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It’s either us or them

Sport

IF THE HAT FITS Mayo manager John Maughan celebrates his team's victory over Galway in the 1999 Connacht Senior Football Championship Final at Tuam Stadium. Pic: Sportsfile


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Colin Sheridan

IN a world gone mad, Mayo and Galway sit happily at a bus stop like an old married couple sharing a sandwich. Pandemics will come and go, empires will rise and fall, but Mayo and Galway will always remain constant, stuck in time, as oddly poetic as a pair of Beckett characters.
Perhaps they should do a podcast together? A Keane and Viera type retrospective with an existential twist. Always at odds, yet, one seems perennially incomplete without the other.
The two could review old tape, pour some scotch and pick over the carcasses of games past. The Peadar point in ‘09. The DB kiss on Niall Coleman. History in Tuam in ‘97. The crossbar game in ‘98. The beauty of this rivalry - neh, companionship - was that victory has seldom led to some grander domination of the game of football.
Kerry/Dublin, Tyrone/Kerry, Dublin/Mayo, they all had something bigger riding on them. Like, actual All-Ireland glory. Mayo versus Galway? It’s a parochial thing. Greek tragedy played out by plumbers from Bohola and muinteoiri from Moycullen.
We don’t like each other, but we do need each other.
My first Connacht final was Mayo v Galway. 1987. Parked the car in Manulla and walked barefoot into McHale Park. I remember two things; firstly, it was ok to get separated from your dad because if you did you got your name called out over the PA system. It seemed a helluva way to introduce yourself to inter-county football.
Not only did you get your name called out, but your address and a vague description of your
ruddy cheeks and portly disposition as well. It was like a charity auction. You then stood and waited to be collected like a prize calf.
Secondly, Liam ‘Stanley’ Niland. I remember ‘Stanley’ because he missed a few frees that day and was on the receiving end of some choice language from some gentlemen in the vicinity I was busy getting lost in.
It confused me because ‘Stanley’ was one of ours and the men shouting at him also seemed to be ours. Bottom line, I was young, and up to that day I knew I wanted to take the kicks.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the abuse, though. Mayo lost that day, and as we trudged home past Breaffy I watched as the men listened to post-mortems on transistor radios.
Late into the evening, the Galway traffic made a point of stopping in Balla to get ice-cream cones and beep their horns and wave their stupid maroon flags.
Honestly, I thought they all knew my dad and me, and that’s why they were beeping.
The bastards.
Eight years later on a hot day in Tuam I was on the precipice of manhood as Galway once again mocked me. Val Daly — such a cool name — led his team to a comprehensive dismantling of a Mayo squad that seemed to know little of where they were headed.
It was British Open Sunday and Constantino Rocca lost to John Daly in a play-off.
The consensus in the car on the way home was that Mayo may have been bad but Galway were somehow worse and would ultimately win nothing.
I was older than my ‘Stanley’ Niland years and already a tortured soul. I watched with relish as Tyrone laid waste to any delusions of grandeur our neighbours may have been developing. Honestly, had Galway played that evil Nazi team from ‘Escape to Victory’, I would’ve been up for the Germans. No Sam Maguire west of the river Shannon since 1966?
If it wasn’t going to be us, I sure didn’t want to be them.

THEN, things got livelier. Much livelier. The meetings of 1996 and 1997 elevated this rivalry to another level entirely. Both teams were suddenly good! Mayo reached All-Irelands and although we lost, our superiority over Galway was an incredible consolation prize. Something was building, and I foolishly thought those halcyon teenage years would last forever.
Then, McDanger hit the crossbar. Twice.
Galway not only beat us but everyone else, if you could count Derry and Kildare as everyone else. How that All-Ireland victory did not receive an asterisk beside it for being the softest in history is as mysterious as the origins of Jinking Ja’s jink.
Their victory set my personal growth back considerably. It was years before I recovered the confidence to talk to girls.
A year later I recall driving across the border between Ballindine and Milltown on the way to the 1999 Connacht Final in their Mecca, Tuam Stadium. My brother Neil, easily the most mild mannered of the lot of us, was so incensed by a sign saying “WELCOME TO THE HOME OF THE ALL-IRELAND CHAMPIONS”, he pulled in his Fiat Punto at the side of the road and pulled the blasphemous article down with his bare hands.
I can still see him, wild eyed and bare chested like the Bull McCabe, Mayo cars honking
wildly at his act of defiance. Okay, so he was not bare-chested but he was wild-eyed.
His hysteria must have been infectious, as Mayo’s victory in Tuam that day remains one of my most enduring Galway/Mayo memories.
It was almost worth them winning in ‘98 to dethrone them in ‘99. Almost.
Like the Taliban, they wouldn’t go away. The next couple of years belonged to them and a second Sam Maguire in three years at least earned them a modicum of respect from yours truly. Something I’m sure that matters more to Jinking Ja’ than any Celtic Cross.
The twenty years since have been much more of the same. The difference is I have come to realise I need them now more than I ever did.
My editor, who, in his defence, asked for an actual preview of the game, must be wondering how he will hide this piece in the paper. The simple truth is, I can’t think objectively about Mayo and Galway. It is as much a part of me as my receding hairline.
No Galway? No Connacht Final to look forward to. No distraction from stupid global crises and petty parish squabbles.
I made the Iliad from such a local row, so said Kavanagh. He was talking about old McCabe stripped to the waist, defending his right to a rood of rock. We all know he could’ve been talking about the man tearing down the sign on the road to Tuam.

 

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