Back in the game

It’s been too long.

When the tickets went on sale on Thursday I wasn’t even planning to go to the match. We were down in Clare for a few days at the time and were returning to Dublin on Friday, with the start of a working week looming on Monday so I felt I could do without a round-trip to Castlebar on Sunday thrown into the mix as well.

But then I clicked on the link, saw there were tickets available and, before I knew it, I’d bought two of them. I would be going to the match after all.

Match-day routines used to be second-nature to me. But, then again, getting up and going out to work was a hard-wired daily event for so many who now, following a year working from home, would be hard-pressed to locate their shoes on any given morning.

In a sense, Sunday was, for me, akin to learning to walk all over again. The day was a kind of voyage of rediscovery, a return to a faraway place once so familar but now strangely alien.

So much has changed in the sixteen months since I was last at a Mayo game. We drove west today in a different car to the one I owned when I made the same trip for the Kerry game in March last year. Back then my teenage son was a few inches shorter than me, now he’s taller than I am. I’m now sporting a Covid-era beard.

The road to Castlebar was, though, still familiar, as was the sheeting rain that fell heavily most of the way. Our tickets were for the uncovered part of the ground and while we’d taken the precaution of throwing the umbrellas into the boot we were still hoping that they wouldn’t be needed.

Our tickets were in Zone 1 and, now with our masks on, we were directed by similarly masked stewards towards our allocated section.

Two thoughts struck me about this part of the day. The first was how calm, efficient and well-organised the stewarding operation was. The second was that this was no accident but was instead the product of plenty of hard work in the days leading up to Sunday. This is the kind of thankless, voluntary effort we take for granted all the time but, you know, we shouldn’t.

Because there were a few thousand of us supporters ringed around the ground, there was a decent enough atmosphere at the game. The diffident urgings from the fans couldn’t, however, compete with the staccato shouts from the players on the pitch nor indeed with the more guttaral promptings of James Horan that boomed with frequency around the ground throughout the game.

The game itself was, of course, an utter mismatch. Perched high on the bleachers at the Albany end we got to witness in rather grisly detail the way in which our speedsters repeatedly tore holes in the Leitrim backline. Not even the heavy shower of rain that tumbled from the leaden sky for much of the opening half could dampen our mood as we feasted our eyes on Mayo’s incessant attacks.

The contest was well over before half-time but the day was never really about the game itself. It would have been a shock of seismic proportions – even accounting for Mayo’s recent Covid travails – if Leitrim had prevailed but there was never any sense that this would happen.

No, this game was, for me at any rate, a taste of the world we’d once enjoyed before Covid struck, as well as a glimpse of the new normality we’re inching towards in the second year of this pandemic era we’re all living through. There may only have been one team in it on Sunday but, for those of us who made it to MacHale Park, it felt, for the first times in ages, that we were all back in the game.

This piece first appeared in this week’s edition of the Mayo News.

28 thoughts on “Back in the game

  1. Lovely post WJ.

    I think we’re all searching for that sense of a return to ‘normality’ right now. I haven’t been home in nearly two years now. I really never thought I could stay away that long. The day I walk back into a Mayo game will be a very emotional one!

  2. Great writing there WJ. I enjoyed it immensely.

    And yes. Fair play to all those volunteers who give up their time to make sure that the rest of us can go out and enjoy the games in a safe manner. They do a mighty job.

  3. I’ll echo that, Willie Joe .. fair play to all volunteers working gratis for the GAA, .. it’s the same in Croke Park, I had a season ticket for over a decade up until last year and you get to know the same faces, Men and Women at the same stations of the Cusack Stand all doing it for the love of the game.. I know most of the usual heads in Mchale Park for years.. There would not be a GAA without them… A lovely piece of writing as well Wilie Joe, you might concider writing about going for an indoor pint next Monday, that too will be an Alien experience for me, when it happens… But for me, those hammerings dished out by Golaith v David in recent times, is not good… It definitely won’t be like that Galway v Mayo…It would probably be easier to pick the lottery numbers than pick the Mayo team, I couldn’t possibly guess as to what really is James Horan strongest 15.. And then there is Covid issues, either some infected or close contacts, and our injuries and how near to full fitness are so many?… Even at full fitness, have the younger guns, gotten ahead of them in the pecking order?… Certainly I guess it makes Padraig Joyce job of doing his man on man preparation harder, ..2021…6 wins out of 6, .. only Westmeath and Clare gave any type of worthwhile opposition at all…We haven’t been tested at all, and Galway most definitely have… Probably A v B behind closed doors, will have enlightened James Horan, enough to be ready for the Tribesmen..

