Home alone

The madness that is the lead-in to an All-Ireland final has yet to take hold fully and so, while we’re still in reflective mode, here’s John Cuffe with some ruminations on home and the contest that lies ahead of us.

I try and make it back home every September if I can. When I was employed by the man, being the junior employee, my summer holidays came in autumn. Lucky me, I got beautiful weather and managed to get to see the old home village as we headed into the autumn with the first smell of turf fires and the purple clouds hovering above Sliabh Mor.

I now go home alone. The kids are either at school, work or unemployed. I travel down to honour na daoine nach marainn níos mo, mo mhathair agus mo athair. I love the peace, the meeting of old school mates and maybe the chance to remember life as it used to be or maybe should have been.

Leaving Dunboyne on the Monday after THAT match my only concern was whether to pay the eye-watering €1.72 for petrol in the village or get it for €1.68 in Maynooth. Gunning onto the motorway, the west opened ahead of me, not a cloud in the sky. I turned on Pat Kenny after 11am but instead got Miriam O’Callaghan. Is there nothing this woman cannot do?

Just as I was about to twist to RNG I picked up this flat-lined long time emotion-drained voice talking to Miriam. It was about Mayo and its footballers. Within seconds I knew it to be John O’Mahony. As he spoke I looked out through the windscreen to see if it was raining. No, but John’s voice does that to me: bad weather, against the odds eternally, hang-dog face intertwined with a demeanour always seen near graveyards.

I gripped the steering tight as I heard him laud the Mayo 2004/06 outfit and how Mayo went on a rebuilding exercise four years back. I pulled in, sent a text to Miriam which she ignored. I am assuming the matches in 2010 against Cork in the National League final, Sligo and the surrender to Longford were all part of the master plan rebuilding programme as envisaged by Johnno.

I am on a diet, trying to lose a few ton. I had to fight every unnatural impulse not to pull into Athlone and load up with lucozade, crisps and fruit and nut, so angry was I. I switched away Effing and Bbbbing out loud and picked up Mícheál Ó Mhuircheartaigh being interviewed on RNG. “An bfuil seans a bí ag Muigheo?” posed the bean an tí. Mícheal, in that beautiful voice of his pondered and replied “Tá an seans ag Muigheo, agus is silim fein gur mbainfidh síad é”.

The lady feigned surprise. Mícheál continued sé túilte ag Muigheo, dfhan síad dilis don cad, níor threig síad a duchas”. Mayo were loyal to football in its natural format and they never betrayed their nature was the gist of Mícheál’s homily. For that alone they merit it, said he. I felt better after that and the hunger pangs went.

Stopping in Ballina I called to see my friend Michael Gallagher of the Western. We met in the foyer, two Erris men wearing shorts and t-shirts. That’s what living near America does to you. We chatted away when a dapper man entered the office. “Hello Joe” said Mick. My boyhood hero stood yards from me: Joe Corcoran with his US army crew cut, greyer but otherwise the same Joe from yore.

(Image: Ardnaree Sarsfields website)

His humility, his manner and his greatness made my day. On my way out as I bade farewell I came across old Ballina stalwart Tommy Knight. Tommy was solid and hadn’t aged a day. Must be the Mayo air? Leaving Ballina, I sensed calmness about the place – no yahooing, no giddy daftness, just glad to be back for the big one.

On through Crossmolina to Corrick and its disappeared power station, accompanied by the Abhannmór all the way to Bangor. What a lucky people we are, magnificent scenery, a team in an All Ireland and the winter ahead. I thought of how my father drove this road on his bus for forty years. I thought of the night he came across a suitcase lying in the middle of the road.

Stopping the bus, he put the case in its cavern-sized boot. The case was dropped from the roof of a taxi that was bringing home the seasonal workers from Scotland in time for Christmas. Loyal to my father and the bus, he fully understood their need to get home as soon as possible and by any mode. Next morning a man hailed the bus. “Tom I lost my suitcase and I don’t know where….” he began. He then started to apologize for not using the bus.

My father whished him to stop, walked around to the boot, opened it and asked “Is that it?” Christmas was saved for the family. That was in the early 1960s. The tale was regaled to me in McDonnells in Belmullet last August 15th by the grateful traveller from across the ages … memories, memories and memories.

Driving over Glosh hill with its sentinel guardian Napoleonic tower eyeful of the gathering Atlantic beneath it, I was home at last. Again the smell of turf climbing to the skies from the chimneys, the scent of the salt and spray from the sea confirmed I was back. Opening the door to the house, the geranium that I tended since my mother long passed away greeted me with its aroma.

Over the next few days as the sky scorched and sea heaved and rolled I met my old friends. A greeting in Irish, a switch to English to accommodate me, and then back to the cúpla focal to close out the chat, all about Mayo and its eternal quest for the Big One. I often wonder does the rest of Mayo ever wonder about those people back there. Every bit as passionate as those that reside within the epicentre of power in a twenty-mile circle around Castlebar.

Falmore, Glosh, Tirrane, Elly, Blacksod, Tarmon….all with flags fluttering high and proud and – do you know what? – all those that live there will do well to cadge even two tickets for the mighty day. Are they any the less Mayo people for that? By God no! Their loyalty, their knowledge of the game is unrivalled. Not for them the morbid south Mayo dread, fear and jaundiced eye that’s cast towards Galway. They are so far away from Galway that they are just another team, a noble rival not a giant tree that stops the sun shining in.

Going home – as opposed to going home, if you get my drift – I left Blacksod Bay behind me and retraced my steps back east. Nephin to my right and on my left the across Killala Bay are the mountains that stretch down to Glencolumbcille. My mother hailed from up there, Gweedore, a place that is home to me as well but whom for now is my implacable enemy. Truly we live in a parish in Ireland.

