The hows and whys of Mayo’s success in a moment – something to do with being able to sort things out as you go along, basically – but first, the headline news from Croke Park yesterday: Joe Brolly failed to detonate.
Yes, really. The dog that didn’t bark in the night time, the pundit who didn’t explode after the final whistle.
Attribute it to Sean Cavanagh, his new best friend, who politely refrained from rugby-tackling anyone. As if in tacit acknowledgement of this turn-up for the books, Derry’s answer to Krakatoa duly refrained from erupting. Thus small children, spinster aunts and animals of a nervous disposition remained unfazed, the sun rose this morning and the world is safe for democracy for a while longer. Good news all round, really, except for those viewers who’d tuned in hoping for another YouTube moment.
Not that Michael Lyster didn’t try to hop a ball or two early on. After Colm O’Rourke and Pat Spillane had trotted out the now-staple ‘There’s Something About Mayo’ line (presumably Conor Mortimer rather than Cameron Diaz will star in the film version), the host zeroed in on the third member of the Sunday Game panel. "Anything you want to get off your chest, Joe?" he asked, voice pulsing with mischief.
Oddly, there wasn’t. Instead Joe chose to announce that in the course of that recent conversation with his NBF, after they’d got the masculinity issues out of the way, Cavanagh had told him that Tyrone’s experience would only kick in during the last ten minutes. In other words, if the result came down to the wire Mickey Harte’s side would eke it out. But would it get that far? The three lads didn’t think so, Spillane damning Tyrone as a "pale shadow" of past glories and O’Rourke identifying "a coldness" in their opponents.
Neither did the trio – Jim McGuinness, Martin McHugh and Kieran McGeeney — over on BBC Northern Ireland. Mayo all round. There’s something different about them this year, it seems. Be warned: you may possibly hear this observation again between now and the All-Ireland final. Only about, say, 3,000 times, though.
The one dissenting voice came from Owen Mulligan, resplendent in Miami Vice chic down on the sideline at Croke Park, his hair longer than of yore and devoid of peroxide. That was apt; there wasn’t much colour visible around Tyrone during the week, he lamented. Still, he predicted "a big game" from the Red Hand. For the first 25 minutes he was proven correct.
All sorts of strange things began happening once Maurice Deegan threw in the ball. Peter Harte, Stephen O’Neill and Cillian O’Connor departed injured; Tyrone dominated the early possession and the favourites were kicking a rake of wides on top of the goal they saw called back for a free. Insult was piled on injury when the free was sent wide from in front of the posts. So, so Mayoesque. There’s something different about them this year? Ha.
Yet there was. The Connacht champions got the mini nervous breakdown out of their system to finish the half well. "That was an examination of Mayo’s character for the first time this year," O’Rourke said at the interval – and they’d passed it. Two minutes after the restart Alan Freeman showed further evidence of their new zen by sinking a penalty with precision. From there they skated home.
Was it a penalty in the first place? On BBC they described the call as marginal and suggested Deegan had been trying to make up for Mayo’s non-goal in the first half. On RTÉ they, or at any rate O’Rourke, decried Deegan’s penchant for smiley chats with the players. "I don’t like referees who are palsy-walsy," he sniffed. You could understand where he was coming from. Meath.
And then to one of the enduring mysteries of GAA matches that involve the winners playing far better in the second half than in the first. What was said in the dressing room at half-time, Joanne Cantwell asked James Horan afterwards? "Oh, magic stuff," Horan replied with commendable facetiousness. Then, more seriously: "We had to figure stuff out and we did and we came through. We kept grinding."
Fair play to them, said O’Rourke. "When they had to go and win the match in the second half they were good enough and brave enough to do so." Whether they’ll be able to survive what he termed "the normal Mayo circus that takes place before an All-Ireland final" is quite another matter.
One suspects they will. There’s Something, etc.