  4. Tickets for the Dublin v Mayo game is the next issue coming over the horizon. Will we get 50% of them? I doubt it. I can see us getting shafted there. The Dubs getting a huge proportion of them.

    I would keep a close eye on who is nominated to referee that game too. The Dubs will need all the help they can get now with ‘Cluckogate’ about to rock their steady ship.

    Oh yeah. Galway. Another handy one for Mayo. No problem there.

  5. New podcast episode is now online. Mike, Ed and myself are on it and we cover shifting the Connacht final to Croke Park and the U20 dramatics as well as reviewing the Leitrim game.

  6. Jeepers, lads, ye are putting the heart crossways in me talking about Dublin and Mayo. I think I need to go to lie down. I’d be urging caution against Galway first. Deep breaths now ; )

  7. @Swallow Swoops, dead right what you are saying.. Last Winter, Peter Keane way down in the County Kerry, was rehearsing the blanket V Cork cos he taught he would be playing Dublin down the line, if he makes a similar mistake again, he won’t be the Kerry manager much longer… The hasn’t been thrown in yet v Galway.. learn the lesson!

  8. Me and all Swallow Swoops. This takes me back to prior to the Galway game in 2016 when there was a rather animated discussion on here about what to do with Cluxton’s kickouts. Kevin Walsh put an end to that chat then. Focus, focus!

  9. We beat Galway by a point in the Connacht final last year hanging on in the end. What has happened since.
    1. Galway have played 5 game against division 1 teams. We have played 4 division 2 teams and 2 division 4 teams.
    2. Galway have Comer and Cooke back this year. We are missing Cillian o Connor plus the retired players.
    3. We have key players like Keegan, Diarmuid, Kevin Mac injured – they wont be 100% fit by Sunday week.
    3. our squad cant train together a week before the game because of Covid concerns.
    It’s going to be tight and go right down to the wire. Anyone who thinks different are fooling themselves. We cannot judge where we are at because we have played nothing this year yet.

  10. There won’t be much more than a kick of a ball in it either way . That’s the reality of it . It might go or way. It might not . Depending on availability of certain players I’d be relatively confident but certainly not overly confident of getting the win .
    Our full back line remains a huge worry even with everyone available

  11. Agree completely Southmayo Exile. I don’t understand how people can be cocky about this match. It’s advantage Galway all day long. Their Div1 experience will count massively. Sport is all about intensity. Plus, as you say, all our injuries, retirements etc …

  12. If let’s say Mayo we’re to somehow overcome Galway and get to the All-Ireland semi to face the blue wave, what attendance would be permitted would ya say to croker for that one?

  13. 36k theyre saying but honestly who knows with this covid . One minute you think we are heading towards an exit from it all and then next thing you know WHO are predicting new more deadly variants.

  14. 36k sounds very reasonable..by the 14th or 15th of August a huge proportion of the overall population will be vaccinated and have antibodies ready to go against variants. Delta may be a huge multiplier and there will be an enormous amount of positive cases but vaccines have to prevent very severe disease, hospitalisation and deaths. This time won’t be like last January which was horrific. I’d feel safe going to a half full croker in 4 weeks.
    And ya know we have a fairly decent squad now….I’d hate to not be there if we actually actually buried the monster

  15. Can’t see us beating Galway. They have everyone fit and actually training together. Joyce said today Walsh is fully fit. There are too many unknowns about where we’re at. Our full back line is so suspect. We could actually get ripped apart back there and concede a lot of goals. Lesser teams have scored plenty of goals against us this year and let’s face it, Galway are a damn good team and fast improving. It will a brilliant result if we win connacht this year but certainly not a given. At any rate, I’ll go and enjoy the day!

  16. Tuamstar, I’d take for granted that the players aren’t getting ready for Dublin. It’s some of the fans that are losing the run of themselves!

  17. Tuamstar – I heard from a reliable source that Padraic Joyce asked the Galway county board to try get Connaught final played in Croke Park. He said he wanted the team to have a run out in Croke Park before they meet Dublin there in the semifinal.
    Padraic Joyce planning for Dublin!!!

  18. Can’t see us winning this one, honestly it doesn’t matter where its played. The Covid situation really has thrown a spanner in the works, and thats without Cillian and possibly Lee Keegan. The lads cant even collectively train this week. Genuinely can’t see how Galway could lose this one. Least we’ll get a run out in Croker! Galway will be ate alive by Dublin.

  19. There are lads here saying Galway have everyone fit. I think you mean they have no injuries, the team has not looked that fit at all. Then ran out of juice again Monaghan and if Roscommon took their point opportunities after they conceded the second goal they could have won it. They also have a very limited bench. It will still be a tight game, Galway have the physicality and we have the fitness.

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