ANYONE BUYING OR SELLING There will be no need for bartering outside Croke Park next weekend. Pic: Sportsfile
A Fan’s View
IT’S a 484 kilometre round trip from Ballinrobe to Celtic Park in Derry. There’s a house in Knock with a garden hedge perched so precariously over a sheer 20 foot drop that it must be impossible to trim. A gable in Charlestown so tall, that the ladder hasn’t been made yet that would reach its apex. A field of barley outside Letterkenny that is the finest in Ireland.
Pearce Hanley was the greatest loss that Mayo GAA has suffered. And if you park in a graveyard on a match day when Mayo are playing, you will never have luck.
These are the lessons I learned travelling to watch Mayo against Derry on a wet July day in 2007. I went at the behest of this paper’s Sports Editor who informed me of a seat heading north for the game. “Everyone should go to a game with the Oul Fella at least once in their life; it’s good for the soul” he said. How right he was.
We know the result — a ten point defeat to Derry; the last time we would see Brady, O’Neill and Hanley in the Green and Red. Every Mayo fan in the county and beyond has similar stories of far-flung trips to Ennis, Limerick, Killarney and New York, but when the ghost of Mayo championships past comes for a visit, it is first to that day I turn and reflect on how special are the journeys we make following our beloved team.
There were trips and adventures before and since of course. An expat of nigh on 20 years, following the team has meant, at times, trying to get an internet connection in Yemen to listen to Mid West radio, ringing the bars and social clubs in Johannesburg to see if they had Setanta Sports, and having to imagine Ciaran MacDonald’s sublime point into the Hill as a friend texted me updates to Angola.
So when the annual trip home in the summer does beckon, plans inevitably revolve around the championship, projecting ahead to the Bank Holiday weekend in Dublin when Mayo would surely feature. We’ll work backwards from there.
This book-ended the summer for me, but the air miles were always banked in the hope a trip home would be on the cards for September. To pick up where we left off. To witness the waves of green and red spew out of the station in Drumcondra. To collect the elusive ticket from a stranger from Ballycroy at the corner of Gill’s under a swap agreement, brokered by your cousin’s work-mate, that would flummox the most hardened Brexit negotiator.
Pre All-Ireland pints in Fagan’s with your dad and brothers, and sundry other die-hards, all of whom had news of team changes ‘on good authority’. The roar when the team came out and the collective sense of belonging that comes when a people from Doohoma to Drumshiel are united. Even the silence on the station platform on those days when our all just wasn’t enough, but you knew the spark was there for next year.
So it is with a cruel irony that a year, which has already robbed us of so much, now pilfers the last of what we treasure. Sadly, Tony Finnerty, our pilot on that trip to Derry, and the most steadfastly loyal Mayo supporter there ever was, recently went to his eternal rest.
For a man who revelled in the journey, and had the rare gift of seeing the wonder in the banal, it is hard to know what he would think of the situation.
I like to think he would see it for what it is. A chance once more to rattle the Dubs on their home patch. To continue the journey next year as monarchs of the country when we’ll travel in our hordes once again.
I’ll be tuned in from my perch in Dubai with my two daughters; and when they ask me in their mid-Atlantic accents why Mayo people all around the world are doing the same; I’ll tell them about the trip to Derry, and why you never park in a graveyard on the day of a game. Maigh Éo Abú.