February 3rd, and suffice to say that spring has not exactly yet sprung.
Driving to Castlebar on Saturday night listening to Michael Corcoran describe the 41 phases which preceded Johnny Sexton landing his monster drop-kick, it was tempting to remain in the car, let the seat back, turn the heat up and visualise how you’d like to see Mayo beat Kerry.
Mercifully, all it took was the first mention of soft hands, dancing feet and good ball presentation for you to remember that McHale Park on a Baltic Saturday night was a good enough place to be. Besides, it was The Kingdom, and they had some fresh talent and a nice new jersey to show off. T’would be rude sure, and as our mothers told us courtesy doesn’t cost a thing.
Except, in the case of watching Mayo, your sanity.
It’s not that you regret going. You never regret watching your beloved Mayo and especially not in MacHale Park – a ground you genuinely assumed was named after your childhood hero, Liam McHale, for the entirety of your formative years – no, that’s not it.
It’s more that, on nights like these you find yourself getting sucked into a perverse romance that begins one way – you doubting them in spring, evolves another - you falling for them slowly over summer, and ends with them completely obliterating your heart into a billion pieces come the fall. Just as your friends and family told you they would.
Saturday night under the halcyon lights in Castlebar, it all began again. With bells and whistles.
They came in their droves. From Lahardane and from Legion. Eleven and a half thousand paying customers and many more kids braved the cold (did I mention the cold). Mayo folk are well used to Kerry peoples outrageous welcome for themselves, but even we could appreciate the fluidity and speed of their play in that opening half. Paul Geany and newbie Sean O’Shea stood out – displaying hands so soft and feet so quick they should’ve been at the Stade de France.
Mayo, on the other hand, had reverted back to veteran stalwarts Ger Cafferkey and Barry Moran to steady a creaky ship.
Kerry were so top heavy with talent they could afford wunderkind David Clifford to retire injured before he even broke sweat. One wondered whether it was the four games in ten days that had finally caught up on him or the fact he had just realised he’d be refused entry to Panama Jacks Niteclub on the grounds of being too young if he stuck around Castlebar for the night.
Whatever it was, after 17 minutes and one ridiculous point he’d had enough and he hit the showers - or the bath I guess.
Bizarrely, Mayo went in at the break two points down, this after scoring one point from open play. They had been opened by Kerry so many times they should have been out of sight, but, a combination of Kerry’s wastefulness and Mayo’s, well, Mayoness meant it was still in the mix.
As Stephan Rochford gathered his troops under the stand and undoubtedly got them to stifle their laughter at the outright comedy of the scoreline, the rest of us contemplated our life choices. We wouldn’t have heard them anyway as the PA blared out some Rihanna. A curious choice you’d think, until P!nks smash hit, ’What about Us’ followed it.
The penny quickly dropped that this was a cry for help from the Mayo full-forward line, the supply of ball to which could only have been worse if it was Basil Fawlty serving them.
Coachella eventually ended and Mayo began the second half with purpose. This is it, you felt. Clones last Sunday had not been an apparition! We’re back! Alas, this new found purpose lasted only as long as the announcement over the PA that some lad was looking for a lift down to Kenmare after the game, and would anybody be happy to oblige. I’ve heard a lot of things come from the continuity announcer in grounds over the years, but never have I heard a lift to Kenmare being asked for. It’s a novel idea though.
Be sure to go to Mayo’s next home fixture to hear ’ATTYMASS FARMER SEEKS DUBLIN WOMAN FOR COMPANIONSHIP, MAYBE MORE’. ’ALL CANDIDATES REPORT TO SPORTLANN’ blast out of the tannoy.
I digress. As the second half developed, Kerry had an implosion of sorts. Some, perhaps with Sigerson on their minds, pulled back on the throttle and the door was left open for Mayo. When Cillian O’Connor replaced the partially decapitated Evan Regan, it should have signalled a shift in gears. Instead, Mayo were stuck.
They played the last quarter of the game as if there was only one minute left.
It was pure panic, all swing and no hit. Anything positive that befell Mayo came from a collection of individual moments rather than anything remotely cohesive. Paddy Durcan did good things, ditto Aidan O’Shea and Diarmuid O’Connor. David Clarke made a series of brilliant saves but negated that with a half dozen or so poor kick- outs which led to Kerry pressure and often scores.
O’Connor bizarrely assumed free-taking duties from the reliable Jason Doherty and in doing so handed Kerry back the initiative with each miss. Rarely, if ever has he had such a negative influence on a game.
It summed Mayo up. They should not have been within an ass’s roar of Kerry yet with 16 minutes to go they had a two-man advantage and a two-point deficit to pin back.
It was an opportunity to lay down a marker against resurgent if leaky Kerry team, and condemn them to their third defeat by Mayo in twelve months. As my father would say – you can’t beat them often enough nor by enough.
The moment, however, much like the frostbite in my toes, passed.
And so it begins. You’re back in love. It’s usually at the end of such affairs you realise what a fool you’ve been to believe. With Mayo it’s the opposite. You know the truth at the very beginning.
But you allow yourself fall anyway.
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