In tribal sport, it matters to matter. There is nothing worse than not mattering, being seen as harmless; being seen as not capable of inflicting any damage on anyone but yourself. It is good to be part of the banter, to be able to slag your rivals, to joke about your own shortcomings, to participate in partisan oneupsmanship.
In this regard, sport has replaced warfare. Where once the denizens of Mayo and Galway sorted out their differences by flinging rocks from large catapults across the border at Glencorrib, now it is almost always carried out on the football pitch. I’ve lost memory of when exactly Mayo actually last beat Galway in a match, but this barren run has bizarrely come at what is widely regarded as Mayo’s best era in recent decades. Form goes out the window when games like this come along. And Saturday night’s clash in Limerick carries much more significance than normal.
There are many Galway and Mayo people I know who had signed up for toll tags for their cars, such was their anticipation of many trips to and from Dublin this GAA summer. Every time they passed through the toll booths at Enfield, or Cappataggle, or on the M50, they swore to themselves that “I must sign up for one of those bloody things,” so that they could save an extra 25 seconds on each of the many east-west trips that recent summers have taught us to expect. This must be the first Championship summer in a good few years that the Galway hurlers will not pull across the blades of grass in Croke Park, and if Mayo prevail in Limerick, the Galway footballers will not either. Hope will lie with the ladies football team, the camogie team and the minors to bring us Croker success.
But back to Saturday. It is a shocking indictment that this mouthwatering game had to be taken out of the province given that there was no suitable neutral venue in which to play it. The M18 Tuam to Gort motorway will see its heaviest traffic ever on Saturday night. If they toll that this weekend, it would build the Children’s Hospital.
On Sunday morning, one team will wake up in the Super Eights, the business end of the championship. If that team is Galway, it will offer a reprise to Kevin Walsh and his talented but beleaguered bunch of young exciting players.
If Mayo is to lose out on Saturday, it will be the second year in succession that the team has failed to make it to the last eight of the All-Ireland, having been inches away from success in the half-decade before that. That winning team, sore from the battle of Saturday night, will find itself just six days away from an away game to Kerry.
So much banter rides on one game. The Gaelic Grounds will be rocking on Saturday night; the discourse will be rich and social media will be on fire before, during, and after the clash of the round.
This under-fire but talented Galway side would love to put a stake through the Mayo heart, and put it out of its misery; while this bedraggled war-wounded bunch of Mayo players would love to put one over on their maroon rivals. Either way it will be no place for the faint-hearted. Have Croi on your speed-dial.
The winners of Mayo and Galway already know what they are up against in the next rounds, as both Kerry and Donegal and Meath/Clare await in the group stages, in what is without doubt the cliche-ed group of death. The winner on Saturday has a date a week later with Kerry in Killarney.
May the best team win - Limerick venues and Limerick teams have broken both Mayo and Galway hearts in recent years, and something has to give. They might yet be kicking penalties ’til midnight on the Ennis Road.
May the banter continue, and for one more weekend at least, may both teams matter.