Mayo diaspora’s thoughts turn to September glory

Swashbuckling display fills the emigrants with hope that this could finally be The Year for Mayo football

Mayo manager James Horan at Croke Park yesterday as his team take another step towards All-Ireland glory by thrashing the reigning holders Donegal. Photograph: James Horan/Inpho

Mayo manager James Horan at Croke Park yesterday as his team take another step towards All-Ireland glory by thrashing the reigning holders Donegal. Photograph: James Horan/Inpho

Mon, Aug 5, 2013, 11:39

They emerged blinking from the subways from early morning – nonchalant Kerry men, worried Donegal folk, optimistic Cavan followers and most of all, of course, the Mayo Diaspora. The All-Ireland football championship has always had a transatlantic dimension where the Green and the Red is concerned, with so many Mayo people firmly entrenched in American cities and so many Mayo teams showing up in All-Ireland finals down the years.

Yesterday, as the latest Mayo team eviscerated the All-Ireland champions, the talk turned to September; to tickets, to flights home and, of course to the possibility that this might be The Year again. 1989. 1996. 1997. 2004. 2006. 2012. How many hastily booked flights from JFK have been booked in those late summers? How many Fridays and Mondays around the All-Ireland final weekend have been begged off so Mayo’s children could make sure they were in Croke Park just in case, just in case this was the year?

Spilling out
The old notion of hundreds of GAA fans spilling out onto the avenues for big GAA matches is a thing of the past.

But the age of total reliance on the big Irish taverns to ‘show’ the games is over.

You can still find the games and the obligatory $20 cover charge on the door still exists and it still draws a crowd.

You still have to search out the games here – people either buy the package from Premier sports, try to live stream the games over the Web or do the old-fashioned thing and disappear into pubs early on Sunday mornings.

So there remains something cultish about the All-Ireland on this side of the water.

And there is always something jarring about the mere sight of Croke Park – yesterday it was the folkloric sight of the Kerry and Cavan colours mingling on television while we sat just a minute’s walk away from the hucksters in superhero costumes wandering around Times Square.

“That’s not RTÉ that’s doing that game,” someone said as pictures came in of Liam Hayes, Darragh Ó Sé and David Brady, three big men of earlier eras, standing together. All three wore casual suits and extraordinarily large headphones, the kind of listening gear last seen on television when Kid Jensen hosted Top of the Pops. And the retro look was everywhere, with Kerry’s Paul Galvin sporting a Serpico -style beard which drew a “Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” from a lady dressed in her Sunday best.

Not long into the second match and the same words were invoked by Mayo and Donegal followers alike. Over friend breakfasts, Heinekens, Bloody Mary’s, strong coffees and Cokes, the throng watched what was unfolding in disbelief.

It was as if Mayo were avenging every hockeying and every cursed day that had been meted out to them in Croke Park. A goal. And then another. At the break, a man in an Elvery’s shirt triumphantly shouted the score down the phone.

“And that’s just half time,” he hooted. Still the scores kept coming. When Mayo lined up their fourth strike, a man in a Cavan shirt shouted, “Go on, goal, goal. Rub it in! Rub it in!”

You could sense the salt all around Croke Park. It was dark and riveting and relentless stuff. Seasoned Mayo folks watched on in awe. Mayo, God help us? Not any more.

Afterwards, there was general silence for the obligatory interview with the inscrutable James Horan. As always, the Ballinrobe man kept the tone low key and factual and ticked it off: just another step. But the excitement will be building now.

It was buzzing even here, amongst the few dozen Mayo souls in a tavern in the metropolis beaming and glowing and thinking of Foxford or Bangor or wherever they grew up. September is looming in their lives again.

“Tyrone will be hard,” one Mayo man thoughtfully said as we stepped into the warm August haze, somehow surprised that the yellow cabs were not beeping their horns to salute the Green and Red, that the guy roasting peanuts was not talking about Aidan O’Shea. But no.New York in general hadn’t a clue.

“That was something else though,” he said.

“We’d nearly need to finish the job after that.”