As a Mayo GAA fan I was happy Galway got to the All-Ireland final

Ah – the things you do for love. 

Myself and my Tuam-ian fiancée met just one month out from the All-Ireland final in 2016. To be exact, it was the night before Mayo’s All-Ireland semi-final clash with Tipperary. On the weekend of the final she came to Dublin and met my sister for the very first time and, while she was nervous and focused on that, my mind was fixated on another thing. 

It might say a lot of me as a person but when she was fretting about what to pack and what to get my sister, there was only one detail I had to remember for my baggage – and that was two Mayo jerseys. 

Tuam people are a bit like Liverpool people. Liverpool people don’t see themselves as English or British, they’re Scouse and eff everyone else. I think in a way Tuam people are like that. Eff everyone else but especially f*** Mayo. I don’t know is it the proximity or the rich history of football in the area but any mention of Mayo in Tuam is and should only be the butt of a joke. 

And my fiancée was – and deep down, I know, still is – one of those people, a staunch Galway woman. It’s instilled in her, her family and probably their family before that. 

Photo: Darragh Berry

But throwback to what is coming on seven years now and, for some unknown reason, she became (and I hope still very much is) infatuated with somebody like me. GAA among many things was one of the fuelling factors that made the two of us click immediately. The first night we met she told me her postman used to be Ja Fallon and I cracked a joke about him delivering on and off the pitch.

Straight away I knew her blood ran a rich colour of maroon as she told me stories about ’98 and ’01 and going to watch Galway train in Tuam Stadium, just a kick of a ball away from her house. 

Much like the two of us meeting to begin with, life is all about chance and on the morning of the All-Ireland in 2016, I saw mine and took it with both hands.

I remember the moment vividly.

She was sitting down on the couch doing her make-up having already picked out the outfit she was going to wear when I flung my prized 2006 Elverys Green and Red in her direction. She was hesitant and I knew she would be. There was a lot of “I don’t know” and “would you do the same if it was the opposite way around”. 

Eventually she put the jersey on. If I could have bottled that moment, I would have sent it into the labs for testing to see what percentage of the love emotion would come back and would it be higher or lower than the insanity levels recorded. 

She asked me: “Would you honestly do the same if it was the other way around”. And I replied without a moment’s hesitation saying “Absolutely, if Galway ever get to a final, I would.”

It was an easy answer to give because at the time: Galway weren’t even in our rear-view mirror never mind in terms of the wider aspect of the Championship. Mayo’s dominance in my mind was like the clouds bursting open with rain on St. Swithin’s Day in Ireland – nothing was going to change for a while. 

I thought it would be at least 15, 20 years before Galway were in an All-Ireland final again.

But two things I learned from that encounter that day is life comes at you fast … and women never forget. 

We were in bed last July when I was essentially told that I had the choice of wearing one of her spare jerseys or finding one of my own on some second-hand website for cheap. I went for the latter. While I had sold most of my soul that day in 2016, I never did say I’d wear a Galway jersey. For €15 online I spotted an Athenry jersey from the mid-2000s, it was maroon and it was close enough, without getting too close. 

As a Mayo GAA fan, I can sit here and tell you that I was happy that Galway got to an All-Ireland final. The woman I’m going to marry is from there; I work for Galway Beo – a media site all about the news, sport and lifestyle of Galway. I live here – and have done on and off for nearly eight years now – went to college here and some of my best friends are from here. So I’d be an enormous hypocrite if I was to turn around and say “well yeah but f*** them anyway”.

And I say all of this having gone to the game – if only it was as easy to get tickets for Mayo finals, Prince Harry couldn’t have moved with all the ‘spares’ going around – and being sat in the middle of a section of Galway fans who filled a gap in The Fields of Athenry several times with the words “f***, Mayo” after thinking about all the dreams and songs they had to sing. 

I was happy for my fiancée. I was happy for my friends. But don’t get me wrong, a very tiny part of me – the same part that is instilled in my fiancée when it comes to Mayo – was relieved when they lost. 

The thoughts of us getting so close for all those years only for Galway to pip us to Sam a la 1998 would have been masked by the joy on my fiancée and friends’ faces. But it would have hurt like hell.

The relief I felt when they lost was, though, soon overcast by the flood of tears that met me outside Croke Park. I hugged her and felt her pain because, Galway or not, I knew those tears, and they aren’t nice no matter where you’re from. 

But I stand by my words going into this new season. I’m happy for Connacht GAA and the provincial championship which for years was looking like a Leinster or Munster one but now looks like it could mirror Ulster with Mayo, Galway and Roscommon fighting for top dog in the west. 

