Mayo by creed, a Liverpool and Chicago Cubs fan by deed, Billy Joe Padden may just be a glutton for punishment.
His appreciation for the Windy City’s poorest baseball franchise stems from his aunt Bernie regularly posting over Cubs paraphernalia to him as a child. She continues to live there among a large Mayo expat community, with the Padden’s Belmullet well represented.
Last month, tweeted a link to a fascinating Wall Street Journal article entitled “Please, Cubs, Don’t Win” written by Rick Cohen, a lifelong Cubs fan.
Padden included the caption: “Parallels with Mayo, wonder how our supporter experience will change when it happens.”
It being an All-Ireland title, of course.
The Cubs have a shared history with Mayo. Nicknamed “The Lovable Losers”, they haven’t won a World Series since 1908. A few divisional titles have come their way since but like Mayo since their last triumph, they too have lost on the ultimate stage on seven straight occasions.
The Cubs’ curse also chimes with Mayo. Where Mayo might have an indignant priest to blame for their woes, the Cubs can hold a billy goat responsible for their barrenness. When a famed local publican Billy Sianis was ejected from Wrigley Field after bringing his pet “Murphy” to a game, he damned his beloved team and said they would never win another World Series. He, like another clergy member in Mayo, later lifted the curse but seemingly to no avail.
Comedian Bill Murray, a fervid Cubs fan — “I will die a Cubs fan” — was once asked about which of the club’s close-but-no-cigar seasons in his lifetime hurt the most.
“They were all tough. It’s like saying which is your least favourite child. You can’t really pick out a least favourite; it’s difficult.”
Yet Murray’s enthusiasm for the game has never left him. “I gave it a lot of attention and it gave me a lot of joy.”
As the Cubs enjoy a good 2015 season (they are poised to secure a wild card slot in the play-offs), Cohen’s piece focuses on what a World Series might mean for the club’s fans. And not all of it is so rosy.
“A Cubs fan is a Buddhist,” he writes. “He or she knows that life is suffering and that relief from that suffering comes only by giving up all expectation and desire for victory.”
Cohen’s brilliant summation of the mixed emotions that envelop him should resonate with Mayo people as they did with Padden. He continues: “Thrilled as I am about the prospect of victory, part of me dreads winning. 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.
“A Cubs fan is unique and even necessary, a symbol of defeat in a fallen world, a world where everyone will eventually perish. If my team wins, they will become ordinary. If my team wins, they will later lose.
“Then they will have become just another team that has won, not very long ago, but is not winning anymore.
“In winning, the Cubs will make a lot of people happy, but the happiness will fade, and, once it’s faded, what will we have given up? The certainty and distinction and grandeur of epic failure.
“The humility and holy rags of degradation, the very quality that sets a Cubs fan apart and above. Gone will be the chance to prove the purity of our love for the game. Anyone can look good while winning. Only an aristocrat can be graceful in defeat.”
THERE are no purer supporters of Gaelic football than Mayo supporters. Nor Gaelic games, for that matter. Followers of Limerick and Waterford’s hurlers may be next best but true believers hail from the plain of the yew.
But there is a fatalism attached to them. After seven soul-crushing Septembers, that’s only natural. Former manager James Horan touched on it after the 2013 final defeat to Dublin when two months later he spoke of how quiet the supporters became in the final 15 minutes following Bernard Brogan’s second goal. “I wish there was more noise during the game than what I ever heard after it,” Horan bemoaned.
Padden at the time didn’t sense the silence but says it would have been understandable. “It would be human for fans to feel that. In an intense moment to feel ‘oh, no, here it goes again’. That does make the players’ job that bit more difficult and they will have to realise on Sunday they will have to grasp the nettle in the last 10 minutes. They have to be prepared for things like that happening and fans getting a bit nervy.
“You do get the odd comment when you ask someone if they think Mayo will get over Dublin and they say ‘Jesus, I couldn’t handle losing another final’. There’s that sort of mentality. I’d be more ‘just keep putting yourself in the position’. If you keep addressing the way this Mayo side have this last number of years, I know they’re going to get over the line at some stage.
“It [fatalism] does exist but I think there was more of it around 10 years’ ago than there is now. Because Mayo fans are so impressed with the consistency with which this Mayo team can compete against Dublin, Kerry and Donegal whereas we were never able to do that before. In the past, we’d come with a good team, get to the final, fall and you mightn’t see us again for two or three seasons. That’s changing the mindset.”
Padden points to James Horan as the reason for that.
“I don’t like to say Mayo have a history of losing, they’ve won plenty, but just not been able to win the big one. In order to start winning the big one, you have to start changing the culture and I think that has happened in the Mayo setup, just as with the Chicago Cubs. I think James Horan can take a lot of credit for how Mayo changed and it’s been driven on by Pat [Holmes] and Noel [Connelly]. The players bought into it. You can pick out leadership in any given game from three or four different fellas. Maybe in other counties it’s different like Tyrone who rely on Sean Cavanagh for leadership. I know Aidan O’Shea is a big player for Mayo but you get leadership from Colm Boyle, Keith Higgins, any of the midfielders, Lee Keegan, Cillian O’Connor who was probably the leader last year.
“What also interested me about the article was that there is so much good about following Mayo at the minute. Will this be the year? You hear the stories about the (Boston) Red Sox when they won the World Series and some of the fans didn’t think it was the same because it didn’t feel like they were breaking down the barriers after so long.
“I’m hopeful to be in a situation in a couple of years when I can ask ‘was supporting Mayo better before [winning] an All-Ireland or after?”
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