Following from afar

Much as I’d love to have one, I can’t think of one singular moment when the GAA – and more specifically the Mayo Senior Football Team – became the regular soundtrack to my summer each year. I can probably narrow down the field to the mid 90s, with the memorable 1996 All-Ireland run being the obvious key catalyst. Prior to that I can vaguely remember Dad taking me out to watch various teams beginning with D coming down from Ulster to crush Dublin’s dreams in the earlier part of the decade. But when messrs Maughan, Nallen, Horan and the gang made that remarkable charge in the summer of 96 and I saw the way it energised the community of Mayo expats living in the South of England, the whole experience left its mark.

Following the GAA in this part of the world hasn’t always been the easiest exercise though. Luckily, a strong Irish community in Reading and London more generally always meant there was a plentiful supply of Irish pubs showing the big games growing up. The advent of Google into our lives has taken a lot of the fun and games out of planning your trip to find somewhere you could be sure was showing the game. If you’ve ever found yourself in an unfamiliar part of London, trawling the streets for a pub that looks even vaguely Irish and therefore might be showing the GAA, you’ll know what I mean.

Mayo’s recent taste for the qualifier route has brought the task of finding somewhere for the games into sharp focus. GAAGO has been helpful in this regard recently but life has never felt so wonderfully simple as during that glorious spell from 2011 to 2015 when you felt as though you could plot your route from Connacht Final to at least the All-Ireland semi-final and hopefully even beyond. Holidays and whatever else could be planned around where you might need to be on a particular date to make sure you didn’t miss a game. In the current climate you dare not commit to so much as a quiet pint with a friend for any upcoming weekends as you try to get your head around Mayo’s potentially treacherous route through the qualifier jungle and beyond.

Of course, this is as true for everyone in Mayo as it is for us poor souls stationed outside the county. That sense of sharing the experience is probably a major part of what makes us feel as though we’re in it together as a group of supporters!

* * * * *

There are some experiences which can perhaps feel a bit more unique to this part of the world though. Watching the 2009 All-Ireland between Kerry and Cork was a moment which summed up the strange situation you can find yourself in when following GAA on these shores. A real Irish pub in this part of the world can be distinguished from something less authentic by the fact that you often genuinely feel as though you’re stepping into a ‘mini Ireland’ as soon as you enter the building. The atmosphere which the right group of people can generate in a certain place and time can have that effect – sometimes to the point that it can be a bit of a shock to the system when you step outside and remember you’re still in Britain. From a Mayo point of view, The Oxford Arms is just one really good example of this. Once in the door, it can feel a lot more like Castlebar than Camden.

This particular day anyway, as the all-Munster clash was just beginning, a pulsating game between Manchester United and Manchester City was dragging into injury-time in a screen on the other side of the room and you could see the tension coming a mile away! The pub was able to accommodate both games alright, but not two different commentaries. The clamour for comms to be switched for the All-Ireland reached fever pitch just as the anthems were moments away in Croke Park. Meanwhile, at the other end of the pub a sizeable group were engrossed in a classic Manchester derby with both sides locked at 3-3.

The bar staff were in a truly impossible position as they argued the merits of robbing Peter to pay Paul when Michael Owen found a dramatic winner for United deep into injury-time. In the ensuing melee, an unidentified member of the bar staff (almost certainly with Irish roots) took the opportunity to switch the comms to Croke Park and the Manchester derby gang – being largely made up of the red half rather than blue – were too delighted to kick up much of a fuss. Crisis averted on this occasion but the kind of culture clash which has probably cropped up plenty of times down the years in various places across Britain and beyond.

* * * * *

Now at the tender age of 33, I’m also still (just about) old enough to remember the GAA highlights show which Channel 4 used to put out on Saturday mornings. Fronted by the ubiquitous Jimmy Magee and sandwiched between Football Italia and the Kabaddi highlights for a time – in possibly the most eclectic piece of scheduling in the history of TV – it was a bridge to another world. Imagine that for a second, a GAA highlights programme on ENGLISH terrestrial television. Looking back now, we were spoiled really!

