Taking the P-word – An Irishman’s Diary about the All-Ireland final
Being a process-server in Mayo used to be a hazardous job. Aloysius O’Kelly/Illustrated London News
You and I saw an epic football match, one of the great All-Ireland finals whose outcome was in the balance until the last moments.
But if their key mantra is to be believed, what the Dublin management saw yet again on Sunday was the triumph of the “process”, whereby well-coached players trust their instincts and each other, even in fraught circumstances, and keep making the right decisions to the end, from all of which victory tends to follow.
Or maybe, to judge by the (amusingly named) “homecoming” celebrations, mentions of the “process” have now peaked, and will soon join another p-word – passion – as a shop-soiled sporting cliché.
So perhaps the term is on the way out, having served its purpose. But in the meantime, there is historic irony in the fact that poor Mayo should have been on the receiving end of it, yet again.
There was a time in Ireland when the word “process” referred mainly, if not exclusively, to the hand-delivered legal documents that accompanied evictions.
And Mayo people were more likely than most to be on the wrong end of those too, although they also led the way in fighting them.
Being a process-server in that county used to be a hazardous job.
A famous Aloysius O’Kelly sketch for the Illustrated London News depicts one such man fleeing for his life from a crowd of Land Leaguers in 1881.
That was just before the GAA took over as the prime cause of suffering in Mayo.
But in a foreshadowing of what was to come, flags did also play a role in those events.
On hearing of a process-server’s approach, locals used to wave red flags (sometimes improvised from petticoats) to alert others and attract an obstructive crowd.
The dictionary-adorning fate of Charles Boycott began in exactly such a manner.
Not that any of this will help Mayo finally win an All-Ireland, in their undying quest for which most neutrals (and even the more humane class of Dubliner) are now emotionally invested.
Yes, the county’s historic resistance to process-servers could provide the theme of a pre-match rallying speech in the style of Phil Bennet’s semi-legendary diatribe against the English oppressor.
But Mayo have probably tried that already. And anyway, motivation is not one of the things they lack. Nor is courage, or character, as their recovery from yet another disastrous start in a final proved.
By contrast, Dublin’s early goal on Sunday brought me back to that county’s Ground Zero – the 2009 quarter-final against Kerry. Then it was Kerry who scored in the first minute, with a similarly daisy-caressing finish by Colm Cooper.
But unlike Mayo, Dublin promptly fell apart that day, as if the first minute of a game was the worst time to concede a goal, when in fact, as any good coach (and the Kerry 1982 team) will tell you, the last minute is a lot worse.
I was there in 2009 and still remember the sound of tumble-weed on Hill 16 as the game ended with Kerry ahead 1-24 to 1-7.
There wasn’t much talk about breaking Dublin up into three parts then.
But Mayo have again and again proven themselves unflappable in the face of setbacks. It’s just their misfortune to be up against a team that is at least their equal in mental fortitude and, when physical fatigue strikes, always has a deeper pool of reinforcements.
Most of the praise for Dublin’s winning score on Sunday fell on the well-named Dean Rock, who held his nerve to kick it.
Before that, however, the free had to be won.
This was where the gifted but volatile Diarmuid Connolly came in.
The risk of bringing him on at all in such a game had already proved negligible. He was as calm as the eye of a storm throughout the second half. He was also nowhere near the scene of the violence when Messrs Small and Vaughan had to be evicted.
But with the final whistle looming, it was Connolly who made the run and took the hit.
Then he got up, dusted himself off, and gave the ball to Rock.
After that, he gestured to his team-mates to calm down.
And then he walked away, with the steely look of a man who knew that he’d served the process.