For all the strangeness marinating Mayo football at the moment, there was nothing more bizarre than the sight of a herd of four-legged animals heading for the Sportlann, in Castlebar, last Wednesday night, intent on issuing a singular demand of their very own.
They did not seek to be admitted to the much-anticipated County Board meeting, instead choosing to bray a short statement to the assembled press: “We, the donkeys of Ireland, do not wish to be associated in any way, shape, or form with the current drama involving Mayo football administrators and its benefactors. We ask all those involved to desist in dragging us into this. This is not our fight.”
With that, they turned on hoof and headed to Johnny McHale’s, where they supped a couple of meejums, before leaving town. What had prompted such an intervention is now well-documented, and undoubtedly the source of much mirth for anybody interested in, but not emotionally or financially invested in, Mayo football.
An ongoing spat between the Mayo county executive and international financier, Tim O’Leary — who founded the Mayo GAA International Supporters’ Foundation — took a cringeworthy turn recently, when a county board official referred to O’Leary as “a donkey” in an email that the official copied to Mr. O’Leary himself — one can only hope accidentally.
There was a further twist in the, ahem, tail, when the classic tune ‘Shoe the Donkey’ became the musical highlight of the half-time entertainment during the Mayo v Underdogs match, in Castlebar, on Saturday night. An official quickly issued an apology to Mr. O’Leary, who was in attendance, explaining no offence was intended, in what was a “lighthearted take on recent events.”
Wow. If you were half as smart at your books, as my mother-in-law has wont to say to me. All in all, you could see why the donkeys of Ireland would be pissed. But back to the meeting on Wednesday night, where it was standing room only, as the most anticipated gathering since the Yalta Conference got underway.
To heighten the suspense, a random punter, clad in a mackintosh jacket and trilby hat, had infiltrated the room. Neither a member of the press nor a club delegate — was he a Mossad agent? — he was politely ejected.
The intended crux of this meeting was to address the very explicit claims made by the MGISF that funds — $150,000 — raised by the foundation, and provided to the county board, have gone unaccounted for, despite repeated requests to the board by Mr. O’Leary and company.
All concerned had hoped Wednesday night would bring some clarity to the questions asked; alas, answers were not forthcoming. The executive issued a statement, citing legal constraints as the reason for omerta.
There were other issues; most notably, a claim from New York-based publican Eugene Rooney that his businesses were owed upwards of $20,000 by the county board, some of it dating back six years. This claim was made in another letter, which, if a cloud must have a silver lining, proves the near-dead art of writing letters is experiencing somewhat of a GAA-inspired renaissance.
To Rooney, the executive did respond, in another letter, emphatically claiming that no monies were owed. There has, to date, been no riposte from the publican, but one can only assume he is sitting, quill in hand, and another letter will be forthcoming.
Considering the travails of the FAI of late, the bar for sporting administrative catastrophes is quite high in Ireland, and notwithstanding the volunteer status of county executives, the powers-that-be in Mayo seem determined to jump it. The rather ambitiously altruistic premise that, in Mayo GAA, “we all want the same thing,” is perhaps a tad naive. Trying to guess what axe the board may have to grind with its wealthy benefactor may be futile, but, in the absence of anything concrete, necessary, in trying to give a balanced view.
Could it be, that, while they welcome his money, they resent him like the Bull McCabe saw The Yank, coming home to buy the field he didn’t build, which the board officials no doubt feel they did, with broken, bloody hands?
In that scenario, the MGISF may be an inconvenience to the County Board, with their terms and conditions, but surely one worth tolerating, with a nod to the greater good? Whatever, the locals are not happy. As for their overlords in HQ, no official statement has been forthcoming.
And so, the circle of life as a fee-paying GAA supporter continues. The crippling violence of low expectations, never as evident as when ‘Shoe the Donkey’ blared over the Tannoy last Saturday night, and the despairing public could do nothing but laugh, because, what else is there to do? Meaning well just doesn’t cut it anymore. Like the donkeys, most Mayo people have had enough. Unlike the donkeys, however, they can’t just walk away.