“My tears are drying/my tears are drying”
— The Proclaimers, ‘Sunshine on Leith’
Another defeat this Saturday and Mayo become the greatest losers in major sports. An 11th straight All-Ireland final defeat and their streak of misery will push them above Hibernian who lost 10 Scottish Cup finals on the bounce.
Mayo’s 70 years falls short of the Chicago Cubs’ 108 for a third ever World Series in 2016 but their defeat to Dublin last December saw them eclipse Collingwood’s stretch of nine AFL Grand Final defeats. No team has had as many consecutive failed final attempts as Mayo either, 12 thus far.
It seemed appropriate that close to Saturday’s All-Ireland final Cubs fan and comedic genius Bill Murray spent a lot of time in Mayo on his golf trip to Ireland. After the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians to seal the series five years ago, an emotional Murray addressed the players in the dressing room. “I just wanna thank everyone who’s ever put on a Cubs uniform, everyone who’s ever rooted for the Cubs. It’s been 108 years of love, support and patience, waiting for a team like this to make it happen on a night like this. You guys are all world champs tonight. I couldn’t be happier for ya.”
So moved by Hibernian’s hoodoo-dashing victory over Rangers in 2016, lifelong supporter and author Irvine Welch used the event as the last time his Trainspotting characters spent together in his book, Dead Man’s Trousers. “I felt that the one thing that would bring them together in a book would be Hibs winning the Scottish Cup. Without being too dramatic about it, it was a bit of a catharsis for a whole wounded community. It made everyone one of those years of hurt seem beautiful.
“Hibs could win the cup 10 years in a row, or win the league, and there wouldn’t be an atmosphere like that again. There was a whole letting go of pain and a massive validation. In some ways, it was a metaphor for these characters, and other people’s lives. When you get to a certain age you feel: ‘Let’s just let go of all this nonsense, hurt and pain.’”
YouTube the Hibernian fans singing their anthem ‘Sunshine on Leith’ in the minutes after the 2016 win in Hampden Park and every word of Welch’s rings true. The pain expressed in the lyrics is all in the past tense but it is only when they chant “sorrow, sorrow, sorrow” that the sadness becomes history. Poetry in emotion.
If Mayo’s followers aren’t fantasising about belting out ‘The Green and Red of Mayo’ this Saturday evening, then exactly what are they doing? Being hopeful shouldn’t cut it anymore — it hasn’t thus far.
Try as he might, James Horan has not been able to divorce the romance, or “bullshit” as he refers to it, that envelops Mayo and in turn his team. In a thinly-veiled dig at the lack of vocal support for the 2013 All-Ireland final defeat, he said: “I wish there was more noise during the game than what I ever heard after it.”
That problem hasn’t gone away. In Croke Park, the collective Mayo gasp is greater than its cheer. The fatalism is understandable, the bargaining that “there is always next year” the very human essence of taking oneself out of harm’s way.
But how many supporters are so captured by this perception of their team as perennial bridesmaids that it has become a form of Stockholm Syndrome? To fight is much more alluring than to win.
We often come back to a great Wall Street Journal piece by Cubs fan Rick Cohen in 2015, a year before they ended their own supposed curse. “Thrilled as I am about the prospect of victory, part of me dreads winning,” he wrote in the article entitled “Please, Cubs, Don’t Win”. “It’s a pathology, a condition caused by all those years of misery. Like lots of fans, I’ve come to depend on losing. I need it and sleep with it and desire it and explore it. It’s shaped me, and made me special.”
It’s a perverse interpretation of the journey being the destination but it’s all so very real for many Mayo folk who have grown comfortable finished second best.
Teams under Horan have risen above most things — Andy Moran’s cruciate in ‘13, Cillian O’Connor’s Achilles heel this season — but no group of players are as intimate with their following as Mayo.
From the stands, they feel it all. Has it ever dawned on them that they might be part of the reason why 1951 has not been repeated?
A childhood friend of ours, Karl Durnin, will watch Saturday’s game from Greenock having last week proposed to his long-time girlfriend Johanna.
Karl had promised Jo he would only produce the ring when his beloved Mayo won the All-Ireland.
“I couldn’t wait for a win,” he messaged his pals with a photo of the ring last week. He grew tired of waiting. Every genuine Mayo supporter should be.
Damned if they did and damned that they didn’t, the GAA weren’t going to win any PR battle with the Government decision last week to allow 61,000 for Saturday’s All-Ireland final providing every eligible attendee was vaccinated.
It might be argued they had 1.8m reasons for doing so in the sense that’s how much more euro they would have made at the turnstiles. However, tickets had already been distributed before news of the increase. In the wake of the heat the GAA indirectly received for the Covid breaches in public houses outside Croke Park and Jones Road, it was probably the best reputational move to stick with the small crowd jump to 41,150.
And then there was the whole discriminatory issue, something the GAA have been keen not to become embroiled in as soon as the idea of vaccination passports were flouted. The organisation is pro-jabs but to treat anti-vaccers or vaccine hesitant patrons any different is not a road the GAA would venture down soon.
On the record logistical difficulties was the tune played. “We have not trialled being able to check vaccine passports or vaccine documentation,” explained GAA president Larry McCarthy. “So it was too onerous to get 60,000 into Croke Park in a condensed time.” The GAA has the IT savvy to get up to speed with most things but the delays getting into the stadium were not worth the risk.
The audacity of youth was on full show in Croke Park on Sunday when Meath’s ladies footballers belied their inexperience and downed a Dublin team considered among the greatest of the sport.
How refreshing it was to hear 19-year-old Emma Duggan speak about the faith she had in her team without sounding arrogant.
“I don’t believe a single person in the country believed we could do it today,” she said. “The main thing was we weren’t expecting the country to back us. The odds were against us. But by God, did the backroom team believe in us, the players had confidence and belief and that’s all we need.”
And what of her lobbed goal in the first half? “We wanted to turn over the kick-outs and punish them for it. We don’t think Dublin were really challenged on their kick-outs this year.
“When she was off her line, goals were going to win games today and look…”
For anyone to claim she didn’t plan to emulate Mikey Sheehy and beat a Dublin goalkeeper like she did is doing one of the most exciting footballers to come out of Meath a great disservice.
Looking at how she measured her strike to put that ball over Ciara Trant should leave nobody in doubt that she knew what she was doing.
What a role model she is for girls and boys both inside and outside her county.