Above in the stadium, you hear the growl. Of your people. Of their people. 82,000 of them, here to see you, to honour you. You check your socks, your laces. Tight, like your muscles. The final pull on them like the starting cord on a lawnmower.
And when Horan says that’s it…and you shuffle towards the door to make the climb to the light, to the greenness, to the noise, you are emboldened. You know your job. And when you burst into that light and feel the breath of those who adore you and those who despise you, you run towards that bench and stand shoulder to shoulder with your colleagues who are feeling the same thing.
You look around and hear the power of what wraps you. A sea of green and red, a chorus of voices, a symphony of souls willing you on, an army of knights behind you, all shielded in armour. Their lungs will be your second lungs and your third lungs.
They will breathe oxygen into you when you have expended yours, they will take the pain that you will feel when you have those hits, they will double the pain you inflict when you crash into the blue shirts, when you enter the challenges that you will win. They will add elasticity to your hamstrings, extension to your arms. They will add spring to your step as you bounce off those attempts to derail you.
You look at your opponents, seeking five in a row; and see the similarities. You know that something will end for either you or them today. You will bring their runaway train to a halt…or they will yours. And this knowledge is what will drive you into them, and them into you. You look and see Tom Parsons, there with you, after a time when we thought he might never walk properly again. He too has been infused with the healing power of affection.
Even standing here beforehand, you feel yourself getting pumped with the fresh blood of tens of thousands of Mayo people who have gone before you, and battled for your patch of land since they sculpted those Ceide Fields.
This is your time, this is your time. It has been a long year’s journey into fight, and you have earned your right to be here on this Saturday evening when the city will go quiet lest for a patch of land in the Northside.
And in the back of your mind, you see yourself back on sunny summer Sundays in Mayo where the crackly summer sounds of Micheal O Hehir and Willie The Shoe beat out across quiet afternoons when post-Mass and dinners of pork and spuds and marrowfat peas, they sit and let the noise of sport break the quietness of Achill, the hills of Tourmakeady, the empty Sunday streets of Ballinrobe and Foxford.
And you see aged hands place old earphones from a transistor into hairy ears across small dark uncaring flats of Kilburn and Cricklewood where the sounds of home generate a tear; where the listeners are transported for an hour or two into a dreamland far removed from their reality. And you inhale again this desire, you pick up on the longing they have in their hearts, because it is a longing that you share with them. But the difference is that now, you are here, you can make that difference, you can sate this want. You can change history by living in the present and dominating those men in blue who want to deny you this moment, as you want to deny theirs.
You know this, because in New York you saw the want that these people have, the song, that song blowing across Times Square, creating another memory.
And you look around at your teammates, and you see in their eyes that they have the same thing in their hearts. They have vowed that today they will all win their duel.
You see those posts at either end, one lost in a blue cloud, the other clear against the darkness of the Davin; their white lines branded into your retinas so that as a target they are set into your brain. You feel the wide expanse of the greenness that your colleagues will fill, space they will run into to grasp the ball you splay in with the outside of your boot, its curve swerving it away from your opponent. You come here representing not only your county, but all of Ireland, and all the little towns and villages that want you to win because you deserve to.
But you know today that deserving counts for nothing, and wanting counts for everything.
Here is what you have trained for across muddy pitches of winter on the back pitch, dressing rooms smelling of sweat, spit and wintercream; here is what you have travelled thousands of miles to be fit for; nights spent on buses to and from the capital, victims of your coincidence of geography, nights sharing a camaraderie that today will face its biggest test, and you know that these guys here will die for you, just as you would die for them. Nights when you stretched your aching legs through routine after routine. And you feel the pull of those colours on your swelling chest, your heart beating out a drumbeat that syncs with each wallop that the Artane drumsticks ring out around this hallowed arena.
And then you see the challengers. You look at them, you’ve seen them before, but you see in their eyes that they don’t have the same hunger as you, they don’t want it as much as you do.
They say they do, but they don’t.
They can’t. Nobody does. Nobody.
The second serving and the third serving is never as satisfying as the first morsel that passes the mouth.
They have been sated at the table. They have had their fill. with one and two and three and four, but five is being seen as greedy.
Now is your time.
And as you face the flag and hear the whistle blow, you meet them head on, you pit your bulk against them; You hear each collision resonate with approval from the packed stands.
For 80 minutes or so, you will bear the pain, you will run the run, you will stand up to everything and inflict yourself upon them. Forget history, forget curses, forget that rubbish.
Today you create your own story.
Because you are men of Mayo, honed from those who ploughed the Ceide Fields.
It’s Saturday night in the capital… and you hear the voice of Elton…
Don't give us none of your aggravation
We had it with your discipline
Saturday night's alright for fighting
Get a little action in.