Mayo’s Conor Mortimer still haunted by two All-Ireland final defeats

‘I don’t feel good about the finals. It’s a bit of a stain on the whole thing’ he reveals in his new book

There are two hold-the-phone revelations in Conor Mortimer's new book and neither of them have anything to do with James Horan. Indeed, they don't have anything particularly to do with Mayo football, at least not directly. What they point to though is the streak of otherness that informed his time as a county player, for good and for ill.

One is that for a huge chunk of his intercounty career, he played with a mangled cruciate ligament in his left knee.

It first went in a Connacht U-21 final in 2001. By 2003, Ray Moran was concerned enough about it to usher him from his treatment room in Santry with an instruction to book in for surgery at reception on the way out.

Mortimer quietly pulled the peak of his cap down over his head and walked out the front door without stopping – and never darkened it again until 2011. He didn’t want to miss a year of football and he’d read somewhere that Kieran McGeeney had gone his whole career with a duff cruciate by just building up the muscles around it. In the end, it was February 2012 before he gave in and had it operated on. He never started another game for Mayo afterwards.


Liverpool fan

The other one goes away back to when he made his confirmation and concerns the name he took. On the face of it, James seems regulation enough. Not very rock-the-boatish at all. Until he reveals that the reason behind it was that as a goalkeeper and a Liverpool fan, he had one idol above all others at the time.

David James

will never know how much he meant.

"Yeah, it was a bit mad," a sheepish Mortimer says now. "But Liverpool were everything to me at the time. Sure he left eventually! I don't think I've seen him play a game since. It was a bit weird really taking his name, wasn't it? When you think about it, like. I suppose it was just at that age where you start to do things differently to other kids. I thought it was funny at the time. It was funny at the time!"

Mortimer's book – One Sunday: A Day In The Life Of The Mayo Football Team – isn't a hammer job or a score settler. He has the occasional pop at Horan and rains the heaviest of his blows on the Mayo County Board but, all in all, there have been plenty angrier GAA books before and there will be again.

Instead, the most interesting chunk of the book is the middle section, an account of the 2006 All-Ireland final through his eyes. The meat of the book, it's over 100 pages long and it skilfully weaves the stories of Mortimer and his Mayo team-mates through a day when they were scorched to death long before half-time. Mortimer reflects near the end of the book that he played in two All-Ireland finals and didn't show up for either of them.

A book

“Part of me was always thinking, like, ‘who am I to be writing a book’? If it was someone I knew, a friend of mine, I’d be going, ‘Well, that’s ballsy now’. Because players far more successful than me haven’t written a book and will never write one. I would have that bit of anxiety about it. Will anyone care? Why would they?

“I don’t feel good about the finals. It’s a bit of a stain on the whole thing. It’s a stain because it’s the biggest game.

“I played 95 times for Mayo I think between league and championship and 90 per cent of the conversations I would have with people would focus on those two games.

“That’s what sticks in people’s heads. Not that you ended up Mayo’s leading scorer of all time, not that you won three Connacht titles, not that you won an All Star, not this, that or whatever. It’s just those two games. So it is a bit of a stain for me personally. But I go back and I watch those games and my god, we were atrocious. The turnovers that we gave Kerry, we just handed them the game. It was frightening to watch back.”

He famously pulled stumps on his Mayo career the week of the 2012 Connacht final when Horan rang to tell him they weren’t starting him against Sligo. Mortimer was sitting having coffee in Malahide when the phone went, Horan ringing to tell him he hadn’t made the 15. By the time the cup was empty, he was done.

The end

“People say you’re bitter but if I was bitter I’d be calling everyone a bollocks. And I don’t at all – there’s no slating in the book because I don’t think that.

“Personally, I have no problem with anybody. I’ve always said it – the end came down to a very simple case that happens in every club and every county. The manager didn’t fancy the player and that’s it.

“A lot of players would probably stick around. But in my situation, I just felt, no. ‘You’re 30 years of age, you’ve been on a team for 10, 12 years, you’re living and working in Dublin. You’re dropped and that’s that.’ It didn’t matter what he said back to me.

“He was going to come meet me and things like that but it didn’t matter to me. As far as I was concerned, that was the end of it.

“I was a bit hasty, I’d say. It was a big decision. But I didn’t foresee never playing for Mayo again after it.

“The breaking point for me was the fact that the corner forward was changed between the Connacht semi-final and final and it wasn’t me that was brought in.

“That was it.

“I just went, ‘No, not for me. Not for me.’ It’s irrelevant who it was, that’s not the point. It was probably unfair from me on anybody that’s been a substitute. But I wasn’t used to it. I didn’t know how to play it.”

So he played it his own way. Story of his life.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times