Around this time Channel 4 would also broadcast replays (in their entirety) of the All-Ireland finals in both football and hurling. I can still remember the old VHS tape at home labelled simply ‘Cork v Mayo 1989 All-Ireland final’. In our house, that particular tape felt like it was matched in importance only by various Father Ted recordings and a low-quality copy of The Quiet Man.

In contrast, the Meath v Mayo 1996 recording which also sat on the shelf eventually began to feel like a bizarre ornament that you dare not touch, let alone actually watch – like something out of a horror film which contained ghosts best left alone. Somebody in the house must have watched it at some stage but personally I never found the need to ‘go there’.

* * * * *

Of course, the landscape has changed considerably in recent times for a GAA fan living outside of Ireland. We’ve truly graduated from famine to feast. Whether you’re in the south of England or the south of Australia, the likes of Twitter and GAAGO mean the playing field is more level than ever before in terms of keeping up with your friends and family across the Irish Sea.

The Irish national newspapers are obviously now available online, with the advent of the smartphone another advance to help you keep in touch wherever you find yourself. Podcasts have exploded onto the scene as well in recent years, with the fine work of the Mayo News Football Podcast team proving that you don’t actually need to take a ‘bigger picture’ view of the Championship to ensure a large audience (although the ferocious global Mayo support base probably also has something to do with those numbers). This very blog also serves as an invaluable source of news updates and analysis for everything Mayo-related for so many in all corners of the globe. All of which combine to create a situation that is light years away from just a few decades ago.

The various ways in which you can follow Mayo and any county you might wish to will almost certainly continue to evolve. God only knows what new options we’ll have a decade from now!

Right now though it feels like there’s more ways than ever before to follow the roller-coaster ride that is the Mayo Senior Football Team from wherever you may find yourself …. and that’s just fine by me.

39 thoughts on “Following from afar

  1. Excellent post Kevin well done. Hopefully Mayo will give you and all our Mayo diaspora some more golden moments this year.

  2. Great article . Thanks. I’ve lived abroad the last 20 years moving around. GAA is mighty to bring people together and give them a focus. Currently giving umpires a bit of work to do for The Hague GAA. ?. Managed by David Padden from Belmullet …. son of the great WJ.

  3. Enjoyable article and fantastic website. As a American of Irish descent, I was touring Ireland in September 2016 and, while going through Mayo, the county of my ancestors, couldn’t miss the green and red displays. My driver told me about the big game coming up, the sport of Irish football and Mayo’s story.

    Watched the replay game in a Dublin pub and was hooked (my wife, not so much!). My brother and I flew over for last year’s heartbreaker — using travel points for free airfare made it more accceptable to pay what we had to pay to get into Croke Park.
    Fast forward, between by GAA streaming service, this blog and all the on line newspapers, I’m all in. The relatives think I’m nuts wearing the green and red around on game day, and I can’t argue. Airfare already booked for 9/2. Praying I see Sam raised.

  4. Well done Kevin, Mayo extends beyond the county boundaries to the four corners of the world. Mayo journey of ups and downs (mainly ups for the past 7 years) for 7 decades has given it a unique status. The journey is like no other county in Ireland. Mayo is the county of the diaspora with passionate support worldwide. I have fond memories of watching Mayo in the late 1990s in the Irish Club in Reading when Setanta was the way of viewing matches. Connacht football was in the ascendency at that time and Mayo matches drew the largest attendances to the Club. Mayo v Galway Connacht final in particular would attract similar numbers as the All Ireland final itself. We were well briefed with a weekly copy of the “Western “ sent by post by an uncle. 1996 v Kerry stood out as a highlight from that era, that victory over the kingdom allowing the emigrants stand proud after years of ridicule. At home you can lick your wounds together, overseas it can be harder after defeat when working alongside the victors and people from other counties in Ireland. I remember the slagging on the construction sites after a Mayo loss. You don’t have to have been born in Mayo to have passion, it’s a gift passed on by our parents like your own father Joe Walsh, its something else we should thank them for on Father’s Day. We are like them now thinking maybe this year might be the one that we hear the line we are all waiting for…. “A dhaoine uaisle, tá an-áthas orm an corn seo a ghlacadh ar son foireann Maigh Eo!”

