Limerick are the team Mayo might become

Drinan cartoon 'The Way Up'

Ran into an acquaintance this day last week. “Off to Croke Park tomorrow, I suppose?” he enquired.

I was just about to launch into a lengthy treatise on the hurling final and its likely outcome when the penny dropped. Yer man is from Mayo. Oops.

I backed up abruptly, muttered something diplomatic (I think I got away with it, as Basil Fawlty might have said) and gave him the floor. He wasn’t in the mood for lengthy treatises. He was in the mood for simplicity.

“We need to win this one,” he declared wistfully. They needed to win it and they did.

Thus events at HQ the following day ended with Limerick the National Hurling League champions for the first time since 1997 and Mayo the National Football League champions for the first time since 2001. With Limerick simultaneously league and All-Ireland champions for the first time in 82 years. Strange days. Then again, the law of averages leaves room for such eventualities.

Alabama Whitman had it right in True Romance, Tony Scott’s violent and funny — legend has it Quentin Tarantino was drafted in as a last-minute script doctor — 1993 thriller, with Patricia Arquette playing Alabama and James Gandolfini disturbingly effective in a minor role as a smiling Mob thug.

Over the opening credits, set in a wintry Detroit, our heroine does some existential musing about the remorselessness of fate and the strangeness of romance. “Usually that’s the way it goes,” she concludes.

But every once in a while, it goes the other way too.

We know how it used to go for Limerick and Mayo. The near-misses, the early or late collapses, the might have beens, the unlimited heartbreak. The latter was the title of Henry Martin’s book on modern Limerick hurling. Doubtless the bould Henry is labouring diligently on the follow-up, Unbridled Joy. There is a book about Mayo’s travails too. House of Pain by Keith Duggan. There has yet to be a follow-up — House of the Rising Sun? — because, hey, this is Mayo football and, hey, that’s the way it goes.

But the world changed for Limerick last year and it continues to change this year. Just look at the way Aaron Gillane is shifting shape from a highly promising young forward into somebody approaching the borderlands of superstardom.

John Kiely’s men are becoming the team that Clare’s MacCarthy Cup-winning outfit of 2013 failed to become. They have become the team that Mayo might yet become. The latter took a big step in the right direction six days ago and their Grail Quest received new momentum in the process.

James Horan admitted that he was “surprised” how much the victory meant to him. He shouldn’t have been. It wasn’t merely what his troops had done, snapping a run of 10 winless finals at Croke Park. It was the manner in which they’d done it.

They beat Kerry. A young and inexperienced Kerry team, yes, but a Kerry team nonetheless.

They trailed at half-time by four points and won by four. They hit the net three times, and how refreshing it was to watch Mayo create scoring opportunities with abandon.

They had 11 efforts drop short or hit the woodwork but it didn’t bother them. They fielded a couple of unfamiliar names who added brio to an outfit in danger of growing old and stale together.

They bagged the clinching third goal despite being down to 14 men. Above all, top line and bottom line, they won a trophy. Roots need rain; aspiring teams need encouragement in the form of silverware.

As Liverpool fans have discovered over the past couple of seasons, in a land where only Manchester City possess the nuclear codes and everyone else must make do with conventional tactical weapons, the journey matters more than the destination.

Yet cups count too. One can only keep travelling hopefully for so long. Back in Hollywood, as opposed to Hollymount, Patricia Arquette, True Romance done and dusted, went on to have a successful TV career. James Gandolfini went on to find the role of a lifetime, and not a minor one either, as — get this — a smiling Mob thug.

Limerick put four decades of hurt behind them and went on to lift the MacCarthy Cup. Mayo went on to — well, discovering exactly what they go on to do will constitute one of the storylines of the summer. Win the All-Ireland? With the Dubs out there? Probably not. That’s the way it goes. But remember Alabama Whitman. Every once in a while, it goes the other way too.

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