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Sunday 12th July 2015 ko 14.30

Mayo League: Super League



Att 57

Entry €5

No Programme

The 4th game of this mini-Irish tour was meant to be a trip to UCD of Dublin, but their success in the Europa League qualifier the previous Thursday saw their scheduled game postponed, with no other League of Ireland games scheduled. I am grateful to Chris Bedford the publisher of the Football Traveller for contacting me to inform us of the bad news. Of course news is only bad news if you can’t spin it to your advantage, and it did give the party an interesting dilemma.

We’d paid a visit to Croke Park a couple of days earlier, and it was more thought provoking than I’d expected. The 82,300 capacity stadium is the third largest in Europe, and is owned by the Gaelic Athletic Association, and as such is there for the Irish sports of Gaelic Football and Hurling. And its that association with Irish nationalism that made me wonder how a stadium tour would manage to explain the often difficult relationship between Ireland and the UK.

The GAA exists to promote Irish identity through Irish sports, and as recently as 2005 the idea playing of “Foreign Sports,” Rugby and Soccer, at Croke Park during the rebuilding of Lansdowne Road caused real controversy.

You can see their point when one end of the stadium, “Hill 16” according to legend is built on the rubble from O’Connell Street at the centre of the 1916 uprising. Add to that Croke saw a massacre by British troops of 14 players and spectators in 1920 during a game of gaelic football, and perhaps you can sense my unease.

The truth of the matter that the whole subject was handled extremely sensitively, without ducking the facts of the case. 13 British people were made extremely welcome, and  two comments the young tour guide made resonated with me. The first was that the two countries do get on so much better than in the past, despite the efforts of a few extremists on both sides. The second was the Queen’s visit to Croke Park in 2011. Other than the obvious symbols of peace and reconciliation, the Queen managing a few words of Gaelic “A Uachtaráin, agus a chaired,” “President and friends in a speech at Dublin Castle was hugely appreciated by her Irish hosts.

The goodwill was such that with a gap in our itinerary and a gaelic football match, Dublin playing Countymeath at Croke on the Sunday, the choice of that or association rules in the Mayo League wasn’t as straightforward as you’d think. In the end I found myself looking at the philosophy of how I approach my hobby.

On one hand going to Croke meant being made to feel welcome at a magnificent stadium, while County Mayo would involve a two hour plus drive. There was also a general lack of information as to what it would be like in the Mayo League. Would there be a stand? Would there be a programme, what would the standard be like? 9 settled on Croke Park, and I ended up sat in my room at Dublin City University researching the Mayo League! Whatever the mysteries supposed or apparent, the Mayo League did equate to Association rules.

The League is theoretically the third tier of football in the Republic of Ireland, but there’s no automatic elevation to the two divisions of the League of Ireland, and the more I delved into the amateur game here I could see little point in swapping local football for a jump into the national game. There is also the added issue of some leagues at this level still playing in the winter and others the summer. Wonderful for the Irish groundhopper, but it must be a nightmare for clubs near the border of  winter and summer leagues!

I was fortunate that the Mayo League has an excellent website and an active Twitter feed, the latter giving me the coordinates to Manulla FC. Yes, you did read that correctly, as with Ireland having no postcodes and the address of the ground being Carramore, Manulla having 53° 49′ 28.2 N,  9° 09′ 21.2 W to pump into the sat nav was a godsend. You had to trust my ancient sat nav as the road leading to the ground gives no suggestion of leading to a sports ground until you reach the entrance!  And if we got a good reception at Croke Park, the welcome here was equally fulsome.

I got the impression that people were waiting for us, chairman Padraig McHale introduced himself saying “Call me Patrick,” I declined, taking the view if that I’m visiting HIS country its up to me to pronounce his name correctly, and he explained that 5 of his players now live in the UK but fly back home each weekend via Knock airport so they can still play for their local side.

Over a welcome half-time tea he introduced me to league secretary James Larkin and fixture secretary John Durkan. Once the usual question of “Why here?” had been dealt with (Why not?) the conversation turned to groundhopping and the organised hop. I was rather taken by the fact that Mayo League games are scheduled over both Saturday and Sunday, it transpires that its down to a shortage of referees, but from the perspective of an organised hop that’s no bad thing. We’ve exchanged email addresses, and who knows where it could lead!

The game was no different in quality from any amateur game you could see anywhere. It was honest, players passed beautifully, then made a basic error. People shouted, people swore, and it was exactly the kind of game I live to watch. Castlebar Celtic should have won this by more, they were by far the stronger team in the second half but missed a series of chances before Gerard O’Boyer finally found the net.

It was an afternoon the 4 of us genuinely regretted having to end, but we did have one last issue to deal with, where to eat on the way back to Dublin. I spotted that the Rendezvous Pub in nearby Balla had a pitchside board, so that’s where we ate, remembering to tell the establishment where we’d seen the advert! It was an excellent meal too and as Eddie coaxed the car back through 2 tolls the conclusion was clear and unambiguous, the Mayo League one way or another hasn’t seen the last of me!