Finally I cross into Roscommon, ninety miles almost from Blacksod Bay. What in God’s name and why in God’s name has such a mighty county tiptoed through the daisies all those years? I have almost half my journey completed and I have only cleared Mayo. Hopefully on a September Sunday Mayo and its men will let the ghosts of times past rest easy and begin a new odyssey for a new generation.

Ahead of me lay my family and fond thoughts, great dreams and one unfulfilled ambition. One more heave, men, and we will all be home again.

(Blacksod photos by John Cuffe)

73 thoughts on “Home alone

  1. Wonderful article John and gorgeous pictures. I had been wondering why you hadn’t posted your valued comments on the semi final. Do you know a man called Pab Murphy in Blacksod? He is a walking history of Erris

    I’m still basking in the glorious satisfaction of that match and getting involved in the usual scramble for tickets.

  2. I have to say that is a wonderful piece John. Mayo is a mighty county of many parts as you point out. We have been hit more than any other county by the curse of emigration which has led to the dimming of our power as a footballing force though.
    I was amazed to read back in the census results that Mayo was the third most populous county in the 1926 census ahead of Galway in fourth. Since then we have steadily scattered to the four winds. Generations lost.

  3. Great article John-brings back a lot of memories to those of us an ocean away.

    Makes us proud of who we are, where we came from and what we stand for.

    Between you and the other contributors on here-you’d shame some of the So called professionals.

  4. John I admire your passion and grá for the old sod and everyhting Mayo and I enjoyed your article very much. I wasnt impressed by JOM’s last period in charge of Mayo either. However, he is a proud Mayo man and I think now is not the time for having a go at him. I am reminded of the line from our own anthem:
    “Boys stick together in all kinds of weather
    Dont show the white feather wherever you go
    Be like a brother and love one another
    Like stout hearted men from the County Mayo”

    As to the big day – I have never been as confident in all my 50 or so years following The Boys from the County Mayo!

  5. We won’t be home alone if we win Game 5 … we’ll all be home together !
    There is no getting away from what Game 5 means to our county … no getting away from what it would mean to our people whether at home our abroad … no getting away from its importance whether we have tickets or not … no getting away from what it means to the Mayo Brotherhood & Sisterhood … no getting away from past generations of Mayo people who sought the Holy Grail before us.
    What a day it’s going to be for us when we eventually get over the line !
    We are almost afraid to dream.
    For the seventh time in modern memory ( since 1989) we get to compete for footballs’ biggest prize … a truly astonishing statistic in itself.
    Our crushing experience with the previous six attempts has shot our natural optimism to pieces and left us fearful and unsure of ourselves … afraid to enjoy the run up to Sept 23rd.
    What a contrast with the finals in ’89 and the ’90s.
    However this is an experience we can now use to our advantage and it is no co-incidence that in James Horan & James Nallen we now have two guiding lights from the previous attempts.
    I now want to talk about the football we played against Dublin in our first real test of the summer. The stuff we played either side of half time was right up there with the best I have seen. The delivery to the inside forwards was fast, accurate and new for us.
    The dark arts at the end were a joy to behold … how beautiful it was to see young fit men cramping up at critical moments and even better they knew when to foul and take one for the team.
    We may need 23 players again on the 23rd as this final is going to be played at one hell of a pace so at least 3 players will have to spill blood and take cuts for the team.
    The wheels almost came off our wagon against Dublin and in truth we got over the line with just one nut holding.
    The first nut flew off early on when there was no defending on Michael Darragh McAuley. If a defender decides to challenge for a high ball then he must win that ball.
    Alternatively he stays on the ground and wraps up his man when he comes down with the ball. Neither happened … first nut off.
    The second nut flew off when the first nut was never put back on, when Dublin (All Ireland champions remember) upped their game as was inevitable with good substitutions, when Jason Doherty took nothing from his chance at the start of the Dublin comeback, when the Mayo midfield started to tire as was inevitable, when Mayo re-inforcements at Midfield & Centre Back were slow/late in coming, and when Kevin McLoughlin was off the pitch.
    Whilst we were gasping for air the third nut flew off. We got two chances to interrupt the Dublin flow but critically took neither. Jason Gibbons elected to pass when he needed to hammer the ball home himself and Michael Conroy took nothing from his chance.
    With one nut still on we were now wobbling precariously but there was one spanner left which was well shared between David Clarke, Seamus O Shea & Cillian O Connor.
    Together they tightened the last nut and we found ourselves over the line.
    For Game 5 we will not be able to afford the luxury of one nut off continually.
    This game is going to be fast and furious and last about 80 minutes. We are going to need earlier pre-planned substitutions …. Jason Gibbons and Seamus O Shea need to see at least 35/40 minutes of game-time each.
    When a team gets a run on us we need to interrupt the flow with a point here and there … no going for goals, bad wides or spilled ball in this period.
    All storms eventually pass … you just need to see them out.
    All famines pass also … may ours pass on the 23rd.

