Friday 21 October 2016

Out of the West and into the Pale . . . to break the great footballing curse

John Daly

Published 17/09/2016 | 02:30

The Mayo colours, which have been painted on a deserted building in, Manulla, Co Mayo. Photo: Keith Heneghan/ Phocus
The Mayo colours, which have been painted on a deserted building in, Manulla, Co Mayo. Photo: Keith Heneghan/ Phocus

As you read this, the invasion will be well under way. All through the night, buses, trains and planes from the West will have penetrated the Pale's furthest reaches as Mayo's green and red army march forth on another quest for Ireland's most elusive treasure.

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Like many country folk who only visit the Big Smoke on an All-Ireland weekend, residents of the Heather County will be instantly recognisable today by an overly cautious walk, eyes on permanent peel for pickpockets, and perpetually grim faces transformed only by encountering relatives from Westport on O'Connell Bridge.

All conversations will be anchored around two topics - the shameful loss of Clerys and the scandalous price of everything.

Ironically, the standard distrust and uneasiness of country people in the capital is surely a misplaced proposition at this point, given three-quarters of Dublin residents are probably only one generation away from a rural ditch themselves.

Yet, despite the generations of farm-born folk who've set down roots everywhere from Darndale to Dalkey across the decades, they still insist on identification by county colours - even though the kids will have been wrapped in a sky blue jersey since the first day they emerged from the Rotunda.

God forbid a Cork or Galway girl should ever call themselves a Dub. It's a bit like that old punchline: "Ah, a prostitute is it? Oh, thanks be to God, we thought it was a Protestant you said."

Having obligingly accepted his country cousins as city neighbours for a century, when it comes to this particular 'Game of County Thrones', the Jackeen can never win.

On a weekend where any hotel in the capital is €100 plus, most Mayo folk will have opted for the West's version of Airbnb - that is, 14 people stretched end-to-end on a cousin's living-room floor somewhere deep in Rathmines.

Though the physical landscape of Dublin continues to transform and change with the years, country folk prove arch-traditionalists in the precincts they choose to inhabit straight from disembarkation at Heuston Station.

Setting up base camps within a triangle comprising the Gresham, Wynn's and Castle hotels, people who might cast nary a glance in each other's direction back home are suddenly overcome with a keen sense of good fellowship at any encounter in this home sod of the Dubs.

Pubs considered friendly haunts for sturdy dudes with farmers' tans are similarly popular - with hostelries like The Big Tree, Quinns, Cassidy's and Noctors choc-a-bloc from early evening.

By 9pm tonight, expect to endure bellowed versions of 'Moonlight in Mayo' and 'Our Lady of Knock' echoing across the cobblestones and frightening the horses.

Naturally, the topic of tickets is always a testy one. Earlier this week a Westport farmer placed a for-sale advert on Done Deal for 25 Black Face ewes, with the added note: 'Will consider All Ireland football tickets as part payment.'

Given the Dubs are guaranteed to pack well over half of Croker tomorrow, any Mayoman still without a ticket will tonight mutate into a fanatical Indiana Jones hell-bent on scoring the biggest prize in Dublin.

Long-lost relatives, old school friends not seen in 20 years, elderly priests with good GAA connections in far-flung parishes - all will have received the late-night phone call of supplication for those priceless admittances to the Hogan or Cusack.

Bless me Father, for I have sinned - I'll trade you two nights in Ashford Castle plus a round at Enniscrone for any kind of ticket, even, God help us, Hill 16.

With 31 counties firmly behind Mayo's final push to break Ireland's greatest footballing curse, only one million Dubs stand in the way.

Win, lose or draw tomorrow, those 30 players are now members of a select sporting brotherhood, a club whose bonds will join them for all time in many peculiar and wonderful ways.

Back in 1929, when the victorious Kerry team played an exhibition match in New York - a prized perk in those Prohibition days - the team ended up in one of the city's famous basement speakeasies.

Just as fabled full-back Jack Walsh was launching into the opening bars of his party piece, 'My Old Fenian Gun', the door crashed open and a score of hefty cops armed to the teeth burst in.

A night in jail looked a certainty for the visitors in the packed shebeen.

In the deafening silence that followed, Walsh squared up to the NYPD sergeant and said: "Bejasus Mike, you're a long way from Killarney."

Turns out the cop was an old team-mate of Walsh's on the St Brendan's under 16s.

Instead of getting it with two barrels, the guns were re-holstered, and a third barrel was opened, and 'My Old Fenian Gun' began again - this time with New York's finest in on the chorus.

Talk about the fairytale . . .

Irish Independent

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