I am happy Galway got to the final for all of those reasons – but mostly because if something like that doesn’t kickstart the fire in Mayo management, players and fans’ bellies, for the year ahead nothing will. 

I’ve spoken about the rivalry in lengths before – and I know it’s something Willie Joe always tries to keep fanned down when the two sides meet – but even something as small as the FBD League matters in this house. The Galway flag hangs on the kitchen door, the Mayo one on the bedroom door. The two sets of wristbands lie side by side on the individual handles of the patio door. Two gnomes painted the different county colours lay stationary outside our front door. 

For heaven’s sake. Her mother bought us two knitted snowmen to hang on the Christmas tree – one with a green and red scarf and you can guess the other. Those two counties, those colours, they mean everything to us. 

And don’t get me wrong, it’s not like myself and herself willy-nilly change jerseys weekend in and weekend out. We’ve only ever supported ‘the other side’ in the football if our own county has been knocked out. 

She’ll argue against this, but I know it. I can see the glint in her eye when Mayo lose or put in a poor performance. She’ll give me a “better luck next time” similar of that what Cyril says to Dougal in Father Ted after the Eurovision. And that glint is the same tiny patch that’s within me that allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief when Kerry overcame the Tribesmen. I don’t think either of us will ever be more than 99% cheering for the other team. There’ll always be that 1% holding us back. 

I mentioned above about the easiness of getting tickets for Galway-Kerry. I said it was harder to get All-Ireland tickets for years previous but what I should have said was it was harder to get tickets for our meeting against the old enemy in the Dome on Saturday two weeks ago. 

Despite making it to the payment section on both days those tickets went on sale, I, as many other of the Mayo faithful, was told that the event was full as I pressed pay. So instead, we paid for the live stream and made some home-made pizzas from scratch for the main event. As we were mixing the flour for the dough, I joked about how we should have made bread instead so we could ‘break bread’ after the game was over.

And while things didn’t get that heated, we obviously didn’t get the memo from people who said the FBD League result didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. When Mayo went 11 points up, the jokes and jibes were flying in from my end to which I was met with “it doesn’t matter, only a Mickey Mouse match any way really”. This tune soon changed as Galway clawed it back to two points and the sitting room was filled with shrieks that would be echoed 40,000-fold on a dry summertime All-Ireland series game in Croker. 

Photo: GAA

If there’s anything we love more than GAA in the house it’s tea. The loser was on tea duty for the night meaning herself was flat out ferrying back and forth from the kitchen counter for the rest of the night but thankfully, and I’d say unlike the kettle and the league opener, things didn’t reach boiling point after the full-time whistle. 

The ticket saga alone for that Mayo Galway FBD game – it could have probably filled Tuam stadium with ease – just proves that Mayo mania is back in full swing ahead of a new season with an almost full MacHale Park expected for the Saturday Night Lights head-to-head. 

I was invited onto GAA Fan TV’s Instagram and YouTube channel to discuss all things Mayo ahead of the new season and even that little chat alone got me buzzing for the upcoming year and what’s to come. He asked me where I thought Lee Keegan fitted in in terms of greatest Mayo players of all time. 

I’m not a qualified enough historian of the game to answer that question but I told him that in my lifetime, there was nobody better. The top five, in my opinion, for as long as I’ve been watching Mayo are: Lee Keegan, Andy Moran, Keith Higgins, Ciaran McDonald and David Clarke. 

There’s been inches of ink written about Keegan and nothing I will say can add to his gargantuan GAA status past, present and future but what I will say is this. When news filtered through about the Westport man’s decision to say goodbye to the Green and Red, I believe even Mayo fans – including myself – as well as the rest of the country were at fault in projectile vomiting out the phrase “one of the best to never win an All-Ireland”.

Wrong for two reasons. He has that cherished club Intermediate All-Ireland medal from Westport’s triumph run a few years back and with the way the Covies are going, it’s not a foolish thought to imagine Keegan playing in Croke Park again someday soon with the club at senior level, especially if their county success in 2022 is anything to go by for the next few years.

And secondly and most importantly – the words ‘to never win an All-Ireland’ need to be replaced with ‘to ever play the game’. Full stop. On those days in 2012, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2020 and 2021, Lee Keegan deserved an All-Ireland medal. 

Ireland fans dream of a team of Gary Breens, if we had a team of Lee Keegans whose engines never stopped not even once for every one of those 70 minutes, we’d be talking about a different Mayo past. 

The season is going to be a struggle without being able to look into that back line and see the solidity of himself and Mullin lining out. But like what James Horan did bringing those two aforementioned defenders into the fold, Kevin McStay’s job will be to try and nurture the next Keegan or Mullin. 

