Green and red army pray for an end to 61 years of hurt
Hoist the banners high: Mayo fans get in the big-match mood
THERE IS a part of Co Mayo that would have this cup pass from them. Not the Sam Maguire Cup – we badly want to lay hands on that rascal – but the hullaballoo that goes with All-Ireland final day.
The pageantry in Dublin city, where the bars fly the competing counties’ colours, eager for the passing trade. The ritual of RTÉ’s Up for the Match, where Des Cahill and Gráinne Seoige interview zany characters from the competing counties. It all rings a little hollow now.
Truth be told, there are those in Mayo who, if they were offered a switch of venue for the final, from Croke Park in its full All-Ireland splendour to an All-Ireland final played on Tuesday at midnight at some club ground in the midlands, ideally near a crossroads, they’d think long and hard about the matter.
If Mayo won, great. A monkey would be off our backs and we could return to the pageant next year. If Mayo lost, at least the house would be private and there would be family flowers only.
Mayo aren’t the lovable innocents any more. That narrative was ideal for 1989, Mayo’s first All-Ireland final appearance in 38 long years. It was fine too for the 1996 and 1997 All-Irelands, when John Maughan brought a team from Division Three to within seconds of an All-Ireland title, playing football with a kind of intensity that wasn’t always associated with Mayo.
But by 2004 it had gone beyond a joke. Mayo were top table at that stage, regular contenders for honours. The days of not being able to get out of Connacht in the 1960s and 1970s were long past. Mayo needed more than a day out. They needed to win.
But they didn’t win. They lost. Badly, in 2004. Humiliatingly, in 2006. David Brady’s pithy quote about being sent on as a sub in 2006, not to change the game but to look for survivors, neatly sums up just how bad those beatings were.
The Mayo fans got some stick for leaving early in 2006, but it was easier to understand if you’re from Mayo. If any of the early Christians were in the crowd at the Colosseum during Nero’s circuses, chances are they wouldn’t have waited for the lions to be served their jelly and custard either.
The years after 2006 were bleak. John O’Mahony returned to bring the team that final yard. Instead, he embarked on a rebuilding project that didn’t work. It was a measure of how things have changed; O’Mahony’s Mayo were in the last eight in the country for two of the four years of his second coming. That’s not good enough anymore. Not even close.
The records show that Mayo have been consistent winners in the qualifier era. Mayo appear regularly in Croke Park, and win regularly in Croke Park. Mayo have defeated the All-Ireland champions three times in the past 10 years – Dublin this year, Cork last year and Tyrone in 2004. But the fact that they didn’t push on to close the deal and take home the big pot strangely invalidates all that went before.