Thursday 17 August 2017

Loyal fans have cause to dream again after wild west shoot-outs

Mayo's Cillian O'Connor exchanges a handshake with Jake Hyland, aged 7, from Tubbercurry, Co. Mayo, after their Championship win over Clare in Ennis. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Mayo's Cillian O'Connor exchanges a handshake with Jake Hyland, aged 7, from Tubbercurry, Co. Mayo, after their Championship win over Clare in Ennis. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

West of the Shannon was certainly the right part of the country to be in this weekend, with Clare v Mayo and Galway v Roscommon providing more than its fair share of the weekend's GAA entertainment. Spanish Point in Clare is my home for the next seven days, as we enjoy our first family summer holiday in July. Truth be told, it is my first proper summer holiday in nearly 20 years. Another upside to inter-county retirement, I guess.

Following an eventful few days of action, Mayo gave Stephen Rochford and their loyal fans cause to dream again. Roscommon gave their supporters some unexpected delight and Kevin McStay some welcome respite, following months of fierce internal criticism.

There is a wild unpredictability to both the weather and football in these parts. Galway got caught unawares by a more tenacious Roscommon in Salthill.

Roscommon were unrecognisable from the one I had witnessed in the league when Monaghan swatted them aside with minimal fuss.

Earlier this year McStay cut the figure of a man regretting he ever left the comfort of his Sunday Game analyst's chair for the emotional circus that is inter-county management. Chastening defeats to Kerry and Dublin, along with numerous panel defections, fuelled rumours that the natives wanted shot of the Mayo man.

A defeat in yesterday's Connacht final to a fancied Galway side was to be the beginning of his end. When the final whistle went yesterday, one can only imagine the sense of relief and satisfaction McStay and his management team felt. You can only be delighted for them.

With the family holiday taking priority, a detour via Wexford Park on Saturday afternoon to watch Monaghan was never on the cards this weekend. As we turned off the M6 on to the Galway Ennis road, the traffic came to a standstill.

"Feck it anyway - the match," I turned and said to Alison, regretting my horrendous travel planning.

As they always do, the Mayo faithful were on the road in their droves to Ennis, and cared little about interrupting our getaway.

Eventually breaking free from the traffic, we took the scenic coastal route across the Burren, with RTE's Martin Kiely bringing ample entertainment to the early proceedings in Ennis.

By all accounts Clare cut a swath through Mayo in the opening half, but when I eventually tuned in shortly after the restart I saw something that had been pointedly absent from Mayo's make-up since last September - intensity.

Spurred on by their ever vocal 16th Man, Mayo finally showed the drive and intensity that has made them such a force in recent years.

Suffocating Clare at every avenue, they tackled and drove forward like a team refusing to accept a fate bestowed on them by almost everyone outside their county boundary.

I am writing this looking out on a choppy Atlantic from the picturesque Armada Hotel in Spanish Point. The final night of the Willie Clancy festival will provide a welcome distraction to the Clare supporters after a disappointing weekend in both codes.

Kevin McStay and Stephen Rochford will sleep a lot easier this week than they have in months.

With their respective teams finally delivering on the pitch, they can look forward to an enjoyable few weeks of training with a renewed sense of optimism among players, managers and fans alike.

How far that will take them remains to be seen.

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