Jack Coyne, Fenton Kelly, Rory Brickenden and Sam Callinan were some of the guardians of the goal drafted in over the course of the FBD League auditioning to fill those Leeroy and Oisín shaped holes. In that chat with GAA Fan TV, I was asked about our prospects for the year. 

The League is going to be as important as ever this year if not more as we face our first two potential Championship opponents in Division One this spring. My hopes, I said, were that we stayed up in Division One and we took back control of the Nestor Cup to become kings of Connacht again. 

Regaining our status at the top tier of league football is vitally important but two big wins against Galway and Roscommon are equally as important – those two things come hand-in-hand for my hopes for the year. Of course, anything that comes after a Connacht final win would be a major and much welcome plus McStay’s reign isn’t just about this year, it’s about the next five and building a team a la Horan’s two stints, one that isn’t just a one-season team but an every-season team.

The future is everything, youth is everything, and pray god we unearth some hidden talent as we have done in the last few years with the likes of Tommy Conroy, Ryan O’Donoghue, James Carr, Fionn McDonagh, Eoghan McLaughlin, Mattie Ruane et all – the majority of whom haven’t had as much Mayo minutes as they would have liked through injuries or otherwise.

You have to think about the future, always. 

We held our engagement party in August and by fluke while waiting for a taxi, we met Anthony ‘Fat Larry’ Finnerty walking along the Westend near Vinnie’s chipper for anyone familiar with the deliciousness that is their golden potatoes. 

I had a few Guinness in the tank at that stage and after various shouts of ‘Fat Larry’ from those in attendance, he came over and entertained us for a minute. First thing I said to him about his son Robert – who stars in Galway’s forward line alongside Comer and Walsh – was simply “why” followed very closely by the word “how”, I’ve been told. 

I’m not entirely sure my drunken thought process behind it but I would assume the “why” refers to his choice of allegiance and not pledging to his father’s hometown as for the “how”, I assume that was advice I wanted for myself for the future. 

Us GAA fanatics and long past their sell-by date players – not that I was ever near anyways county level! – like me dream of our children’s little hands being cradled around an O’Neills and running up and down at short steps kicking it through the freshly cut summer grass wearing the top their mam and dad bought for them. 

I’m human and that’s a dream I have when I think about us having a son or a daughter. But that dream turns swiftly into a nightmare when I go into depth on the matter. 

It’s like that old Kerrygold ad from the early 2000s. The Irish son is home in his rural countryside with his pregnant partner and digs up a piece of sod from the land to bring back to Germany with him. Opening the box on their bus to the airport he says “he’ll be born in Germany, but he’ll set foot on Irish soil first”. 

I feel him placing his newborn’s tiny feet on the patch of green emerald grass is the equivalent of me buying out the Mayo GAA shop to dress my child in from birth – you can dig up as much soil as you want, he’ll still be of German nationality.  

And I can buy all the green and red O’Neills will allow, they’ll still be sons and daughters of Galway, unlike their dad. 

They’ll go to school here, shape themselves as the people they’ll become here and worst of all for me – if they do take up the auld pair’s keen interest in GAA, a bittersweet moment for me, they’ll learn their trade here, play for a Galway club and, if good enough, be selected to throw on that coveted maroon top. 

The future is everything and come 9pm on Saturday night, we’ll know how ours is shaping up for the year ahead. 

34 thoughts on “As a Mayo GAA fan I was happy Galway got to the All-Ireland final

  1. Great article…live here in chicago…got some great galway friends…was hoping the best for them……until the night before the final…l was in a bar and met some other galwegians….they assured me they would win……not like the choking useless bas…ds north of galway…absolutely hated secretly cheering for Kerry…..just a bad taste

  2. Darragh, go hiontach ar fad I really enjoyed this piece. Lovely article for sure! I think most Mayo fans were supporting Gaillimh in the All Ireland last year! I certainly was but would have preferred Mhuigeo to be there instead!
    I enjoyed P O’Hora interview, very positive.
    His hairstyle, well I did not recognise him!
    Great man like the rest of the Mayo panels (ladies football, camogie and hurlers) giving it their very best every year. All amateurs!
    Mar a deirtear as Gaeilge: Tiochfidh ar lá!
    Mhuigeo Abu!

