into the wind, which blew hard at us all the way till we turned at Killeen, past Louisburgh, with the imposing hulk of Mweelrea shepherding the road round to the left where we now made rapid, wind-assisted progress.
We bombed down the Doolough Valley, the road an asphalt carpet rolled out over the rocks and heather, the jaw-dropping delights of the route continuing as we made our way to Killary, stopping for a well-deserved break just shy of halfway, at Leenane.
On we pressed from there, taking the haunting deserted road around Lough Na Fooey and up Maamtrasna where, once we’d come through the top, Lough Mask’s azure waters glittered away in the plains below.
The sandwiches and homemade apple pie at O’Toole’s in Tourmakeady provided necessary and welcoming refuelling before the push up Lally’s Mountain. The wind blew hard in our faces once more as we made our way slowly and painfully to the top.
With the Reek once more coming into view as the narrow road snaked over the summit, however, we knew then that we’d managed to withstand the best the Westportif could throw at us.
The big crowd at MacHale Park reached that point of knowledge in relation to the challenge presented by Kildare once Diarmuid O’Connor finished that mazy run of his and slipped the ball into the Lilywhites’ net towards the end of the first half.
The blitz we hit them with in that period sucked from the contest all the tension that had been gathering like storm clouds in the air.
We’d been denied two clear-cut penalties in the preceding minutes.  
The boos were ringing round the ground, but that quickfire fusillade meant that poor reffing wouldn’t be the main topic of conversation for the big attendance as they made their way home.
Diarmuid O’Connor’s name would have featured strongly in these immediate post-match musings. The young Ballintubber man’s performance was magnificent and his goal will live long in the memory, on an evening where MacHale Park, its green sward manicured to carpet-like perfection, showed its best face to the world.
No wonder the kids couldn’t resist it and, despite the PA announcer’s pleadings to keep the pristine surface in good order for the neighbours the following day, scampered onto it in scores after the final whistle sounded.  
As we made our way home in the gathering dusk, I was able to reflect on a day of magic. Doolough or Diarmuid: which was the better recollection to preserve from what had been an action-packed and very special day? Each of them unique, both unforgettable.
I’ll carry into the winter to come warm, sweet memories of a magical day encompassing the best of both of them.

John Gunnigan (AKA ‘Willie Joe’) runs the Mayo GAA Blog.

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