In New York, the sons and daughters of Mayo prepare to bring it all back home for Sam
Flights are already being booked for Mayo’s own Croke Park Gathering
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny jokes with buskers on Jones Road on the way to the All-Ireland semi-final. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
It is after ten in the morning at 238th Street station and down below, Gaelic Park is lit by sunshine and its playing field is empty.
Along the avenue, a few young men in Mayo jerseys are making their way to the plain sign which announces the location of the most famous GAA venue on this side of the Atlantic. They look shook: after Saturday night, All-Ireland championship Sundays come much too early.
Inside the bar is cool and shaded and on multiple television screens, the Mayo players are warming up. Across the five boroughs of New York, the sons and daughters of Mayo were showing up in bars or rerouting live streams of the All-Ireland semi-final and making tentative plans to hit the Aer Lingus website at the final whistle to look at fares for September. First, there was just the pesky matter of dealing with Tyrone.
And for about twenty minutes, Gaelic Park seems to be the most appropriate venue imaginable in which to watch this match. This place had, after all, for a full decade been the stomping ground of Frank McGuigan, the totemic figure of Tyrone football.
The Ardboe man had sat somewhere at this bar on the tail-end of an All-Star trip in 1973 and when urged by Seán Doherty to finish up because the plane was going to leave from JFK, he just shrugged and said, “Let her leave.”
And for the next ten years the summer patrons of Gaelic Park got to watch one of the best players to come out of Ulster in his full pomp, until he returned to Ireland in 1984 and promptly guided Tyrone to a first Ulster championship they had won since he had last played for them.
And now the Red Hand are putting on a show that unsettles the small, rapt crowd in Gaelic Park. The few Mayo men scattered around the shadows of the bar scratched their heads and stayed silent as the wides begin to mount and a terribly familiar hesitancy crept into their game.
“Tyrone will win this,” says a midlands man confidently, pointing a figure at the television. “Mayo played their All-Ireland against Donegal. ” Nobody says anything.
But the line all summer on this Mayo team is that they do not doubt and will not falter. And there is a mood of patience among the Mayo folks in the room. None of the old groans and head-wringing with every wide; nothing of the old pessimism or gallows humour: they are just watching and waiting.
And after half-time – slowly and then all of a sudden – the game becomes what all of Mayo’s championship games have been this summer: a procession. And long before the final whistle, it was clear that Mayo were going back to that magical and tortuous land; the All-Ireland final.
Come what may. It has become a familiar sight: Mayo players consoling opponents in a businesslike way.
“Chrisht, would you look at himself?” someone says in wonder and all television screens are suddenly filled with a picture of Enda, An Taoiseach, out and proud in perfectly knotted red and green tie and a spectacular pair of Wayfarer sunglasses that really demanded the opening guitar chords of Don Henley’s Boys of Summer.
None of us of can ever remember seeing a Taoiseach in shades before.
Joe Brolly is in full flow as a young lacrosse team makes its way into Gaelic Park. Over by the dressing room, six or seven lads are standing with hurls. Either the fixtures have been mixed up or a really interesting experiment in sport is about to take place.
A Mayo lad stops on the pavement and lights a smoke. “Have to go back now,” he says grimly, sounding like a veteran of previous September pilgrimages. Still, there is something different about this year. Wouldn’t there be some divine justice if Mayo could win their All-Ireland in the year of the Gathering?
This year, the Mayo emigrants will land in from Boston, New York, Chicago and elsewhere in the States less in the traditional mood of hope and rosary beads than with cold confidence. The bar man flicks off the screen with the remote. It must be 28 degrees outside.
“What about Hoboken?” a man asks nobody in particular, referring to one of the local games to be played in the afternoon.
What about Mayo?