On the Road
TRIPS to Croke Park are nothing without traditions.
One of the longstanding ones in our house over the years was bringing ‘The Box’ full of refreshments to Dublin and eating the breakfast, dinner and tea out of the boot of the car.
As many country people know, it’s hard to beat tea from a flask and a scatter of ham sandwiches on Jones Road the day of a big Mayo match in the big house.
Over the years my mother made the sandwiches and packed ‘The Box’ with everything from tomatoes to polo biscuits. And my father was in charge of logistics - distributing the food and drink (nothing stronger than tea) to his regular companions - as well as eating most of the contents himself!
Last Sunday morning we decided to continue the tradition, packing the staple ingredients, adding in a few modern twists (like a fruit salad and a packet of pringles) and stuffing anything perishable into a cooler bag in a nod to the sweltering weather conditions.
Once ‘The Box’ was packed safely in the boot we picked up our passenger in Cong, stealing a quick glance at Tommy Conroy’s house on our way past to make sure he was up and out, and hit for the motorway.
The was precious little along the road from South Mayo to suggest that it was Connacht Final Sunday. In fact, we had crossed the Shannon by the time we saw the first Mayo flag hanging out of the boot of a Volkswagen Passat. It was a subtle reminder that we were headed in the right direction — towards the big smoke and the first Connacht Final in Croker since 1923.
Getting into the car park at Clonliffe College was a bit like trying to find a way through a Mayo backline of Oisin Mullin, Lee Keegan and Padraig O’Hora.
We were driven back, forced to be patient and try a few different approach routes, before we eventually spotted a gap and drove through it at speed, half-expecting to get ‘lamped’ at any moment. Thankfully, we got there in the end.
One familiar face we spotted outside the stadium was Alan Dillon, the former Mayo playmaker looking like a man who could still do a job for twenty minutes if his county needed him.
Inside, it was a slight shock to the system to see some 13,000 people scattered around the place after months of empty, colourless stadiums.
It was easy to see (and hear) that the Mayos had travelled in large numbers as usual, and they certainly enjoyed belting out ‘The Green and Red of Mayo’ after the final whistle.
After winning last year’s Connacht title behind closed doors in Salthill, and being unable to share the moment with friends and family, it was little wonder that the Mayo players milked every second of the aftermath.
Some posed for photos with parents while Kevin McLoughlin and Lee Keegan did likewise with their kids, others hugged loved ones and fist-bumped siblings.
And after the cup had been taken away from Mayo again (yes, it’s a Covid thing) and the crowd had left, the players sat on the pitch for half an hour, soaking up a Croke Park win.
Not a bad tradition or habit to be getting into either.
On the Road