EVEN before we hit the road, Sunday’s trip to MacHale Park had a whiff of novelty about it; it’s unusual in Mayo to be heading into a league decider without the fear of relegation sitting like a stone in the bottom of your stomach.
Having been on the tiles the night before to celebrate Mama Bear’s birthday, some of us were excessively relaxed on Sunday morning. So much so, that we didn’t stroll out of Ballina until well after our usual departure time, somehow forgetting about the Turlough Tailback.
As the line snaked up the N5, An Garda Síochána were doing a stellar job of managing the parking. They had their work cut out for them, because the concept of parking within five feet of the adjacent car is still an unattainable one for many, which is why you sometimes have to walk back to Turlough to reach your car after a big game.
I suppose stragglers get what they deserve.
Despite being well settled back in Mayo, I still appreciate the fact that a home game really means a home game. The Saturday nights under lights with the big buzz of the generator have been great, but a Sunday game in Spring takes beating.
The sun was shining in MacHale Park, meaning that only Mount McKinley, Siberia and certain Antartic regions recorded colder temperatures, and seven layers sufficed instead of the usual eleven. Summer is definitely coming.
The usual crew assembled on the ‘45 down towards the Albany end. The best thing about following Mayo is finding your tribe; the best thing about the League is seeing them nearly every week. What started as a “Sure a win would be grand” kind of contest, where ambivalence reigned about the prospect of a league final, gradually morphed into a “Jesus Christ we CAN NOT LOSE THIS” game as attentions turned towards Omagh, where by 3pm it looked like our sound neighbours were stepping out of our road to Croker.
Sweaty palms and clenched teeth abounded as wave after wave of blue descended upon Rob Hennelly. The ham sandwiches resourcefully made by one of the crew were cast aside in favour of Twitter updates from up North – “They’re FOUR POINTS up!” - where like ourselves, Tyrone shot the lights out to guarantee us a shot at silverware next weekend.
It’s a rare day you find yourself shouting for that lot, but cheers lads.
The post-game player ‘meet and greet’ went down well; strengthening that bond with supporters that has made the last eight years so memorable. Even Monaghan’s sharp-shooter Conor McManus was swamped by red and green.
The sun shone, the music rang out and all was well in the world.
Days like this are special, so we were in no hurry to head home. Up the town for a bit of grub, and into ‘Bridge Street’ for the Sunday Sessions where Chris, Richie, Barry, Mary and Daithí – ‘Pitch Slapped’ - served up an eclectic mix of acoustic goodness to soothe us back to earth, and made the alcohol-free beer taste as good as the real thing.
Finishing off the set with the ‘Green and Red of Mayo’, the lads and Mary set the tone nicely for the weekend ahead. Croker, here we come!
Now, where did we leave the car?