This is a piece I wrote for this week’s Mayo News.
When the League fixtures come out every autumn, I always focus closely on the away matches. I’m based in Dublin so trips to Castlebar for the home ties can often be a bit of a stretch but there’s often plenty of lower hanging fruit in the form of handy away fixtures. Newbridge last Sunday week was a doddle and it didn’t take me too long to conclude that the hundred and a bit miles each way from Dublin to Omagh and back was one that was easily within the compass too.
We set off for Omagh mid-morning, with the intention of catching the Club ’51 pre-match gathering at the Silver Birch Hotel in the town.
Club ’51 is a grassroots Mayo supporters’ association that was formed in the aftermath of last year’s All-Ireland with the aim of improving the atmosphere at Mayo matches.
That’s a laudable goal but already the group has assumed an additional – and equally worthwhile – role of identifying a focal point for Mayo supporters to gather in before away games. The Liffey Arms in Newbridge was heaving with the faithful ahead of the Kildare game and it was the same in the Silver Birch on Sunday, with a large smattering of MO-registered cars already parked up there when we arrived.
Inside the hotel, the Mayo contingent also seemed to be in the majority, those there either playing a hard, pressing game up by the bar or else doing a man-marking job on the floor staff in an attempt to get some food. We opted for the latter role, to be told that our only options were soup and sandwiches or roast beef. The beef went down well and we left licking our chomps hoping that dessert would come in the form of a heart-warming win over Tyrone up the road.
We also came away from the hotel with some intelligence about the Mayo line-up, with the news that David Drake and Diarmuid O’Connor would be starting in place of Brendan Harrison and Darren Coen. I was surprised that in this era of information-overload, the news hadn’t leaked before then. It was reassuring to know, though, that the old-fashioned bush telegraph was still functioning smoothly enough.
It was a handy ten-minute stroll from the hotel to Healy Park. I’d never been there before and it’s an impressive ground – a sensible-sized stand, with no poles obstructing the view out onto what is obviously a well-maintained sod.
The stand was filling up fast when we got there and with the day now clear and bright – the conditions looked perfect for football.
The match itself was, of course, a disappointment. The fixtures have done us no favours this year – in a seven-game league roster, how can it make sense to have to play two away matches first off? But our own underwhelming performance didn’t help.
We failed to capitalise when we were on top and Tyrone didn’t make that mistake when they had the whip-hand. Few of the Mayo crowd I spoke with on the way out were too upset at the result but most also wouldn’t, I reckon, have turned their noses up at a victory either.
Back we got into the car again for the journey home, this time tuning into Midwest online on the mobile to hear Mike Finnerty’s commentary from Croke Park.
Kiltane fought bravely but sadly it wasn’t enough as their dreams, like those of so many All-Ireland final teams from Mayo before them, turned to dust before their eyes. As we made our way back down to Dublin, a cold rain shower suddenly battered the car adding to the already darkening gloom, on what won’t go down as a day to savour for the county’s footballing fraternity.