That young Rochford man who apparently manages Mayo looked me in the eye —though I had made a point of keeping my back turned.
“I’ve done all you said, Noel,” he wailed.
“As if that was ever enough,” I countered.
Though shaken, he persisted. “Not a sheep in the county painted, as you said, Noel. No song murdered in the making of this final, as you said, Noel. No-one soloing a ball to Croke Park for charity, as you said, Noel.” He narrowed his eyes: “Not even a Mayo for Sam torchlight on the Golden Gate Bridge.” He looked satisfied, contented, and, worst of all, sated.
“What more can I do?” he added.
I felt Eureka rise within me. This is the sort of reasonable question that only an entirely unreasonable man would ask.
Rochford clearly has the right amount of reasonableness needed to win an All- Ireland — i.e. none.
Jim McGuinness calls for anarchy Sunday: I stopped calling for anarchy when not alone was Jim McGuinness but a boy, but anarchy itself was short-trousered.
True anarchy has no name and no home.
True anarchy has never been seen before: it is born anew every day and it immediately destroys the standards it sets for itself.
Today’s anarchy is tomorrow’s conformity, and tomorrow’s conformity is the day after tomorrow’s reality TV show.
Mayo must go further, earlier, and longer than they have ever gone before.
And, unlike McGuinness, I actually know how that looks.
I never marched in a pre-match parade. I was always 10 yards away from the toss. Dummy teams? I never named a team at all — an approach that did temporarily confuse us in the final game of the third four-in-a-row, when we took to the field with just 13 players.
It caused chaos.
And so I left it that way.
It was the handiest final victory we ever had.
If 13 players aren’t good enough to win it, what’s the point?
Listening to this clearly enthusiastic — if entirely misguided — young Rochford, I found myself getting my No-jo back.
As I completed chin-ups on The Mall in Westport, I could clearly sense that expectations are rightly low in Mayo.
So, therefore, expectations are rightly high.
It’s how this eternal dance works.
Believing fully you can win — but not really expecting to — is the perfect state of mind.
“Will I pull the Hill 16 stunt?” asked Rochford, struggling to reach the high bar.
“You’ll pull the pin,” I replied.
Heartbreak, like Santa Claus, knows where to find you.
But you can block up the chimney and board the doors and say to heartbreak — just as you can to Santa Claus — ‘well, how clever are you now?’ Mayo have so often before sought, but rarely taken, my advice. And still they wonder why. Every time they lose, I position myself on the bridge in Athlone and study their doleful faces as they cross the river.
My own teams lose so rarely, if at all, that I have to get my life-affirming fix of sadness from some source. It’s not that I haven’t encountered defeat — more that she knew better not to overstay her welcome.
Rochford’s a listener.
Tuesday night, I saw it in their eyes: that heady mixture of weakness and power, certainty and indecision, courage and fear.
The surest sign of their magnificence of this Mayo team is the grace with which they have hidden it all year.
That wasn’t easily achieved, but they managed it: when I heard they had been beaten by Galway, I smiled and told Nancy we were at last witnessing the birth of a green and red dynasty.
“Finally,” I told her, ”they’re starting to learn something.” The subsequent heaping of praise upon Galway brought Dwyer to mind. And, for once, I mean that as a compliment. By the time Big Kevin came to Ballybore, he knew he had been outwitted: Kearns had a simple job finishing his team off, which was just as well, because Kearns has been neglecting his visits to a certain backyard.
And now Mayo will pull their finest trick out of the hat.
Rochford just needs to get the final steps right.
“Did you ever pin a podcast up on the dressing room wall, Noel?” he asked.
When I heard that question, I knew the student was coming home to roost.
He has learned from Kerry’s mistake of running their team talk as a serious of articles the week of the game.
I won’t need to be in Athlone Sunday night. Take Sam — and me — home to Mayo.
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