  6. Wonderful piece John reminds me of childhood and home Great pictures but were hardly needed as we could nearly see as much through your words You remind me of a story I heard years ago of two young men from your area heading for Dublin On reaching Charlestown stopped for food as almost halfway there The waiter asked where they were from and they replied together MAYO

  7. A very sentimental yet inspiring piece John. Many of the places and ppl you refer to are familiar and when its penned so eloquently by yourself, it brings back those memories of home, growing up, the parish, Sunday morning mass, all us young fellas piling into a fiat 127 after mass which was driven by a lad not much older than ourselves, but whom we thought walked on water…someone we looked up t; then…togging out on the pitch and kicking the ball! ah…those were great days.. Football on Sunday afternoons.
    Richard subsequently alluded to the scourge emigration has taken on our beloved county…I can relate to that. Not that I am feeling sorry for my situation, or blaming anyone, I’m not, but for my own son (and daughters!), who is only a buckeen right now, it’s something he/they will never experience. Yes, he will play football, just not the one I played, loved and remember so fondly.
    Yet, on the 23’rd, over here, the buckeen, and the girls will be togged out in the green and red, proudly flying the flag and shouting for hero’s they wil only ever see through a computer screen. My other half, herself a Cork girl and GAA nut, looks at me with pity and understanding. I look back at her and say..no, you dont understand, you really have no idea….yes! this is football…but its more than that…its home, its parish, its club, its tradition, but most of all, its what it means to Mayo people everywhere.

  8. “two Erris men wearing shorts and t-shirts. That’s what living near America does to you”
    That just cracked me up brilliant!!
    Lovely stuff John Thanks
    .

  9. Decent article but I dont see the point of having a go at John O Mahony. Yes his second term was not great especially his final year but he has contributed hugely to Mayo football with U21 success.. Back to back Connacht titles in 1988 and 1989 and of course that appearance in the AIl Ireland final v Cork, our first for 38 years. Think he deserves respect not abuse for that.

  10. Lovely John.

    For what its worth the run in to the All Ireland is all about tickets for me.

    Here is what to look out For:

    1. The Perennial Ticket Giver- This man will always say he can get you a ticket’ no bother’ He has more contacts than Barrack Obama and sure he wouldn’t let down an old friend. Trouble is his contacts -Chairperson/Secretary of the Co.Board,someone in Croke Park,the club, a local politician always leave the tickets where he could not get them .Next time though.

    2.The Perennial ticket hoarder- This guy has his tickets but is still looking,trying every nook and cranny. He invariably ends up asking strangers do they want tickets on match day. No good to anyone.

    3. The fella who doesn’t ralise you needed one- Sure why didn’t you ask me -I had loads.

    4.The fella who isn’t going to go himself but watch it on the telly ‘I’d see more that way’.Arrive in Croke Park and there he is -Last minute decision.

    5. The Club Man /Co.Secretary/Politician – Never seen it as bad. You couldn’t get one for love or money. Any other year ,against any other team! Unlucky the way it fell. Only got a few hundred could have done with twenty thousand.

    6. Me and you- If you do get one no pressure ok? Do your best.
    We will never get tickets! Sad,really.

  11. John, as an erris man I enjoyed your article, mind you, you could not resist having a go at johnno!
    To all, the longer that we go without winning, the nearer that great day dawns, while Donegal will be a huge challenge, we have every chance, I have every confidence that the team will do what they need to do, as fans we need to be ready to give them our full support.
    It’s amazing how many tickets show up in the last few days before the final.

  12. I can’t see how anything in John’s piece could be interpreted as “abuse” of JOM, Declan. I think most people would be aware of JOM’s fine managerial record with the county up to 1989 but it’s the record from 2007 onwards that grates and it was that which John was referring to and not in any kind of abusive way. I agree, though, with diehard’s point that the run-up to an All-Ireland isn’t the time to be engaging in rows about former managers.

  13. I hate to say it, but that was a lovely piece, your a good writer you don’t talk about football.

  14. Thanks men. Gráinne Uaile I do indeed know Pab Murphy, a scholar and folklorist of the highest order and a man that has the history of Erris within his heart. Went to school with him. Didn’t have a go at O Mahony, wrote what I personally feel about him as Mayo manager post 2007 and I respect anyone that holds another view. Again greatful thanks for the feedback and the man who created this forum for us from Mayo. Willie Joe gives that chance to express ourselves and our county. Míle buiochas

  15. Agree with you John about J o Mahony, he’s hardly a laugh a minute. But were there not people talking about, omens & curses before the Dublin match.? I suppose Mayo are a sentimintal people, we can overdo the sentimantality too. I will try & not get too emotional before the match, except that I will be be proud of the team & their ability, dedication conviction, come what may! Proud of the whole county too. I hope the team stay objective, From what I know of the Mayo Players & their manager, their very positive, but very objective & I would say they will be in the right frame of mind come game 5…………… Diehard I agree with you, about JOM but I wont be singing ‘The boys from the county mayo’ dreadfull excuse for a song, you wrote the few lines that have any meaning, the rest is place names, in Mayo & all around the world. Reminds me of a documentry about Johney Cash, he tells the story how he wrote the ‘forty shades of green’ he had never been to Ireland before and on his way he decided to write a song about the country, so he looked at a map of Ireland on the plane and saw all the place names and wrote ‘the forty shades of greenl’ I think who ever wrote ‘the boys from the county Mayo’ done the same thing! We now have a rousing song ‘the Green & Red of Mayo’ The last time Mayo won in Croke Park on All Ireland wad 1985 & the song played before the minor match was ‘the west’s awake’ another rousing song that is about something, the 1798 rebellion! In 1989 , 96 ,97, 04 & 06 ‘moonlight in Mayo’ was the song played!

  16. Brilliant piece John … As a Castlebar man I can tell you that everyone within that 20 mile radius is well aware of the rest of the county. Everyone from Mayo, whether they are in Ireland or further afield are all in this together … C’mon Mayo

  17. Fantastic piece John Cuffe. Both emotive & entertaining.

    Wille Joe, I wonder if there’s merit in creating a page on your site for John’s previous writings. There must be a good few pieces at this stage. 

    To add to that I’m sure if John produced a book of Mayo football prose it would be purchased by this online community. There’s certainly enough material on this site to fill the first 50 pages.

  18. I hadn’t thought about that, First Gen Dub, but it might be an option to create a page with links to all of the guest posts, sorted by author, which would do the trick. The book idea is a good one too, I reckon, but beyond my brief I’m afraid!

  19. This week’s selection by the Irish Daily Star of All Stars if they were picked now show six Mayo players, five from Donegal, two Dubs and one each from Cork and Meath. The Mayo players chosen are David Clarke, Ger Cafferkey, Lee Keegan, Barry Moran, Alan Dillon and Michael Conroy. Interesting?

  20. Lovely piece John, I could start to smell the turf smoke as I read through it. The road will get narrower day by day for the next 12 days so we will all be stepping together by the 23rd. The contrast in voices betwenn Johnno and Micheál is perfect, give me that lovely soft Kerry blas anyday.

  21. I will probably be the only dissenter on this piece .I am from south Mayo and I do not look with fear and jaundiced eye towards Galway and I would prefer if somebody from Erris would not make that claim.We are as passionate about Mayo football as any body else and I do not see why you have to make the absurd claim that Erris people are more knowledgeable and passionate about Mayo football than people from other parts of Mayo.I agree with your take on J.O.M and if he is taking any credit for our current success then he deserves to be pulled up on it.

  22. I’m from Cadtlebar & I agree with you Tom B, I know several people from South Mayo that celebrated with Galway in Tuam in 1998, Many I that I knew were on TV, it works both ways I seen north Galway people that I know supporting Mayo in Croker. I think All Connaught normally shouts for our neighbours, I hope the lady sitting next to me if I get a ticket is half as good looking as the Roscommon lady supporting Mayo, that sat beside me last day against Dublin! And the same result !

  23. PS Tom B, she might even be twice as good looking a the Rossie girl, a tall order but if she’s supporting Donegal, I wont be adking for her telephone number!

  24. The reference to Johnno in John’s fine piece reminds us of both the good and the bad during that reign. Johnno’s last league campaign showed Mayo at their best (and worst). We trounced Galway in Castlebar, playing brilliant football and gave Joe Kernan a nightmare of a start; did he ever recover? We ground out victories over Tyrone, Derry and Kerry, all away from home. However the final against Cork – the beginning of the end. Heaney’s poem about the Croppy comes to mind; ‘ the hillside blushed’.

    And, we started brightly in 2007, reaching the league final in that year too and taking the scalps of Kerry, Cork and Tyrone. But, guess what? We lost twice to Donegal, the second time in the final, where we were truly awful. The Mayo News reported that Donegal ‘built a wall of ball winners across the middle of the field, and crashed through Mayo’s half back line time and again’. Our record against Donegal IS very bad, and that is something in itself that should motivate, from 1992, to 2007 and though to this year’s collapse in Ballyshannon; they didn’t even have to drag us to Ballybofey

    By the way, where was I able to dig out the fine detail of all of this, to supplement my fading middle-aged memory? Why, in the wonderful archive service of this very blog, which, to remind posters, not only has all the results, but also the team sheets and links to the match reports in the various print media. Perhaps Willie Joe could work on having the Irish Times archives available to us!

  25. i will admit to knowing nothing about south mayo apart from its footballers , to me it was a place you passed through on the way up to visit the cousins in galway , you might go castlebar , ballinrobe , headford , or else castlebar , claremorris, tuam . towns like balla or ballindine , maybe stopped off and was bought a can of coke or fanta and a bar of dairy milk ,

    later in secondary school if we bet our neighbours in crossmollina or in ballycastle we might branch off and head down south for a hammering , CBS ballinrobe first years were all a foot taller , knew each other since the age of 4 and bet us 6-14 to 1-0 . they called for a pass by using nicknames , here monkey , here toolbox.. by the time we were playing juvenile the erris men had caught up to them in stature and in the use of nicknames, we lost but nowhere near as badly and that was progress enough. we werent old enough to steal their women so we looted their shops instead , match magazine , shoot , trays of yoghurt , full boxes of cornetto and every brand of chewing gum were lifted and brought back to the barony in gaughans bus.

    south mayo deserves our respect as they have produced the finest of players down through the years, we are all in this together and i cannot hide my delight that chris barrett did not look out of company last week .

    and as for galway , i would cheer for them above any other county , and they will be cheering for us , you can be sure of that.

  26. Great stuff John, can well relate to all of that.
    If all goes well on Sunday week, I’ll be heading back that way from Dublin.

    Interesting to note what Grainne Uaile posted about the all stars. I see yet again that McLoughlin isn’t mentioned. Unbelievable really, he should be up there for footballer of the year, never mind an all star.
    Couldn’t really argue with the other selections, although Higgins should be selected while Conroy might need a strong final performance to be nominated.

  27. John your reference to south Mayo supporters is unfair and incorrect. Very few in South Mayo look at Galway in the way you mention. When we play them we always believe we can beat them and when we lose we support them. Proper order. As regards the stout hearted men of Erris I am sure many more bloggers look on their days in places like Belmullet and Achill with a little less doey ewed views than you do. Obviously you will never experience visiting there as an opposition team. Take it from me it is not pleasant – give me Ballina or Castlebar any day. When there we do not really have a warm feeling where we smell the turf fires and view the sweeping hills and cliffs. I feel that your piece is over sentimental and has little to do with life in the current economic climate. And I am not hard and heartless. I will shed tears if Mayo win on the 23rd.

