There are only two tragedies in life; one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it… — Oscar Wilde

 It’s amazing how quickly you can leave Croke Park when there is no victory to bask in.  More amazing still is how you can pass Jurys and Gills without so much as a sideways glance despite having made epic plans of celebration before it all went wrong.

More amazing still is how you can pass Jurys and Gills without so much as a sideways glance despite having made epic plans of celebration before it all went wrong.

Long after you’ve fled back west, chastened by the trauma and angry at yourself for ever believing it might be different, the words of a text message still hang like sulphur.

It comes from the same friend around the same hour after the same result every year. It simply reads: It’s the hope that kills us.

Alas, when the grief passes, and we are no longer prisoners to that horrible moment, consider this unpopular thesis; maybe, maybe Mayo are better off not winning the
All-Ireland.

Perhaps hope is a more enduring and unifying quality than joy, so fleeting and transient. Maybe we as Mayo people are happier living in the perpetual hope of the promise of the better tomorrow than ever reaching the heretofore unattainable Elysium and realising that the lights came on and the carpet is sticky and you’ve lost your ticket for the coatroom. And tomorrow is Monday.

There are countless examples in history of the utopia reached being far less enlightening than the journey of hope that preceded it.

Think if you will of Barack Obama, who burst upon the scene like a noughties Jesus, and achieved the impossible, and once he achieved it watched his joy and the joy of tens of millions of other people evaporate in hate and bigotry and where are they now?

Really, America needed Obama in opposition, not winning, but almost winning for 40 years, always challenging the hate and bigotry and making the country better in spite of itself.

Winning when he did, how he did, was the worst thing that could have happened to him and the country.

Winning is not always the best thing. Ask Charlie Sheen.

And so it is with Mayo. A friend of mine maintains he has never met a prick from Mayo.

Forget that he is from Mayo himself for a moment. Of course, if you were to take him literally you could find many holes in his argument, but my point is there is an innate decency to Mayo people that may have something to do with our not winning an All-Ireland in 66 years. There’s the hope.

There’s the humility. The empathy. The humour.

There’s the comprehension of the human condition due to the range of emotions we have to regularly endure on a now annual basis.

I do feel some sympathy for the rest of the country, too. For the average fan, I’d say watching Mayo trying to win the All-Ireland is like watching Laura Linney’s character in Love Actually try to get some.

We, like Laura, keep answering the phone when it rings, just as the deal is about to be closed, despite the screams to do otherwise from the millions of onlookers.

There is of course quite a downside to our current existence. We are tired of the pity extended to us, often by opposing fans during games, volunteering that they would love to see us win just once. “What would the GAA (Jurys, Gills, Kavanaghs) do without Mayo?”

We have become everyone’s favourite second team.

I am tired of the joe.ie-ification of our society where you need not invest any time or emotion in figuring stuff out for yourself, but have it presented to you in beautiful montages so you can be amazed at routine examples of sportsmanship and high-fiving.

Joe.ie loves Mayo. Lots of heroism and general soundness.

I don’t need Balls.ie either to tell me who my heroes are or who my nephew’s heroes should be, surely that is a personal investment that takes time to mature. I don’t want Mayo to be trending like a Kardashian on Twitter. But maybe the patronising pity extended to us is better than the alternative?

Think of the city of Boston and their beloved baseball team, themselves enduring a curse that dwarfed the one afflicting Mayo.

Decades of father/son relationships cemented by trips to Fenway to watch and hope as the Red Sox tried again and again. It bonded people from backgrounds who’d never have met otherwise. It was the talk of bars and bakeries and it made the town a beacon of hope.

It kept ancient grandmothers alive in the faith they might live to see It happen. And then, one October day in 2004, after some 86 years of trying, the Red Sox won the World Series.

Prisoners to that joyous moment, the city unified in an outbreak of joy and relief.

Those fathers and sons cried. Grannies passed away, finally sated. But, when the dust settled and pitchers and catchers returned for spring training the following year… what happened? Well, over time Red Sox tickets trebled in price and the fathers and sons didn’t go to Fenway anymore because, what’s the point? They’d won.

And granny was dead.

What would winning do to our Mayo heroes? These guys teach our kids and police our streets and engineer our bridges. Will Cillian enforce a “no eye contact” rule with his junior infant class in Clogher National School because the success has suddenly made him precious?

Will Donie invest his new found fame in a Yeezyesque shoe-line that will have the regulars at Vaughan Shoes in Castlebar scratching their heads wondering why he’s not on the shop floor selling them their slip-ons?

Success is different for Kerry and Dublin. It’s like being born into money — you just wear it easier, like a Kennedy or Justin Trudeau. For Mayo it could go any number of ways.

It’s not actually the players I am worried about. They have worked hard and more than deserve the trappings that success brings. If the O’Shea brothers want to front night clubs in the Cuban district of Miami then I say best of luck, hermanos. It’s the rest of us I despair for.

Maybe there is a part of me that does not want this story to end.

And the only end is victory. Maybe defeat is my captor and I have chronic Stockholm Syndrome. Maybe. But there is a beauty in the imperfection of this story. And for now and decades before, this story has been our reality.

I do believe some Sunday soon I won’t rush from Jones Road. That text message will not come. That the Battered Bastards of Football will finally triumph. I do believe it. But for now, I am happy to wait. And hope.


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