  5. There sure are a lot of Mayo people and decendants around the world. Ive heard 4.5 million Mayo decendants globally today. In 1840 there was 8 million in ireland, 388,000 or so in Mayo, 17 million in the uk, today the uk is 65 million and we are still less than 7 million. You can only imagine the loss of growth we have experienced, all the lads and girls that left the place, its beyond sobering.
    Anyways, sin e, following Mayo is so easy today, ive listened to league games while skiing down mountains in the USA and Canada, lied on beaches in Africa listening to championship games, sat in traffic on the Champs Ellysee listening to a fella on midwest talking about traffic problems around mchale park!! and cannot tell you the amount of times ive seen Mayo jerseys in the oddest places. Its hard to beat following Mayo.

  6. Great to hear what it’s like following Mayo from another perspective… I can remember getting a train from the border of Germany to Amsterdam, with an Achill man, and a Dub to see Mayo in the 1999 All Ireland minor final … Cork and Meath played in the less important to us, Senior Final. In Reillys Pub, In Damm Square… Two Green and Red, jerseys and the Dub also wore his Blue… I made work the next day, but to be honest I can’t recall how I got home,… Doubt very much if I earned my wages on Monday or Tuesday!.. The other guys only turned up on Wednesday!

  7. Brilliant post Kevin, I can identify with all of that, as im sure, can countless others, u nailed it, fantastic read.Wille Joe u have us spoiled, Thanks guys.

  8. My Updated Summer reading list :

    We start with a trilogy by Yerra Terrifica

    “The art of the Skelp”

    And ,

    “Getting away with it like a Skelpie”

    How to win in life when the odds are stacked against you. Especially when you didn’t actually ahem win !

    And ,

    “Clipped “

    The tragic story behind Nicholas Murphy ‘s near decapitation in the AIF 2009 and the boasting about it afterwards which victimized him like good and proper a second time.

    “The Fourth Reich “

    Published under the pseudonym “ M. Falconer”

    One leader’s attempt to dominate the world for a Millenium using an insurance company as a front .

    By : R2D2
    Published by : Small reproductions

    “The death of outrage “

    ( One man’s effort to quantify the decline of outrage against McStay’s bullying of Galway using a Nano -Blasphemometer)

    By Massive Blasphemy

    Also by the same author :

    “The parable of the log and the splinter”, “Those who live in glasshouses “, and “Let he who is without sin”.

    “Visionary “

    ( The story of one amblyopic man’s quest to lead Galway in its attempt to conquer the western world )

    By : Yea Wright ?
    Published by M.A.Goo

    For the tech minded there is

    “Whelanstein 2.0 “

    The nuts and bolts of how he operates . With detailed discussion of the apps and programming that make him click .

    By Glasnevin publications

    “Little Prince Marco”

    The story of how a much vaunted athlete became rather precious and a little messed up in his middle age.

    His declaration that “Mayo are finished “ will go down alongside other great fatal utterances like “ I wonder where the Momma bear is “?

    His accelerated mental decline is a human tragedy that will make you want to cry inside.

    Published by Yerra Publications .

  9. Unless you live abroad, its hard to believe the support for Mayo. For me born in Mayo, then had to immigrate. My children are Mayo fanatics and now my grandchildren all born and raised in uk, waiting for Sam to return home.