  28. Keep concentrating on the football Lobitin !
    In the run-up to the All Ireland we need to keep our eye on the ball !
    As a youngster I travelled on your fathers bus a few times myself John but never lost a suitcase !
    There was one occasion when the suitcase was still there but the bus was gone !
    One of the great sights for me is when you come over the little hill at Falmore Cemetery and see the Broad Atlantic laid out in front pockmarked with the islands. All of your senses are assailed with the mighty roar of the ocean and the whiff of the sea spray.
    No matter where we are from in the county we are all branches of the same tree, we all love our own home place and we are stronger when we stick together.
    The savage loves his native shore and lets hope the savages will be loving it a lot on the 23rd.

  29. Hopefully lobitin there will be a fair few donegal women for you to console after the game, to the victor the spoils .
    sinabhuil you were not on any team i played against, we made it far too east for any visitors as D’unbelievables say ” we might as well have made tay for them ” 🙂

  30. Lobitin – I agree with you The Boys from the County Mayo is a thoroughly miserable musical offering. The Green & Red of Mayo – now there’s a song to shtur the blood. It was a briliant experience to stand in the bottom of the Cusack and sing along with all our supporters after the Dublin match. And I look forward to doing the very same on Sunday week and as I said in a previous post – I was never as confident in all my time following Mayo! I do think we will win………(and I am usually regarded as a bit of an auld pessimist!)

    I reckon Donegal have yet to come up against the kind of stuff we can throw at them: intensity and tackling on a par with their own, a lot of creativity and variety in our play and a handful of top class footballer with a huge appetite for success. Remember that Cork played at a lot lower level of intensity than we will and yet they could have snook it.

  31. Superb piece – as per usual.

    And I absolutely agree with your sentiments in relation to our former manager. Took the job for all the wrong reasons.

  32. It might be worth noting that Andy Murray won the US Open at Flushing Meadows last night,he also won gold at the Olympics. Fred Perry was the last British man to achieve this double in 1936 the same year Mayo won the Sam Maguire.Could this be an omen and could the ‘cruiscin lan’ be going to the men from the Moy.

  33. Thank you John.
    Nothing like that moment when you reach the top of the hill in surgeview.
    Bless your poetic soul.

  34. That’s a lovely piece John Cuffe. Its very Well written! You obviously have a talent with the peann luaidhe.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Johns comments concerning O Mahoney. I too switch to a different radio or tv channel when I hear or see him. For him to suggest that he in any way has contributed to the success of the current set up is just pure lies and an act of desperation. He left Mayo in a shambles and took the Mayo job in the first place for his own political gain. Anyone who defends him is deluded. I get so angry when I think of what took place under his tenure.

    Thank God though we have Game 5 to look forward to on the 23rd of Sept and credit can only be afforded to the whole of the current management team who have not only changed our methods and style but also instilled a belief in the players that is getting results.

  35. Enjoyed reading the piece John,as always but was taken aback at the views expressed about other parts of the county.I find that the further and longer you are away, the more dearly every bit of it is held precious in your being.

  36. As you might guess from my name I grew up in Co. Clare. In the hurling heartland of that county. Where hurling is as emotive a subject as football is in Mayo where I now live.

    I played hurling but could never make the first team when I was the age. I had to wait until I was old enough for the Junior B team and even then I was not sure of my place. I had poor eyesight, a definite pace deficit and hurled with left hand on top and favoured my right hand side for striking. I used to tell anyone who listened that I modelled my striking on Joe Cooney. That’s where the comparisons ended.

    Following the fortunes of The Banner was a ritual laden with trepidation every summer. You were guaranteed at least one day out. However the trip home from Semple stadium, Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Fitzgerald Stadium or the Gaelic grounds was often done with a heavy heart and full of “If Only” “ Why didn’t he” “when will we” and “there’s always next year”.

    In those days the back door was something you sneaked in home by on a weekend morning.

    In 1981 the Clare minors won a Munster championship and we were going to storm the citadel with that team. However reality soon set in and the barren years returned. The green shoots were trampled on.

    Work took me away from home and I lost my place on the subs bench on the Junior B team. Work brought me to Mayo and a Mayo woman gave me cause to stay here.. Not too much hurling to be seen but there was lots of football. So When in Rome .

    The 1989 final was my first taste of what football means to this county. Like everyone else I went along on the crest of that wave. We had two great weekends in Dublin for the semi final and final with the football briefly interrupting the frantic socialising. Alas no final victory to celebrate.The drive home for the defeated was longer than anything ever experienced after a Munster championship loss.

    Clare minor hurlers got to an All Ireland final that year too and lost to Offaly with Joe Dooley and Brian Whelehan. .

    I continued to cast an eye in the direction of the home county. A Mayo man, John Maughan, had started to train the footballers. He had his work cut out I thought . Football in Clare in those days was regarded as something they played “back west” and was full of stories of ringers at under age level coming across on the ferry from Kerry and togging out for finals but not appearing in the team photographs for “The Clare Champion”.

    Then lo and behold a Munster Championship in 1992 but not in my beloved hurling but in football and coached by a Mayo man.

    I am firmly of the belief that this is what inspired the Clare hurlers to their exploits from 1995 onwards. The saffron and blue flew outside the house for several summers and I was regarded by those who should have known better as a bit of an expert on hurling.

    I continued to follow the fortunes of my native and adopted county. I remember one great day in Croke park in 2006 when my sons had Mayo jerseys on for the game against Laois and then peeled them off to reveal Clare jerseys for the game v Kilkenny immediately afterwards. A draw and a loss on that day. The less said about the end result in 2006 the better.

    It was during this time in the mid noughties that I realised just how much football means to Mayo people. I did a little bit of coaching in my own club with Under 10s and 12s. teaching young fellows to “face the ball” get out in front” and to have equal respect for themselves, their team mates, the opposition, and the referee. The people of this county live and breathe football. The accents are different from Co. Clare but the sentiments expressed are the same. I got to meet lots of people from other clubs in every corner of the county and the conversation always turned to one thing. When was Sam coming to these parts?

