The day before

Christmas is approaching and it’s All-Ireland semi-final weekend. What a bonkers year this truly is.

Darkness has already fallen here in the capital and it’s cold out, with frost likely tonight under the clear sky. It’s December weather but it’s still Championship season.

Down the road from me here – little more than a twenty-minute tramp – the weekend’s first semi-final throws in under the lights at Croke Park in less than an hour’s time. Dublin are, of course, overwhelming favourites to see off Ulster champions Cavan in that one and whichever of them wins tonight will then have the luxury of sitting back and watching our semi against Tipperary at HQ tomorrow afternoon.

In previous years, the excitement levels ahead of an All-Ireland semi-final would be pretty high by now. The team would have been announced, there would have been acres of coverage about the game and we’d all be thinking ahead to being at Croke Park tomorrow with all the other thousands of supporters.

Sick with worry about how it might go. Almost giddy with anticipation as another big day for the Green and Red at HQ was in prospect.

We might even be heading to Bowe’s tonight, as we did so many times in advance of big games. Online becoming offline, virtual giving way to face-to-face. Good times, at a time when none of us knew what a coronavirus was and couldn’t contemplate how a global pandemic could lay waste to all we considered as normal.

Bowe’s is empty and shut tonight – it’s a so-called wet pub, after all – and while some of you may be venturing forth later on, I’d say the vast majority are doing what we all have been doing for months now, contemplating another night in.

There’s no reason to stir from the house tomorrow either but even though we can’t get to the action, the action can at least get to us. TVs will be roared at, the cat will wonder anew about all this Sunday afternoon cacophony as Mayo once again go into battle in this so very strange but still compelling Championship.

As a match day, tomorrow will be even stranger for me. I’ve missed loads of big games involving Mayo down the years – up to and including All-Ireland semi-finals – but always because circumstances have dictated that I’ve had to be elsewhere, usually abroad, when these matches have been on. But tomorrow the game is taking place less than two miles down the road from where I’ll be watching it, in an eerily empty Croke Park.

But, of course, the experience will be a weird one for the lot of us. And it isn’t like we haven’t had to get used to plenty of out of the ordinary stuff this year as it is. To be honest, the rhythm of a match day at home isn’t a bad one – the real bonus for all of us is that we’re still in it.

Which means that, although we can’t be there to roar them on, tomorrow is still another big day for Mayo supporters. Those of us domiciled in Ireland get a chance to see what a big match day is like for those who always follow the team from afar. Tomorrow, as has been the case since the inter-county action resumed in October, we’re all in the one boat.

Right, need to get settled ahead of the weekend’s first semi-final. Back with some final pre-match thoughts tomorrow.

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The day before