Last weekend, the first transatlantic pilgrimage touched down at Knock airport to great fanfare. With a welcome party led by An Taoiseach and witnessed by national media it certainly was a day of great significance for a regional airport that continues to innovate and punch above its weight. Although I should correct myself when I say the plane “touched down”. As anyone that’s landed into Ireland West Airport can testify, that may give an unrealistic impression of what is sometimes a not-so-gentle landing. Not infrequently, adverse winds and fog can mean a tricky approach and getting wheels on terra firma can be rather abrupt. And that’s not actually a bad (if slightly tortured) metaphor for the experience of following the fortunes of Mayo football. Not always blue skies and we can often end up being brought back down to earth with a bump. Not one for travellers of a nervous disposition.
Following from overseas can both intensify and dilute that experience. Even in such a technologically-connected world, being one step removed from the day-to-day conversations brings a certain sense of exclusion. Who’s going well at training. The rumoured line-ups. The challenge matches. These are just a few thoughts that might merely be easy discussion topics when bumping into a neighbour at home but they don’t usually crop up in the corner shops of Clapham. And although this may seem insignificant, it adds to the latent sense of occasion that only an extended Mayo run in the championship provides.
To compensate for this, I tend to forensically trawl through all coverage of Mayo football online. And if we’re currently spoilt with the quality of the football, then the level of coverage they receive certainly does it justice. Amateur writers such as “An Spailpín Fánach” and Willie Joe of Mayo GAA Blog fame are always compulsive reading. And I use the term amateur in the same sense of the football itself – professional in all but name. We’re also fortunate with the quality of the regional media and the digital supplements of The Western People and The Mayo News are always worth coughing up the few quid for. The Mayo News team in particular deserve extra plaudits for their innovative podcast which has been good company on several tortuous tube journeys. In addition to that local coverage, a few of the national writers seem to have a grá for Mayo football – the ever-excellent Keith Duggan at the Irish Times in particular. All are consumed fanatically.
Additionally, any calls home at this time of year invariably involve a five minute maternal briefing on any local or family matters, followed by a forty-five minute in-depth analysis with the old fella on the next championship game. Now that we’re heading for a semi-final, I’ll probably have to up that allowance to an hour. The ties might be slightly remote, but still maintain a tangible connection to the atmosphere. And anyway I shouldn’t complain. London is a great city, and I’m fortunate that it’s still accessible enough to facilitate regular trips home for family, friends…and football. Or more correctly, I’m fortunate that Knock Airport exists to facilitate it.
The relationship between the airport and those of us that travel over and back regularly can be summarised by a conversation I heard recently while queuing at Stansted. Two middle-aged Mayo gentlemen ahead of me waiting to board, returning after a week’s work on the building sites of London. I gathered it wasn’t their first tour of duty overseas. Having spent twenty minutes complaining about the cost of the departure charge at the airport, they ended up talking round in circles eventually praising its value compared with the cost of travelling to Britain in the eighties. By the time we were ready to board, a general consensus had been reached that for the convenience of having an international airport on their doorstep, donating all their worldly goods at the gate wouldn’t be outrageous. (For any airport staff reading I’d disagree – a tenner is plenty!) In summary: we shouldn’t take Monsignor Horan’s landmark achievement for granted.
And to flog that airport metaphor to death, we similarly shouldn’t take the achievements of this current Mayo team for granted either. For that reason, I had sufficient confidence prior to the Donegal clash to go ahead and book flights back for the semi-final. A gamble on meeting the Dubs in Croker on the last weekend of August. Another flight, another trip to headquarters.
Expect some turbulence.
This post first appeared on the “Mayo Club 51” site. Club 51 is an excellent independent supporters club for all fans of the green and red. If you want to get involved, check out their website at http://www.mayoclub51.com or join the conversations on facebook or twitter.