As the hawks patrolled the skies above Croke Park on Saturday evening, Mayo folk averted their gaze from the carcass of their rollercoaster season, and looked west, long into the autumnal night.
Silence — most Mayo people have learned on the car journeys home through the years — is something you can actually hear. Hanging within it like sulphur is the question each one of them has been forced to ask since forever: when it comes to Mayo football, which is more important, love or truth?
The love part is easy. The love part defines them as a sporting people. It gets them out of bed on Monday mornings the world over and guides them to work.
It cloaks them like invisible kevlar against the mundaneness of everyday life. Don’t like your boss? No matter, being from Mayo and caring about football means you have an outlet they can’t touch, and one you can share with tens of thousands of other people.
You are bound together, not by choice, but by birth.
Mayo people do not have a monopoly on such feelings of unity, but given the pilgrimage they’ve all been on, they deservedly reserve the right to call themselves subject matter experts in blessed journeys, all aboard a train they can never alight.
The bandwagon is for other people to jump on.
It was the love part of that question that had so many giddy at half-time on Saturday night. What they had witnessed to that point was typically imperfect, but beautiful.
Mayo dominated possession and played basketball without the worry of the shot-clock, suffocating Dublin of the ball and killing minutes.
That’s how it seemed, at least. Truthfully, the minutes were only seconds and Dublin didn’t really need the ball.
No matter, Mayo were turning Dublin over, stripping them of possession in key areas five times. Five times! When did that last happen?
Seamie O’Shea, Cillian O’Connor, and Colm Boyle hit the type of points you see on end-of-year montages. Paddy Durkan was doing very Paddy Durkan things.
The problem was, so was Rob Hennelly, but everything considered, this looked like a very 2016 type affair. When the whistle went, Mayo bounded for the tunnel, their disciples on their feet. This was not a time for such pedantic concepts of objectivity and rationale.
Sure, there were many experts tut-tutting that Dublin would simply move up the gears and flex their superior muscle, but for all the Mayos out there, looking at it through jaundiced eyes, that first-half display — though littered with a dozen what-might-have-beens — was the equivalent of swallowing the pill in Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind: The pain of the past erasing, giving way to the promise of a better tomorrow.
That promise lasted the 20 minutes of half-time and barely four more thereafter, when Con O’Callaghan and Paul Mannion smashed it like a pinata at a quinceanera.
Love gave way to truth. And boy, was that truth ugly.
Dublin morphed into something most Mayo people had either been ignoring or had genuinely not seen before, that is arguably the greatest Gaelic football team, ever.
You see, for Mayo people, the hype about this Dublin was always spiked with the rather reasonable notion that they, Mayo, were the one team that could rattle them.
Despite losing home games to Galway and Roscommon and Championship exits to Kildare.
Despite having goalkeeping issues and despite playing absolute heart-attack ball against teams multiple divisions below them, Mayo believed they and maybe only they could beat Dublin.
A Dublin team that last lost a match before all of this month’s class of Junior Infants were born.
The basis for this thesis — which now looks rather foolish — was, of course, the series of epic clashes between the two counties going all the way back to 2012, or for those truly misty-eyed romantics, 2006. Even then, the numbers didn’t quite stack up.
With the exception of ’06 and the 2012 semi-final, Mayo have failed to beat worse Dublin teams at every other attempt.
And yet, as the teams galloped for the tunnel at half-time on Saturday night, even the most cynical of Mayo folk must have felt their blood pressure rise. Love was smothering truth.
By the time many of them took their second-half seats, the building was on fire. Even then, had they shown some composure they might have contained the now raging inferno, and reassessed, but they kicked erratically.
Durkan could’ve had seven points from play. O’Connor missed a crucial free.
After Con O’Callaghan goaled for a second time, Mayo suddenly resembled a minor team, bizarrely looking for goals in their shell-shocked state.
Con O'Callaghan with a tidy finish to put Dublin 1-07 to 0-08 ahead after 37 minutes. Watch highlights tomorrow night on @rte2 from 9.30pm #rtegaa #dubvmayhttps://t.co/IGMOwzYsmu pic.twitter.com/6YUdG8k7Fe— The Sunday Game (@TheSundayGame) August 10, 2019
It’d be daft to suggest a series of points could have set up the mother of all comebacks, but you have to start somewhere.
Perhaps it was the Mayo substitutions that best exhibited the truth maybe we all chose to ignore, or at least squint at. As Cormac Costello, Cian O’Sullivan and Diarmuid Connolly came on for Dublin, Mayo introduced Tom Par- sons for his first taste of any real football since horrific injury last year.
James Horan does not do charity, which tells us his arrival was meant to impact. The gap in talent and on the scoreboard was just much too much.
The truth of Mayo this summer has been, although yearning for monumentality, they have played twice as many games as they should have and have been half as good as they should’ve been when it mattered.
It’s painful, but you don’t get to write your ending playing how they did.
There’s a line from the Boston crime movie The Town where a resident of one of its most Irish suburbs laments, “I am proud to be from Charlestown. It ruined my life, literally, but I’m proud”.
Well, being from Mayo has ruined nobody’s life, maybe only enhanced it, but the sentiment may ring true for a little while.
What of Dublin? It’s scarier than we thought. They have become death, destroyer of worlds.
It’s unlikely they will be stopped. Mayo have done their part, but the fight is no longer theirs.