    There are similarities between Clare in the 1990s and Mayo now. The long wait since previous success for one and most importantly a manager who had played for the county at the highest level and had a very clear vision of where to bring the team. Most importantly both squads are/ were backboned by a group of excellent players.

    As the 23rd gets neared the clamour for tickets increases and the anticipation reaches fever pitch all I can say to Mayo people everywhere is a Latin phrase “Carpe Diem” “Seize the Day”. There will never be another day like it. The time is now, not next year or the year after and let us have no more disconsolate and downbeat journeys back West.

  37. Very harsh on O Mahony I feel. I also feel that this is not the time to drag this up- we have a common foe and it is not fellow Mayomen. O Mahony did his best and it is churlish to run him down now.

    As for South v North Mayo the first sentence applies too.

    Lets start talking football. When we deviate from that it gets ‘cloudy’

    Enjoy all the opinions.

  38. I remember or should I say ill never forget sitting in a site canteen in swords Sept 99 ,the foreman,a belmullet man was asking all around him for tickets to the ai mayo minors were Playing down.somebody pointed out to him that I was also lookin a ticket.he asked me where I hailed from,c.bar I replied ,his response was.ah sure ur not a mayoman until u cross the blanket bog.it didn’t warrent a response.but like my comrades from all corners of our great county I a a proud mayo man,and as for cheering on galway I live in armagh and as much as northern folk love mayo,they are ulster men first so they will be supporting donegal as a good conaught man/woman should support their own

  39. Two stars once collided. A young Bob Dylan had opinions about country music. He came on the Johnny Cash show and they did a beautiful song called “One Too Many Mornings” or “1000 Miles behind”. They choose that song to duet. It suited Cash because it was country enough, it suited Dylan because he wrote it.

    However the battle site was of Johnny’s choosing. He sang the line “You’re right from your side Bob and I’m right from mine” without losing a note despite adding a word. Dylan knew the significance. Frantically chewing a piece of gum , the camera lingered on him and finally he gave the broadest grin ever before saying “I knew it!”

    Johnny fixed those dark eyes on him until the end of the song and the message was driven home. We all have opinions, WJ, you and I. We can be right and we can be wrong but the beauty is that we hold them and can express them. I seem to have hit a bum note in regards my view on south Mayo. Not so, its an observation from one person not one of Moses tablets. The nearer you live to a big rival , its natural that they are seen in a different way. That actually is a good thing but its also a different thing. My observation was just part of the tale from where I saw it, no more no less.

    John O Mahony has come in for strong defence. Again its only my opinion , the 40 plus comments on WJs fine blog is put into the shade by Johnnos 4000 first preferences in Mayo. However this is as good a time to look at the all the managers of Mayo since Liam O Neill who reignited Mayo football circa 1984. Johnno had 8 years in total reaching an AIF and winning 3 Connacht crowns. John Maughan had 7 years with 3 AIFs reached and 4 Connacht titles. Pat Holmes had 3 years with a national league title. In addition he claimed an AIU21 title in 2006. Micky Moran has 1 AIF from one season plus a Connacht crown. James Horan has 1 AIF plus 2 Connachts from 2 years, Brian McDonald has a Connacht title from one year and even Jack O Shea managed 2 Connachts. Anthony Egan had the poisoned chalice when all shied from it and kept a rocky ship stead. We owe him a big debt.

    At the end of the day we say what we want, whether its seen as sentimentality, maudlin, bullshit or a veiled slap at a sacred cow or two so be it. I say this;, thank your god for Mayo, Willie Joes site and freedom of expression.

  40. Nice piece to a point, your love for our county is obvious and your gra for the Erris region is only natural and not to be knocked.

    Re, Johno. His 07-10 period was disappointing , that much i agree on and i would have issue with the way he handled Mac.

    Make no mistake about it though, JOM is Mayo through and through. He taught me in Nathys and also coached our juvinile team one year, he is a gentleman to boot also. I can’t explain what went wrong in his last stint and i have no problem in criticising that period but as i have said, it does not make him any less of a Mayo man. He will take as much pleasure in Mayo winning sunday week as any of us.

    As for the north v South Mayo thing, it means nowt to me tbh, Mayo is Mayo. My aul fella is Achill and i’m as far East Mayo as you can go, so it’s all good to me.

    Mayo for Sam.

  41. John, I don’t think Kofi Annan will be calling to offer you a job at the UN anytime soon-LOL but what you are saying is 100% correct. There are real and imaginary boundaries within this great county of ours.

    It’s like Michael Commins saying that Conemara men are really Mayo men in exile and that they have way more in common with their neighbors than their fellow county men from hurling country.

  42. I get back to football, briefly Joey..I like to envisage the game we need to play to win, as many posters have noticed..we have got to assume Donegal will bring their A game, you see their game plan is quite simple to for them to replicate for Donegal. So my best guess is we will do a few different things, that we havent shown so far this championship. A few different things are in our favor, many of our players are very versatile, alot of James Horan’s earlier selections he played players out of position, eg Chris Barret played full back v Dublin in last years league. So we will be able to regig things untill we find their weak spot! We have 2 of the best tackle breakers in the buisness & both are very quick with the off load, Donal Vaughan & Aiden O’Shea, we have 2 of the best play makers in the business Alan Dillon & Kevin McLoughlin. I think Cillian might do some play making too linking up with Doherty, Varley & Conroy thats where we will get our scores from, we just have to score more than them, I think we will do despict their previously impregnable defence. We need to get the ball into a kickable position, maybe not the perfect position & then kick hopefully accuratly but definatly dead, if my memory serves me well I dont remember Donegal creating much from their own kickout, their best work is done on the turn over, we cant afford to play them at their own game. I think if you look back to the Donegal v Kerry game Antony Maher troubled Donegal something terrible despite 15 men behind the ball, My view is that Barry Moran can do something simalar. Incidently has anybody looked up Donegal on wikipedia..well according to ‘wikipedika’ tjeir football style is something akin to, wait for in FC Barcalona I kid you not!

