At last, it’s game day. And it feels bloody weird to be here, far away from the action, on such a day, bringing back as it does echoes of my days as an emigrant all those years ago.
Back at home, meanwhile, a pretty monstrous crowd looks likely to converge on Croke Park this afternoon, so my absence won’t really be noted. A report in the Connaught Telegraph yesterday stated that an attendance in excess of 60,000 is expected at HQ today, which, if true, would be a larger gathering than Kerry and Dublin managed to muster last weekend. There’ll be one hell of an atmosphere there today if that estimate is correct, which I suspect it may well be.
Two big games are on the agenda for us today and it’d be really great for both of them to emerge victorious. The Juniors have a very tough All-Ireland final to play against Kerry – who are raging hot 1/7 favourites to win – and while Seán McLoughlin’s charges look up against it in this one, the experience of playing at HQ with a large Mayo following roaring them on will surely spur them to heights they’ve never reached before. Were this to be enough to topple the Kingdom in an All-Ireland final, it would represent a fantastic start to the day for us as well as a magnificent achievement in its own right for the team. Best of luck to them.
Then, after the Monaghan/Tyrone interlude, the main course is set to be served. I’m getting butterflies even thinking about this clash, to be honest, but I do think it’s a contest we can and should win. As I’ve been saying all week, though, Donegal are tough, seasoned opponents, a team well capable of beating anyone – ourselves included – when they’re in full flow so there’s absolutely no way we can saunter into this one thinking we’re definitely going to do it.
I don’t think there’s any fear this will happen. Every year since 2011, the team has – in marked contrast to so many (though not all) Mayo teams that went before – stepped it up several notches once it gets to Croke Park. I expect this to happen once again today – with, perhaps, a few more notches added to our quarter-final performances levels compared to previous years – and, if this is the case, then I do believe that it’ll be difficult for Donegal to live with the kind of intensity we’ll bring to the table.
The big crowd, heavily dominated by Ulster supporters, won’t work in our favour today. This means (sez he, sitting on his arse in the sun all those miles away) that our supporters will have to hit the frenzied heights last seen, to memorable spine-tingling effect, in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final. Every roar will be needed, every flag waved will matter and will all contribute to the cause.
Best of luck to both teams representing the county at HQ today. Here’s to victory twice over. Up Mayo!