It is 11 am, Wednesday morning, May 6, and I am just in the door from my five night New York adventure.
The body is battered, the head is light and the jet lag is about to set in as I’ve been awake for almost 24 hours but I’m not bothered as I have memories and stories to keep for a lifetime.
To say that it was one of the best weekends I have ever enjoyed doesn’t do it justice; it was quite simply epic. We had a very early start on the Thursday before the game, leaving Charlestown at 3 am to catch our flight from Shannon to Newark.
At the airport, we got a feel for what was about to unfold when we met Donie Vaughan’s family along with Padraig and Rory O’ Connor, brothers of Cillian and Diarmuid, and many more supporters, donning the green and red.
I stayed in the Wellington hotel, which is on 7th Avenue, and you quite simply couldn’t pick a more central location. Central Park is 100 metres to your right, Times Square about 500 to the left, the Park Central Hotel, where the Mayo team stayed, was across the road and, more importantly from a Mayo supporter’s point of view, 50 metres from Eugene Rooney’s triangle of establishments , the Old Castle, the Irish Pub and the Stage Coach.
Eugene Rooney was some host and looked after us all very well. I really enjoyed the banter with him.
No matter where you turned in New York last weekend, you would spot someone sporting the Mayo colours.
I visited the 911 memorial on Friday morning and it was a very humbling experience - again the sprinkling of green and red very visible.
If there is one thing to be taken from the weekend, we have the best supporters in the country. I was astonished at how many travelled to the game and I did my best to have as much craic as possible with as many as I could. The New York board informed me that Mayo are quite literally their golden ticket, the big draw, the team that bring the biggest support by a long way.
I got up nice and spritely on the Saturday morning to watch the All-Ireland U21 final between Roscommon and Dublin, despite having only three hours sleep and was a little taken aback when I found the whole Mayo panel in the same establishment to watch the game. I’m sure I looked a picture of health. A first goal scorer competition was organised by Cillian O Connor where you put in your $5 and picked a name out of a hat. I got the Dublin centre back whom I knew had no chance and it looked a bit suspect when Roscommon were awarded a penalty and O Connor himself had Donie Smith - the Roscommon penalty taker. Cillian looked the picture of confidence and like the money was in the bag; such a cheer went up when the keeper saved it to deprive him of the loot.
I bet he wished he could have taken the spot kick himself. Andy Moran was the eventual winner when Conor McHugh netted for the Dubs.
I still owe Tom Parsons the $5 for my stake.
The Mayo team deserve huge credit for the way they conducted themselves, thoroughly professional for the entire trip. It can’t have been easy staying focused in the city that never sleeps. Some of my fond memories are of Alf Mcloughlin from Westport telling us on the Sunday morning, while waiting to go to the game, “The city that doesn’t sleep my arse. I couldn’t get a drink this morning at 5.30 and that’s on a Saturday night.”
A special mention has to be given to my old Charlestown team mate Dean O Connor, who looked after us very well and he, along with Tony McTigue from The Neale, ensured all the local press and media were transported to Gaelic Park in good time. When we arrived in Gaelic Park, it was like a samba atmosphere ,
I ran straight into Darragh O Cinneide, who was recording for TG4 - as always the gentleman - and I have to thank his crew for helping me get sorted with some technical issues.
There will be questions of New York’s involvement in the Connaught championship, as they have taken a few drubbings the last few years but ask the players, the supporters and indeed our emigrants, it truly is a super weekend for people from home and the players to meet those who were forced to go stateside.
If you haven’t experienced it before, I suggest you start saving for five year’s time and let’s hope it’s still a fixture.
My only issue, and it’s a small thing, is that the Mayo team had to walk by the Sam Maguire to get into their dressing room. I’m sure it made a few cringe.
Sam was on display in Gaelic Park for people to get their pictures taken.
Another lasting memory was nearly losing my arm while trying to hold a train for Peter Walsh on the way from Gaelic Park. He eventually missed it and when someone asked me what happened to him, I jokingly told them he was asking the attendant for a one-way to Shrule. A few of the locals on the train looked a little bemused (or confused ) when the green and red of Mayo was being sung on the way back to mid-Manhattan. Some go to New York for fashion but, at the Mayo after-match meal, there was only one winner, Tom Prendergast, Mayo selector take a bow, your pink paisley shirt would have left Gok Wan scratching his head (Donie Vaughan’s red jeans a close second ). I forgot to mention there was a match on as well.