  43. Good man Lobitin back to business We cant afford to be bickering in the sitting room
    to allow Daniel O Donnell sneak into the kitchen and steal the bowl of sugar Sure this goes on everywhere Cork say west cork are Kerry men with shoes At the end of the day we re all Mayo people all with a great love of our county and a great desire to see Sam come home Donegal was the the one team I did nt want to meet all year but as time goes by I m getting a good feeling about this No major baggage its not Kerry or Cork Yes Donegal are a fine team but so are we After watching Mayo all year I always said on the way home whatever the result this Mayo team will not lie down For that alone I feel proud and I ve no doubt I will be proud on the 23rd So one last push together MAYO forever

  44. Well said nephin. You are a rock of common sense just like your namesake the mountain. One final heave is what we need.
    And Lobitin we are not heartless here on the board … we have no objection to your mind wandering a little from the evening of the 23rd onwards !

  45. Heartwarming piece. good man.
    Was that last saturday you took the Pictures . I was home on a very sinilar mission meself . we went to to Blacksod to showa midlander the beauties of sea and mountain and could not have picked a better day for it . truly glorious.
    you should have reurned by keenagh ad got a right view of Nephin
    and dont heed them Keep putting the boot into O mahony

  46. Comparing Donegal to FC Barcelona? Sure I’ve never seen that Barcelona crowd make as much as one clean catch in the game apart from the goalie!!! They wouldnt make our Junior B team! No worries.

  47. My last word. Sorry lads I dont think it is heartwarming. Strip back the excellent prose and idealism and what you have in the run up to an All Ireland Final is an attack on the personality of a man who has given thousands of hours to the GAA and an accusation that one section of the county are not proper Mayo people in the first place and that an other section is more knowledgable than the rest of the county. It is an affront to the many hardworking GAA volunteers in the South who have worked to the point where there is only one junior club in the division. Stick to the football and leave the tourism to Failte Ireland and leave the slagging of Mayo to the Sligo and Rossie lads. Hiding behind the free speech principal does not hack it with me.

  48. Why is it that US President’s say “God Bless America!” Why isn’t it “God bless Tajikistan”? There will always be a local bias and opinion. Townie teams have ideas about culchies teams, and culchie teams have opinion about townie teams. You grow up in one place being led to believe what life is like in another place, regardless of the truth of the matter. It’s part myth, part craic. It’s nothing serious. If you were talking to one in a pub or at a match, what part of Mayo you are from doesn’t make a blind bit of difference.

  49. Also, Giovanni Trappatoni has worked in football for many thousands of hours, that doesn’t mean he should be immune from criticism. No one is taking those thousands of hours away from J O’M, or trying to say that he didn’t do any work as Mayo manager. People have differing levels of gratefulness, based on the results they see.

  50. Enough of thay nonsence about were ur from ,we,r all proud of our own corner our own parish be it belmullet, ballinrobe or were ever, i,m a erris man and dnt blame any south mayo man taken offence to them comments.As for john o mah. even though things did,t work out for him last time he still brought us to our first all ire in38 yrs in 1989 and we were in hard luck[great final] to lose to a gret cork team who had lost 2 finals them selfs to the royals, we know then wat happened btween our beloved county board and johno and he walked, he is indeed a proud mayo man and thats not easy coming from ballader. and the sheepstealers baaaaaa,n in your ear. On a positive note lets all stick together be it north,south,east or west in this great county of ours mayo and get behind the boys for sunday week…..MAIGHEO, TA AR LA AG TEACHT…

  51. Good piece, and September comes around so quickly and what a battle is in store. Scramble for tickets is on big time!

    Back to the football this will be like no other game we played in 2012. Clarke is a solid keeper and most of our backs have proved themselves. Lets hope Keegan gets back because I think he may have to take the 6 role. Michael Dara MacAuley had a field day for the dubs and was very close to man of the match and Im afraid Vaughan once again struggled. He loves going up the pitch and is effective at times but my god alot of the men he has been marking this summer have ran riot (Leitrim, Sligo and Dublin games). Barrett did well against Dublin I thought, as did feeney but Colm Boyle is such a tenacious player. There is competition for places all over and it is great to see!
    BM and SOS are 2 fine footballers and midfield will be some battle! Gibbons could have taken the goal as a poster said but at least he could be an option (could come on and support the 2 other lads maybe?). However SOS came on and got a point BUT what did he do after that when we had a sideline ball and needed to get possession or kill the ball, he kicked it straight to a dublin man…his distribution could have cost us big time once again. However, not all negatives as I said we have a great team and lots of our men are getting on the score line. Lets hope Dillon and McLoughlin play like they did, COC keeps kicking those frees and hopefully we’ll get one if not more of those goal chances we missed against the Dubs. UP MAYO

  52. Sinabhuil. Lets get one fact clear from the off. I hide behind nothing , neither free speech nor an alias. I pen my stuff and attach my name to it. I then accept what comes my way but I resent your suggestion that I “hide” behind anything.

    I will try and avoid what you term “prose”, I “attacked” nobody in my article. I gave MY OPINION on a radio show about two men. To ease your mind further I am not worthy to tie the mans laces in terms of football achievements on the field, off the field or in academic and political life. I am entitled to express my belief that 2007-2010 to me a Mayo man was underwhelming. Whether that was the manager or the players fault or that the moon and stars were badly aligned is a moot point.

