Mayo manager James Horan looked to the stands and noticed something. The red and green supporters had gone quiet. They had given up and that negativity was in danger of seeping onto the pitch.
“When I was thinking back through the game it was interesting about how deathly silent it was,” he said.
“That’s something that stuck out for me at the time. With eight minutes to go, we were two points down. It was like someone was dead in the stadium.”
Supporters who have seen their county lose 22 of the 26 All-Ireland finals they have contested at senior, U21, minor and club level since 1989 felt they knew what was about to happen. They gave up.
He wasn’t the only one to notice.
Within a month of the final, and before Horan’s observations were made public, a group of supporters set about tackling the negativity among their own. Their task: To bring the fun back into being a Mayo supporter. Their name: Club 51.
“The idea originated after a discussion on mayogaablog.com,” said one of the founders, Anne Marie Flynn from Ardagh but based in Dublin. In the aftermath of the final there were a lot of discussions and post mortems.
A few people said when things weren’t going well the Mayo crowd just went silent whereas things were going well for Dublin and they just raised the roof. There was a bit of comment that it seems to be a bit of a theme with Mayo supporters; they put the head down when things aren’t going well and the atmosphere dies and the team are left on their own.
“A few of us came up with an idea to set up a club to coordinate ourselves during games to make a bit of noise to contribute to a good atmosphere at games.
“For us the difference was you can have GAA fans but this about being an active supporter and getting behind the team and not being negative. It’s an amateur sport and these lads owe us nothing. Really the aim is to support them and to try and get rid of that negativity out there.”
She’s joined in developing the club by a core of Michael Maye, Mark Togher and Robert Bashford, who provides the overseas feedback, while there are 10 to 15 more people contributing their time and efforts each week. It’s starting to gain traction with 200 members already but they expect that figure to mushroom.
They’ve no intention of becoming a supporters club aimed at fundraising, more a social network to build up a culture of getting behind the team at key stages during games.
“We’ve been in Croke Park so many times where things haven’t gone our way. Maybe there is an element to that and it’s part of the reason behind the idea that there’s a lack of confidence or belief that the guys out there can go and get the job done,” said Anne Marie.
“That’s really unfortunate because every team is different and there’s no logical reason why we can’t follow through. But there is an element of that among the support and this was really set up as one of the ways to counter that and foster a can-do attitude.”
So far that’s consisted of meeting before games for a pint or a sandwich and walking to the ground together under the Club 51 banner where they ensure they occupy a spot in the stand together.
“There’s a perception that being a Mayo supporter is a bit of a cross to bear,” said Anne Marie. “It’s a bit of a burden, almost a purgatory but we have this great team who are consistently among the top teams in the country and give us countless days out in the summer.
“Being a Mayo supporter is not a bad thing. We’re very lucky and there are supporters all over the country who would kill to be in our shoes even if we haven’t managed to get to where we want to go just yet.
“It’s something we’re trying to establish. It’s not soccer and we don’t have a culture in Mayo of singing in games. The biggest chant we have is ‘Mayo, Mayo’. It’s a challenge in that sense. We’re making people conscious that when things go against us and it goes quiet that we stand up and make a bit of noise. Sometimes it just takes someone to stand up and shout.”
After years of disappointment it begged the question: why put yourself through that?
“I think it’s an illness,” laughed Anne Marie. “We all ask ourselves that. Especially when you leave Croke Park on the last Sunday of September. I can’t give you a logical reason for it. It’s just something that’s bred into you. You have an affinity with a place and you’ll rarely get a bunch of supporters as romantic and hopeful as Mayo fans.”
The first test of the group’s effectiveness takes place tomorrow in Croke Park. A return to the scene where it all started. Anything special planned?
“We’ve a get together before the game in Jurys Croke Park Hotel. The big thing is to go into Croke Park and hold the heads up high. At the end of the day Dublin beat us by one solitary point last September.
“We’ve nothing to fear from them and we’re going into what is essentially our ground as well. We want to go in there with a bang and lay down a marker for the year ahead. We’ll be wanting people to get behind the team and be proud of the lads.”
- To join Club 51 you can find details on their website mayoclub51.com , Facebook page Club51 or on Twitter @clubmayo51.
1989: Lost to Cork
1996: Lost to Meath (after replay)
1997: Lost to Kerry
2004: Lost to Kerry
2006: Lost to Kerry
2012: Lost to Donegal
2013: Lost to Dublin
1994: Lost to Cork
1995: Lost to Kerry (after replay)
2001: Lost to Tyrone
2004: Lost to Armagh
2006: Beat Cork
1991: Lost to Cork
1999: Lost to Down
2000: Lost to Cork
2005: Lost to Down
2008: Lost to Tyrone (after replay)
2009: Lost to Armagh
2013: Beat Tyrone
1994: Castlebar Mitchels lost to Nemo Rangers
1997: Knockmore lost to
1999: Ballina lost to Crossmaglen
2001: Crossmolina beat Nemo Rangers
2003: Crossmolina lost to Nemo Rangers
2005: Ballina beat Portlaoise
2014: Castlebar Mitchels lost to St Vincent’s
Mayo have lost 22 finals from the 26 contested.