THE ROAD FROM the footballing heartlands of North Galway goes through my home town of Milltown, over the Mayo border at Ballindine, through Claremorris and Balla and on up to Castlebar.
About five miles from Castlebar there is a small shed in a field on the right hand side, which at the height of Mayo’s success in the mid-90s was painted Green and Red, and emblazoned with the simple slogan – UP MAYO.
It became quite notorious in its own right, a little reminder to us Galwegians that we were deep in enemy territory. And as the pendulum swung back our way with our All-Ireland victories in 1998 and 2001, this little shed became a lightning rod for a rivalry that was at that time relevant both in Connacht and further afield.
A group of daring young scallywags (not from Milltown… but not too far away from us either, if the rumours I’ve heard are true) staged an over-night excursion before a Galway-Mayo clash at the start of the millennium, and the shed’s coat of green and red was replaced by maroon and white, just in time for the following day’s match.
The amateur Banksys in question had staged quite a coup, but the current state of the shed was a pretty accurate reflection of how both counties felt about their chances ahead of last Sunday’s game. Mayo people didn’t feel too confident after the near-debacle of Ruislip, and Galway certainly didn’t feel upbeat enough to go shouting from the shed-tops about their prospects… so, like the overhead sky, the shed was dark grey last Sunday.
The manner of Mayo’s victory in Castlebar might prompt our farmer friend to blow the dust off the paint-brush, but that could be a little premature. Mayo were good enough in the second half, plenty good enough to beat Galway, but they will realize they have loads of work to do.
The 1-12 to 1-6 scoreline brooks no argument, and also rightly suggests a game that was low on skill, and indicative of a pair of teams who were light years away from what we saw between Dublin and Kildare afterwards. But Mayo are very fit, well-managed and (the free-taking farce aside) well-drilled.
Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly’s underwhelming record from 45’s was one thing, but to go bringing him up to hit frees from INSIDE the 45m line is a shocking indictment of the forward unit if you ask me. They weren’t made to pay for the chances that Hennelly missed on Sunday but down the line it will come back to haunt them.
From a Galway perspective there was literally nothing positive that you could take from it, aside perhaps from the displays of Jonathan Duane and to a lesser extent Colin Forde at full-back. We don’t have the players but we do have the basis of a solid third tier team if the players are well motivated and selected in the correct positions. That didn’t happen on Sunday, and some of the substitutions left me bamboozled. The qualifier draw (Meath, away from home) didn’t throw up any crumbs of comfort either but Galway need to play their best players in their best positions and work from there.
Speaking of qualifiers, I was in one of the most quietly iconic of qualifier venues on Saturday evening for Wicklow’s brilliant win over Sligo, in Aughrim. The home team further burnished their qualifier record with a brilliant 1-18 to 0-16 win, which was celebrated in fine style at the final whistle.
The drill at full-time in these games is usually cheerfully chaotic – you march out onto the field and try and grab everyone and anyone of interest. The key man on Saturday evening for Wicklow was without doubt James Stafford so I walked over to see if he’d trouble us for a few words. He said no bother, I gave the signal to the commentary box and as I waited to get my cue he said “is this live?”
I said yeah, and started my intro, by which time James had taken it in his head he couldn’t trust himself if it was live and ran off! So I was left with no guest and a fit of laughter to contend with. Better than any post-match interview! But he was brilliant on Saturday, a real inspiration and while they didn’t get the home draw they wanted, they could still cause Armagh plenty of problems in Round 2.
So a weekend of disappointment for Galway but to all those (both of you) who asked me if I brought the boots to Castlebar…
We can always dream can’t we?
- This week Murph was – winked at by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, on the sideline in Castlebar on Sunday. It made me feel weird.