Had Mayo possessed one more scoring forward these past few years they’d have long ago found what they were looking for, says Enda McEvoy.
“Enda Kenny! Pat Rabbitte! Pee Flynn! Beverley Cooper Flynn! Michael Davitt! Grace Kelly! Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin! Er, Louis Walsh… Can you hear me? Your boys have given Dublin a hell of a beating! Your boys have won the All-Ireland at last!”
They didn’t make it easy last Sunday. Not easy on themselves, not easy on their supporters, not easy on the watching nation.
They never do. It is part of — maybe most of — what makes this Mayo team Mayo.
Seven points down early on, two up at half-time. In theory they should have been able to motor on from there and close the game out handily enough. But, again, that would have been far too straightforward for them. And to think Alex Ferguson had the nerve to claim that Manchester United “never do things easily”.
On Monday they’ll again chase a seventh All-Ireland semi-final appearance in succession. They’ll probably manage it, though not without a predictably grim struggle. But a first Sam since 1951? Nah. Not for a team who’ve seen three of their last four outings this summer finish level at the end of normal time. One cannot continue traipsing to the well indefinitely.
But what of it? Too often we fail to recognise what the championship is about and what it isn’t about. For one team it’s about the Holy Grail. For two or three others it’s about the grail quest; they’ll go close but eventually, like Alison Doody, the cup will slip through their fingers and they’ll fall into the chasm. For the rest it’s about other things, simultaneously more basic and more nebulous.
It’s about the journey, not the destination. It’s about being as good as you can be and being — all enquiries on this score to Polonius — as true to yourself as can be. It’s about railing at one’s own imperfections and struggling to rise about them, which is precisely what Mayo have spent the decade doing. Had they possessed one more scoring forward these past few years they’d have long ago found what they were looking for. That they haven’t continues to make them compelling viewing.
Sometimes it makes them downright masochistic viewing. Is there any other county that could have conceded two of the most egregious goals ever seen in an All-Ireland final, lost their goalie in farcical circumstances, and still come up only just short? Against, moreover, a team that are not so much a team as a GAA phenomenon, a two-tone blue tsunami?
A decade ago Mayo had sheen but no substance. Think of that All-Ireland final where, being beaten out the gate by Kerry at half-time, they couldn’t muster the gumption to win the throw-in at the start of the second half. Laughable. These days they have substance but little sheen. It’s not perfect but it’s a substantial improvement.
What’s more, Mayo have an identity. That matters. It really matters. Outside of Dublin, Kerry, and a couple of the northern teams, what footballing counties possess a distinct and recognisable identity to the neutral? Cork have one, except it’s negative. Meath used to have one — they were Meath with knobs on and fists flailing — but now they’re just another team who could be wearing any other colour and nobody would know the difference.
Above all, look at where Mayo have come from and how relevant they are compared to how irrelevant they used to be. Here’s my friend Terry, a diehard adherent of the green and red.
“I remember back in the old days when Connacht were always beaten in the All-Ireland semi-final. It was a real west of Ireland thing. We were downtrodden economically, there were no jobs, there was no hope. Then came the teams of 1985 and ’89 and it changed everything.
“We were hockeyed by Cork in 1993 but more often than not the team has become a symbol of us against the system. Look at Dublin and Kerry now in terms of finances and look at us. It’s a good place to be compared to where we came from. The economics and devastation is still there but we have the football team and this crop will die with their boots on.”
And if they do win? Here’s Patrick, my other Mayo friend, domiciled in Melbourne since 2010 but back for every All-Ireland final in the meantime.
“We’ve had a highly enviable run, especially since 2012. The 2004 and ’06 finals were dispiriting and depressing experiences but since the advent of the Horan era we’ve been a genuine force to be feared rather than pitied. We’ll always be a punchline until the day we actually win it, of course, but I sense there’s serious respect for what this group has done now from the wider football community.
“If you’re rooting for the underdog story there’s no one more worth following in football — and arguably anywhere in Irish sport — at the moment. There’s definitely comfort in that.”
At the risk of wandering into the realm of Too Much Information, the notion of a Mayo man hoisting Sam is “a pretty regular fantasy” of Patrick’s. He occasionally wonders if it would be an anti-climax before he decides that no, there’d have to be “some level of joyous derangement”.
Release. That’s the word he keeps coming back to. Being able to puff his chest out, call his team the best in the land, and look the world in the eye. No more condescension from opposition supporters like the Dublin fans he ran into after the 2013 final. Their pity, he reports, “was maddening”.
He does acknowledge, mind, that an odd sense of loss might be a byproduct of All-Ireland success. “Our identity is so wrapped up in the striving that winning would make us just another team. It would be very interesting to see how graciously we’d handle it.”
A fence to worry about after they’ve jumped it. First, Roscommon on Monday. They won’t make it easy. Mayo, that is.
Just don’t mention nonsense in Vegas
A quick notice to those Irish Examiner readers who, improbably, do not follow your correspondent on Twitter.
Just to reiterate, I will not be engaging in conversation with anyone who mentions a certain thingamijig shortly taking place in Las Vegas and featuring world-class spouse beater Floyd Mayweather Junior and world-class self-promoter C***r McG****r. Of, if you prefer — and hats off to Denis Hurley of this parish, who brought those asterisks to their natural conclusion — C***r Mc**ego*.
It is many things. It is showbiz, and at least it doesn’t pretend to be otherwise. It is vaudeville, with its four press conferences in four cities in four days, complete with much preening and well-rehearsed shape throwing and even a bespoke suit that swears. Set to be the most lucrative event (‘fight’ is scarcely the operative word) in boxing history, it’s a cleverly planned, painstakingly organised and brilliantly publicised way of separating mugs from their money. But it sure ain’t sport. Not a word to me, please. You have been warned.
Heroes & villains
Stairway to Heaven
Such a ludicrous fee that it at least renders Kyle Walker’s temporary status as the world’s most expensive defender slightly less preposterous.
Gorgeous-looking dark grey filly from the Aidan O’Brien stable who continues to make the summer her own.
Hell in a handcart
Sometimes sport simply isn’t fair.
On the bright side, he’s still a friend of Rory’s. Anyone know what the LRC-approved severance package for caddies is?
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