Mayo: A county and a people seeking liberation from past
It is beyond time for Mayo to free themselves from the ghosts of past defeats
There is no question that the decades of expectation and frustration, the dashed hopes and boozy aftermaths and Mayo mantras – “Kenneth Mortimer lost 10 All-Ireland finals, ya know” – will be present in the atmosphere in Croke Park. There is no question that the Mayo team will have to acknowledge and absorb some of that nervousness. The big unknown concerns whether it will liberate them or weigh them down. All the week, the popular talk has been about Mayo getting a “good start“, as if the concession of an early goal to Dublin would bring about a mass LSD flashback of the nightmarish opening chapters of 2004, 2006 and 2012. What all Mayo people want above all out of tomorrow is not to have to utter the words, “Not again.“
But they want more than that. They just want to win the bloody game of football. They are tired of the sepia image of gallant Mayo, handsome losers. Let them win a notoriously poor game by a single point! They are tired of yarns about the curse, of the six o‘clock news footage showing Mayo folk streaming out of Croke Park before final whistles, of the Sunday Game inquisitions into the soul of their county, of the lachrymose homecomings, of the “coulda-woulda-shoulda” reasons why it didn‘t happen and most of all, of the maddening fact that every new season offers strong reasons to suggest that their team are good enough to be genuine All-Ireland contenders. They are tired of swearing they will never go to see Mayo play again and then not missing a match the next season.
The novelty of being contenders is over for Mayo. All-Ireland champions is the only thing left for them to be. Ireland was a different country when the Charlestown writer John Healy recorded the mood for the Western People as the 1950/51 side moved through the county with the Sam Maguire.
“As the train sped by, the hay was set ablaze and proud farmers and supporters held their beacons aloft as the train sped on into the night. At Ballyhaunis, fog signals exploded and as the train came to a halt eager and frenzied supporters ran down the platform with blazing torches and hoisted the cup aloft.“
Free those ghosts
It is not to get back to those nights that Mayo want now. It is to escape from them. It is beyond time to free those ghosts.
The scene is perfectly set; city against country, the West against the metropolis and seated in the Ard Comhairle a Mayo Taoiseach – the son of Henry Kenny, midfielder on the first Mayo team to win it all in 1936.
There may well be a handful of Mayo children tomorrow who get to see their team win the All-Ireland at the first time of asking. If they do so, the whole business will seem like the most easy and natural thing in the world. But the elders know how much has been invested in this. And the minutes after half past three stay with them all, one way or the other.
This All-Ireland final is almost impossible to call with any accuracy, it is so evenly poised. And yet Mayo people watching, from Chicago to Bangor-Erris to Hong Kong, must believe that deliverance will come. Any mongrel of a win will do.
For if not now, then when?
And if not now, then how?