  3. My wife is galway and I believe her when she says she supports mayo when galway are out but i can’t bring myself to return the feeling. I think it’s easier the further away from the border for example i would be cheering for the rossies or sligo as they progress if mayo were out. I meet too many galway people each day to avoid the slagging. I’ve tried to support them but it doesn’t sit well with me

  4. I also dated a Galway guy and the slagging is unreal Ha I did support them last year but was secretly glad when they lost haha also going out of the kerry game there were Galway supporters slagging us off but sure have plenty of Galway mates lovely people!

  5. I saw an article with POH this morning. One comment underneath it ‘mayo lads love the media’….
    He’s dead right. I’d love if we could learn to lay low. Keep things to ourselves. Look at the difference in us getting a new mgr and Kilkenny…. Not a peep from them yet our lads were on every paper for 2 weeks…. Very little coming out of kerry or Galway, Dubs etc about the league.
    We leave ourselves open to the digs mentioned above. I know all about it, I live in Galway. Used to support them in the hurling I don’t now because I get similar comments to those above. But this mayo4sam stuff over the years is not helping.

  6. There was plenty coming out of kerry last year and the dubs also galway? yes we do leave ourselves open for digs but every county goes dubs for sam kerry for sam etc just my opinion and everyones entitled to their own I dont think there was much coming out of us at all last year even when we got to the league final.@moose79

  7. @Moose79- The reason POH is doing interviews s because the league finalists from 2022 were invited to attend a media briefing for the start of the league. Paul Geaney is all over the media as well today.

  8. To add to JKELL88 point

    It’s a smart decision to send POH. Half the questions have been about his new haircut, and this then allows him to speak about his charity work.

    There’s a fine balance wrt who you send out to these events. On the one hand, you don’t want to be putting extra pressure on lads but on the other hand it is a good opportunity for lads to draw attention to any good causes they might be supporting and build up a media profile for life after football

  9. Moose79 – Kerry and Galway have been in the media far more than us over the last few weeks. Has McStay done any proper interview in the build up to the league?

    How is an injured Mayo player being part of the official launch of the league going to make a blind bit of difference?

  10. Where are Larry McCarthy and Tom Ryan hiding this week? Gaa leadership is at an all time low.

  11. Be alot easier if ya got engaged to a nice Mayo girl Darragh !!!!!
    Would have saved ya a load of writing…..
    Will Galway bate Mayu …. very hard call sat evening… Great article!

  12. Everyone, it’s my fault, I, me, myself I will fess up. A mathematical equation has shown I am the person who blows us up too much in the media.
    I need to be stopped, I have to stop, I must stop, I’ll stop. I’ve cost us multiple All Irelands already.
    Ah, no, more words, blowing up our profile with more words on an egoistic reasoning for why we lost All Irelands.
    I’ll go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.
    You don’t see the Kilkenny lads doing this.
    Mayo4Sam. Cody. Jim Gavin. Painted sheep. Homecoming parades.
    I’m off to buy a Ford escort on Done Deal, paint it green and red whilst listening to Mayo football songs on repeat. It’s too early to win Sam just yet.

  13. Meant to say great article really enjoyed it ha! As someone said above its a hard one to call on sat and nostalgia for lee keagan but he seems so content in his decision happy for him to get on sunday game to well deserved be interesting to see the team tommorow or saturday ! Hope for a good game either way with no injuries!

  14. @InTheCity I am afraud to look at it now haha I would say they are def going for the win bit I am sure mcstay &us are going well in to espcialy after loosing to them last year only the league but Gakway games I am always on edge haha!

  15. Galway with a strong team named, i counted 11 out of 15 who started the all Ireland final. Mayo might be more experimental.

  16. @Seanie CH I agree worried for our defence to be honest but we might surprise as we often do! I do not think Tommy conroy will be named if so I think everyone will be shocked but by the looks of it he is going great but no need to bring him back until hes 100% ready way it should be after such an awful injury!

    Is padraig o hora over injury fit anyone know? He looks totally different fair play to him though going for such an important issue on mental health .

  17. Clare padraic ruled himself out of this weekend on the otb interview. Pity as thats strong galway lineup.

  18. @Spectre oh no I was expecting as much I think hes one of oyr strongest backs atm yes they definetly have had a feeling they were going in for in for from some of my Gakway mates also haha ah we might pull a shocker but I would say mcstay will def put a strong team out now..

  19. Brilliant article Darragh, gave me a few “Laugh Out Loud” moments ?

    The Galway thing is tricky – when I was younger I always cheered for Galway if we were out and they were left in the competition. That behaviour however was “Learned” out of me.

    Without going into too much detail I have come to the conclusion that the Mayo Galway thing is an ever-moving needle on a competitive scale.
    It fluxes between: Great Banter – Healthy Rivalry and Clean Hatred.

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