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Opening night doesn’t disappoint


MAKING A RUN FOR IT A young Mayo supporter is pictured on the pitch at half-time in last Saturday evening's National League match at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park. Pic: Conor McKeown

A Fan’s View
Anne-Marie Flynn

I SWORE I’d be mellow. That I would sit calmly and watch the game with a gentle air of detachment, focusing on absorbing the atmosphere, taking in the tactics, savouring the strategy. I have spent the last six months practising my Zen.
Daily yoga, deep breathing, a bit of the auld meditation. These days, I am mostly serene. But there is just something about the sight of a maroon jersey that sends the best intentions up in smoke and propels the heartrate skywards.
Alas, the FitBit stats proved on Saturday night in Castlebar that I was none of the things I had sworn I would be, and neither were many too around me.
It is far from Zen that Mayo football fans were reared.
It was a perfect footballing night, with barely a breeze and no rain forecast.
Much to the surprise of those squeezed out of the packed stand onto the terraces, who took a soaking, with nary an umbrella between them. The build-up was low-key by usual standards – the long lay-off, the two recent departures and the remnants of the 2021 hangover probably all playing their part - but the familiar hum of the generator on the approach to the ground wasn’t long stirring the senses and by the end of a night, the cracking atmosphere had washed the dirty diesel out.
Credit to the stadium DJ for doing their bit; it’s not often you hear the Pixies belting out over McHale Park, and through a fancy new sound system at that!
Castlebar on Saturday night felt like what championship football should feel like, and often doesn’t. The Mayo-Galway rivalry, never for the faint-hearted, wasn’t going gently into a new season, and despite a painfully boring passage of play in the first half, it felt as if more than two league points were at stake. And the stakes were indeed high; for Kevin McStay and his young guns, losing at home to The Auld Enemy would have been disappointing at best. For Pádraic Joyce, conceding two points to the noisy neighbours in their happy hunting ground of late would have stung, especially given his competitive nature.
When majestic Ryan O’Donoghue nicked a point – and a point! – with the last kick of the game, the sharing of spoils felt fair, but the managers’ reactions afterwards were contrasting, to say the least.
McStay was beaming, jovial even; most satisfied with the attitude of his young guns but Joyce, through gritted teeth while insisting he wouldn’t complain, proceeded to complain rather a lot, especially about the extra minute of added time at the end.
Perhaps Joe McQuillan had just happened to remember some of the Galway players cynical and predictable attempts earlier on to play down the clock while a man down. Or perhaps the linesman that Joyce and his team had harassed for most of the game had an exasperated word in Joe’s ear. Who knows?
While Joyce clearly hates losing, the biggest losing battle on the night was fought by the poor stadium announcer on the public address system. Between the clear disregard by patrons for the safety of their bank cards, the security of their cars, and his numerous heartfelt but hopelessly futile pleas to stay off the playing surface after the game, he put in a tougher shift than all the players combined.
The Young Guns weren’t half bad. Blazing Bob Tuohy (one to watch!) did most of the gunning and running too. James Carr scored his customary screamer against Galway. Our leaky defence made things a bit harder, but the old familiar chaos at the end saw us through. For January fare, it was enjoyable. And Our Lee did us proud on the telly.
Galway proved that they haven’t gone away, you know, and the weekend’s results suggest that the Connacht championship this year will be red-hot. It was a real shame to see Rob Finnerty, clearly in pain, carried off the pitch, and any fans of football, even Mayo ones, will hope his recovery is speedy.
It was a happy carful of Mayo heads that faced for Ballina after the game, and not even the 45-minute wait in Foxford for the takeaway could dampen the spirits. What’s not to love? The summer is coming, Mayo are back, and a road trip to Armagh lies ahead.
Maybe I’ll find my Zen up there.


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