The senior county squad held a well-publicised training camp in Belmullet last week. Proud Erris native John Cuffe reflects on the locality the lads got to sample while they were there.
Photo: John Cuffe
What is it about the word Mayo and the national papers? The mere mention of it in GAA terms has the scribblers reaching for the cliché dictionary and the funny jokes pamphlet. So when Kerry went to Spain for a spot of training, a quiet week in the press was enlivened by the news that Mayo were heading to Belmullet to fine tune for their forthcoming championship.
And why shouldn’t they? A few months ago they were in deep Florida so they had soaked up considerable vitamin D and deepened the tans. It’s now the turn of Paul Galvan and the Gooch to feel a little heat on the tired limbs and top up their tans. Meanwhile Mayo went to Belmullet but what did they find there I ask?
Well more than likely the exact same as the boys from the Kingdom except that the language spoken was the language of ourselves. The people met were cut from the same cloth and hold the same aspirations as the panel of young men who took the road West in search of the extra edge.
Belmullet, Blacksod, Elly Bay, Erris Head and Carne sand banks are places that would grace the pages of the National Geographic or any travel book in the world. The Mayo panel and management team arrived in Erris on Wednesday and were billeted in the Broadhaven Bay hotel on the edge of the town.
It’s one of a number of new hotels that has opened in the area. There the players had access to a state of the art gym and swimming pool. From there, after having access to top class cuisine, they were bussed out to the two-million GAA complex that Belmullet GAA club opened two years ago. All weather pitches, gyms, boardrooms, dining facilities were put at the disposal of the county team by this progressive Gaeltacht club.
Early morning training sessions on one of the many magnificent beaches that adorn the area were the recipients of thirty young men running on sand and recuperating in the salt water. Sean Boylan took the Meath team on to the sands of Bettystown and the Hill of Tara. No one thought that funny.
As the team trained and availed of the top class facilities in our own county, the word went out. Countless children and the adult kids descended respectfully to observe their heroes. Some day, drive the road from Blacksod to Castlebar and see how long it takes. Now the local people had their team, the Mayo team in their own town, as far west as you can go. Imagine the dreams that the young children had that night.
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. The Mayo players visited Blacksod Bay and the local fishermen took them out. They showed them the islands. They allowed them to fish for the specimen fish that teem in the bay. Others jet skied swam and boated. That night they were hosted in Teach John Joe whose host John Gallagher himself gave sterling service in the Green and Red of Mayo. The players were now exposed to fans whom they possibly never ever met before. The bond between those hardy seaboard folk and their football team could have been only strengthened. Next time Mayo players walk on to a pitch in Croke Park they will now realise how big a county we live in and how far west…west really is.
Teach John Joe, as indeed all the other hostelries in the area, spared no expense or effort in ensuring that the representatives of our county were treated in a manner befitting their status and the esteem they are held in. Amongst the healthy nutritious food the team ate in the area was fresh fish and produce caught and grown in the area and served by the locals.
They visited Carne golf club, one of the world’s most renowned links courses. As they drove the balls into the wild beauty that nestles this course bordered by the nearby Atlantic I have no doubt that the trip to Belmullet will have given the time and the space to reflect and to prepare for the journey that lies ahead of them. Unlike Spain, this time the team were amongst their own people. The meeting of both can only benefit us all.
As is the habit down in Erris, a micro climate exists. The sun shone, the weather held and the tired limbs got a chance to heal. Those that sit in city desks sharpening their pencils and sending emails to their equally bored mates might be better off to take the train west sometime. Get on the Blacksod bus and get off in Belmullet. Visit any of the fine hotels in the area. Go for a pint in Teach John Joes or McDonnell’s AKA the Lobster Pot.
On their return journey they can tell the rest of the country of that secret place that still exists where decency and good manners are the norm. Where a top class team of the stature of Mayo trained in facilities that equalled if not surpassed the best that Benidorm or any other hotspot might offer. Then they might whisper to others, go there and see for yourselves…you won’t be disappointed.