Getting to Connacht final by a thread

Article first appeared June 2003

Slipping fan belts and near misses

By Terry Reilly (c) 2003
MAYO never minded playing Galway in Pearse Stadium in Salthill.  Big pitch. Plenty of space. Room to express oneself. And some good results. The only drawback was getting away after the game, along tar-melting roads knotted with traffic that found out dodgy radiators and slipping fan belts.

Believe it or not,  in those days we checked radiators and fan belts and oul and petrol and tyre pressure before setting out on any journey of consequence. And we carried spare water for the rad, a hand pump just in case Dunlop pressure dropped, maybe even a canister of petrol. And  veteran drivers knew that a nylon stocking could serve as a replacement fan belt if needed. Provided, of course,  there was a woman on board with the hosiery of the requisite denier. Younger readers , check with your mums and dads if you don’t believe your columnist!

First there was 1967: Mayo, smarting from reversals at the hands of the great three-in-a-row Galway side, had beaten Sligoi in the first round and Leitrim had beaten Roscommon. But the semi-final clash of Mayo and Galway at Pearse Stadium on June 25th was the one that counted.

Mayo were on the crest of a wave. A cracking great minor team of the previous year had produced Seamus O’Dowd and he was popped into the attack to freshen things up. And a young lion, Willie Loftus, who was later in the year to captain Mayo Under 21s to an All-Ireland tirtle, was added to midfield to provide thrust and combatativeness.

They were joining a team well seasoned with Carey, Prender, Morley, O’Connor, Earley, Loftus (PJ), Langan, Corcoran, Farragher, Ruane et al. Galway, tired after three years of glory, fell before the incessant Mayo battering ram, O’Dowd produicing a scintillating goal in the 3-13 to 1-8 victory.

The homeward journey took an age. We sat in traffic for what seemed like hours without moving, inching our way through Galway as tar squelched under rubber, producing that pungent smell of bitumen and oil and heat. Tuam had to be negotiated. Then Milltown. Then Claremorris. Those were the days before bypasses. The only pass we knew about was the Kyber Pass.  Was the new road through Tuam built then? Maybe, but if it was Tuam had to be entered and the Imperial Hotel visited for the latest news and echange of opinion. Certainly, Claremorris and Knock bypasses were undreamed of, light years away from a funding demand on the Exchequer. Ditto the new bridge over the Corrib.

In the final at Tuam Mayo rolled over Leitrim, 4-15 to 0-7: we were heading back to Croke Park for the first time since 1955. Meath beat us in the semi-final. Those at home watching the game on tv got up to make a cup of tea when the transmission failed, andvby the normal service was resumed Meath had stuck in two goals in a 3-14 to 1-14 result.

Galway came out of Connacht the following year to give Mattie McDonagh his 10th Connacht sdenmiuor medal, but 1969 saw Mayo back in Perarse Stadium agaisn the old enemy. It was nip and tuck all the way, a Joe Corcoran point from a free earning Mayo at replay at Castlebar. More backed-up traffic to negotiate on the way home, but it was comforting to know that Galway had never beaten Mayo in a replay, and this was to prove no exception, Mayo winning 1-1 to 1-8.

In the All-Ireland semi-final, regrettably (in the sense that we did not have sufficient time to enjoy our hard-won victory) just a week later we met Kerry: unfortunately, did not take our chances, losing by a point in what could have been Mayo’s year.

But Pearse Stadium has been good to Mayo. Great goals have been scored there by Mayo; goalbound balls have been miraculously stood on by Galway in answer to Mayo’s collective prayer. Summer sun has shined there on our efforts. Memories come gushing back of pl;ayers and exploits, many of them never told in print and all the safer for that.

Next Sunday? Well, that’s another day. It will produce more stories for folklore. Both sides will want to avoid defeat like the plague. Mayo will need the rub of the green, but in Pearse Stadium stranger things have happened.

PS: Good luck with the traffic, and as you muse en route, note that the tar does not boil through anymore!

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