Sitting down to watch the championship draw last winter I was hoping not to see my biggest pet hate but no such luck. There were the lads all suited and booted, ready to pull those dirty looking cylinder canisters from a round goldfish bowl. Shouting at the television like a mad man, I implored them to use balls (or even Paul Cunnane’s yellow Kinder egg toy box). Anything but those canisters.
“Must be easier to fix,” I text my Dad.
A few minutes later, it was time for the draw for the Connacht championship. Given the new Super 8s format would be coming into play for the first time later in 2018, I wanted a handy draw. When we pulled Galway out, my initial thought was “those feckin’ cylinders”. My second thought was “time for revenge”.
Growing up, Mayo v Galway was always a huge and close rivalry.
I have very fond memories of our wins over them in ’96, ’97 (Tuam hoodoo banished) and ’99 (wettest I have ever been). That streak was, of course, punctuated by Galway’s win in ’98 (despite McD rattling the crossbar). In recent years, the famous Mayo/Galway rivalry had somewhat dwindled, with Mayo handing out a few good beatings to Galway.
No win was sweeter than Salthill in 2013 when Andy Moran returned from his cruciate injury to bag himself a goal and cap off a momentous day for supporters of the Green and Red. There’s a lovely photo hanging up in my parents’ house of Andy entering the pitch. In the background myself and Dad (and everyone else) are giving him a standing ovation.
Over the last two years, in particular since Stephen Rochford’s first championship match in charge of Mayo in 2016, the rivalry has been rekindled.
In 2016, Galway were at a low ebb and as is their wont, the support for the team had dried up considerably. However leaving MacHale Park that day, the small Galway support who did bother to travel were gleefully celebrating with the players out on the pitch singing The Fields of Athenry. Sportsfile’s photos from the match clearly showed that, that year at least, beating Mayo was like their All-Ireland.
Photo: Sportsfile/Daire Brennan
Then in 2017 after they beat us in Salthill I never made my way back up Taylor’s Hill as quick. A moment of red mist from Keith left us down to fourteen men. The lads fought hard and even a man up I felt Galway got out of jail as they went into their shell. They left us enough chances to win the game, which, fortunately for them, we did not take.
This year, things are different. Galway now have Sam on their mind and have not been shy about telling the world. They had a league campaign which resulted in a disappointing end when they failed to put a Dublin team shorn of several stars and down to 14 men for over 20 minutes to the sword. That said, the loss has not knocked Galway’s confidence one bit and they come to MacHale Park viewing it as a stepping stone to bigger things.
The match has caught the imagination of the entire country and MacHale Park is due to be a sell-out. This is the biggest match in Connacht for a number of years. When asked on Off The Ball about the upcoming Galway game, reigning Footballer of the Year Andy Moran said to Nathan Murphy “We love big games” before fixing him with a deadly stare.
Andy is right. This group are a big game team. The bigger the test the better they are. They will not be found wanting on May 13th.
And let me say to this Mayo team right now that no Mayo supporter will be found wanting that day either. We are nobody’s stepping stone, certainly not Galway’s. We need to bring flags, colour and overwhelming noise and support for 70+ minutes. Cheer every score, every turnover, yes, but it is in those minutes where we are under the cosh that we need to stand up as supporters and be counted.
We don’t just sing when we are winning. We are Mayo, we are in this together. We have a bond with this team that cannot be broken. If you are struggling for breath, just think of one of the many joyous moments these lads have given us.
Continue with your support and help send the Maroons down the long and winding qualifier route. Leaving Mayo the ones left to dine at football’s top table.