    However I will express my own feelings on the matter. Once more I seem to have to defend my south Mayo comment. Seems as if I am not that articulate at all.I was speaking in context of Mayo Galway rivalry. The Mayo News of October 2004 carried a report on the county board meeting after the slashing we endured to Kerry. The troops were restless.

    A prominent GAA club man from south of Castlebar (got to be safe here ) stated and I paraphrase here “The benchmark for Mayo was to beat Galway…anything after that was a bonus”. Stupid me thought that the benchmark existed outside the province in terms of Kerry,Tyrone, Dublin and Armagh. That helped colour my thinking. To suggest that I see one Mayo person having a greater calling on loyalty would shock me.

    Beyond that , take what you want from the article but never level an accusation of me hiding behind anything.

  53. Good article. O Mahoney is all about short term gain. Is the last paragraph refering to a mighty county a reference to Ros or Mayo?

  54. Greetings James Joyce my old adversary. Good to hear from you. James …all counties are great, yours, mine and the rest. Thats why we persevere. Last night I met with a Mayo man who won two all Ireland’s, a railway cup and two national leagues. A more humble man you could not meet.

    He told me that the men that inspired him were your men, Phelim and Jimmy Murray, Bill Carlos and John Lynch. One of earliest and toughest opponent ever was Bill Jackson from Roscommon. Interestingly enough and he hailed from Erris not south Mayo…he actually hated Galway with a passion “them and their effing maroon jersies” he spat at me. Had I met him a week ago he might have spared me a lot of trouble!

    The late Tomas O Fiach was asked what he would like do have been if not a cleric. His answer was magnificent. “I would love to have played football like Bill Carlos”. What a tribute! At the end of the day we are born the way we are and whom we follow. That defines our lives unless we start following United or Chelsea. Good luck to you sir.

    !!!!!!!!!!!

  55. Speaking of the late great Jimmy Murray, I can remember going into Murrays pub in Knockcrohery after the 2001 connacht final, naturally he was in great form and told us tales of fierce battles with Mayo over the years. Also John its interesting you refer to Erris and Gwedore in your article, the wife had me very familiar with these places over the last number of years. Good luck to you, for the record I will be shouting for Mayo (at the telly that is) and it won’t be easy as I have been living in Donegal for the last 16 years. So sincere good luck to Mayo in the final, no supporters deserve an All Ireland more.

  56. I really enjoyed your piece John, as I tweeted the other day. Snared in work but kept on reading. I’m from Kildare and as a child I learned the various towns and places in Mayo from the players clubs in the match programmes, so naievely (sic) rivalries meant little to me (although my cousins would tell me stories of Crossmolina V Ballina!). As I mentioned, I’m from Kildare, but make no mistake, if Mayo played Kildare in a league match or an AIF there is only one winner. My father is a proud Lahardane man living up here over 30 years. He loves his football and since I was knee high he brought me to see Mayo play. Dad and myself have been up and down the country all through this year supporting this wonderful team. Watching them progress as the year has gone on has been a joy. From Laois (cold night) to The Armagh (what a save by Colm Boyle at the end) to Castlebar to The Hyde to Croker it’s been brilliant. Season ticket in posession has thankfully bestowed us 2 AIF tickets for attendance. I congratulate the GAA on that initiative by the way. I wish all the players and management well on 23rd and give the “aul lad” a 54th birthday present he will never forget. See you all on 23rd, Mayo Forever!!

  57. Don’t want to disappoint you Trevor, but I emailed them the other day and they said that only one ticket is given to each season ticket holder. I was full sure of securing 2 this way myself.

    Superb piece of work John by the way.

  58. I have been a frequent visiter to this site over the past number of months and I would like to congratulate willie joe on its wonderful success…however I do miss greatly those wonderfully funny, laugh out loud comments that the username WIND used to send in.
    I think this funny fellow should not be banned as his comments were fresh and thoroughly entertaining too…just my opinion! back to football though, I think that the Mayo lads are in with a great chance v donegal, its arguably the best chance we’ve had since 96 or 97! if the boys believe they can do it and if they dont bow down to this blanket defence sam should be set to travel west of the shannon this year!

  59. Thanks for that, westawake – re the gentleman (or lady, one can’t be too sure) concerned, I have no problem if the comments posted are sensible and relevant. Anything on that line will always be allowed onto the site. Trolling and generally acting the mick, however, won’t.

  60. Just finished reading the piece now John. It would give even the most hardened man watery eyes. When I was a kid I always found it fascinating that bit about leaving Mayo for Dublin (or the East) and 1/2 ways through the journey having still not left the county Mayo.

    I thought we had the biggest and broadest county in the country.

    It would be great if a new generation could travel that same road with Sam McGuire (and stay for a while longer than a weekend mind you)

  61. Wat a great evening in mchale park yesterday with the mayo squad and every1 of them brillant with the kids as it was a frennzy at times with about 20 kids deep around the players Class lads every 1 of them an they looked so relaxed and happy doin autographs which my daughter got 20 them on her new mayo jersey and so happy with herself because their her heroes and is,t that wat its all about…TKS.LADS AN WELL DONE, YE ARE A CLASS ACT…C,MON MAYO… 8 SLEEPS…

  62. Can any1 out there with any contacts to co. board confirm if the fbd final in newyork has been confirmed yet in oct. tks…..

  63. Wonderful piece John. Thanks for that huge lump i now have in my throat. Your geranium reference made me think of how much your beloved mother would enjoy watching the contest on Sunday! Wont get to see it but hope i can find a commentary somewhere on the ‘net. Good Luck to my Mayo boys on Sunday.

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