  10. Good man Kevin. I like so many others remeber ’96 well. I was living in San Francisco. I had been at home for a wedding in the summer and Mayo had just squeesed by London in a match we should have lost. I was having a few whiskeyed goodbyes with friends the night before I left when one of my “let’s call him acquaintences” started to slag off THE Mayo football team. I slapped 2 £50 pound notes down on the counter and roared “Put that on for me in the bookies tomorrow, for Mayo to win the All Ireland” The odds were 40 to one and we all know how that turned out. Fast forward to the replay. Irish Cultural centre San Fran. After the match I witnessed an old man walking down the aisle of the hall. On either side, supporting him were what looked like his two middle aged sons. The tears were spilling from the old mans eyes. I knew what that meant in the moment. This is Mayo. We are all in it together.

    I was more interested in the body language of the players in Limerick, rather than the inevitable result. They look up for the fight. That will do for now. Mayo by 8+.

  11. There is only one way to follow this team and thats along with willie joe,no other way.
    Good read kevin.

  12. I forgot to add that I am thrilled that the team is in New York in 2019. Went to the Leitrim game there this year — having the champs stateside will be awesome. I’ll be bringing a large crew.

  13. The famine should never have happened..the British empire let it happen. Imagine the empires nearest colony starving…unthinkable. Remember Mayo lost more people than any other county.

    I read somewhere that if the famine never happened Ireland’s population today would be 30 million….we would probably have skyscrapers in Castlebar.

  14. Well said yew tree but the Brits are never accountable in Ireland .

    Finest of luck to our under 20s today and especially young cathal Horan , first ever kilmovee Man to play at this level (u21) in championship.

  15. We already have ’em Yew Tree…..the Telecom tower, St Mary’s water tower, roof of MacHale park stand !! ?

  16. Great post there Kevin.

    Having lived in London since being a young lad, I can completely relate to all you said.
    We were lucky as youngsters, we had a Irish pub 2 mins from where we lived, they showed all the GAA without fail. Every week you’d see different O’Neill’s jerseys around the pub, depending on who was playing. Mighty craic, although the ease of watching games nowadays has lessened that special community feeling slightly.

    The 1996 semi with Kerry was also my first great Mayo memory, watching it in a Kerry pub in London made it even sweeter.

  17. Thanks, Yew Tree! It was actually on Newstalk, on Bobby Kerr’s show, where hopefully I helped to scotch the myth about the curse. Link here – it’s near the end of this section. The great Paddy Prendergast features in the piece too.

  18. Brilliant stuff from the young guns. Some score to notch up in a connacht final. Fair dues to them. Future looking a little brighter.

  19. Well done to the Under 20’s. Lots of good young lads to come through yet the future could be bright

  20. Go wan the boys!!! What a great result, even sweeter when its against the rossies on their home turf. Future not so bleak?

  21. Congrats lads.
    I’m not one bit surprised. Saw the first half against Leitrim last week and some terrific performances from the likes of Oisín McGloughlin (scoring an almost carbon copy goal as the one he got in Club AI final, coming in from sideline), Ross Egan (serious talent), Ryan O’Donoghue. Add to that the likes of Lambert, Brian O’Malley, Tommy Conroy and the future looks bright.
    Hopefully we’ll hear less now from the doomsdayers of Mayo football!

  22. Great piece.

    I was eight years of age, back in Ireland for the summer holidays, when I saw my first gaelic football match on TV, the 1996 Connacht final victory over Galway in Castlebar. From then on I was hooked, went to the Kerry semi-final and watched the drawn final with my father in a London pub. There was some craic as the owner was from Meath but his wife was from Mayo, as I recall.

    We couldn’t see the replay but we were informed of the outcome in mournful tones via a phone call from a relative.

    From then on, I made the local GAA pitch my first port of call when back.

    Hard to describe what the GAA means to those overseas, and particularly the bond forged with the green and red.

  23. I lived in the UK years ago like many many others. Lucky to get back and afforded the opportunity to settle in Ireland, albeit not in Mayo but still home.
    GAA provided a great chance to meet up with other Irish lads and lassies for a few pints, bit of craic and of course the odd argument but nothing too serious.
    Nice post, brought back memories!

    Maigh Eo Abú

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *