If Mayo football is honest with itself, it will accept the standard of song produced since 1989 was nowhere near the level required to win an All-Ireland title.*
The writers could have resisted the obvious temptation to pair "bullet" with "Belmullet, but they didn't. Jimmy Burke, the 1989 full-forward, "was lithe and tough", with the "tough" purporting to rhyme with the Burke, while "McStay is like an antelope with his dodging to and fro".
Oh, those songs were grand at the time. We wore them to a thread on the tape-deck of the Fiesta we called Gráinne (that, too, belongs to another era, doesn’t it, naming your car?)
But not mould-breaking.
Clare had The Banner Roar in 1995. It was self-deprecating and self-confident. Clare won the All-Ireland.
We dug in, of course. As we lost All-Irelands, we got grimmer. Fun got marginalised.
A year later, Wexford rolled out Dancing at the Crossroads, fresher than new strawberries, comfortable in its greatness. It even referenced poitín: poitín, for God's sake, and we one of the undisputed poitín capitals of the world.
Wexford won an All-Ireland too.
In Mayo that very year, a man got publicly hanged for being seen with a happy head on him exiting Clonliffe College, after parking his car, the morning of a semi-final. His daughter got off with a warning, citing a nervous tick.
Link to Lanzarote
Last year took the biscuit entirely. I remember the very moment I realised Donegal were nailed down to win the All-Ireland. It was my brother who sent me the email link to the video of a lucky, lucky Jimmy (who's not from Donegal, he comes from Senegal) and Rory Gallagher, sitting back against a Lanzarote rock, singing Jimmy's Winning Matches.
The song had less than 1,000 hits at the time – it’s at 872,494 as I type, and surely our faith in human nature is such that we believe virtually all of those hits are for the song, and not for a sneaky look at the suncream-applying topless woman whose cameo starts at about 1 minute 51 seconds, or so I’m told.
It was early August, just a couple of days after they had beaten Kerry in the quarter-final. I'm fairly certain the comment I left was just the eighth one. Not even Malcolm Gladwell adopts that early.
How the antelopes on the Sunday Game panel failed to at least put Jimmy's song in the final three for the man of the match award remains one of the great mysteries.
But this year, let me tell you about this year. If an army can be said to march on its songs, drape the canister in green and red now and put it on the next flight to Knock (some years back, the county council, in a bid to boost the ailing airport, decreed that every Mayo song and newspaper article must end with the cup coming back to the place built by another James Horan).
This year. Mayo is in full song. The self-chosen fatwa has been lifted.
St Brendan's College, Belmullet, came over all Bocelli with a beautifully choreographed video and recording of Time to Say Mayo. Not a single hair will remain seated on the back of your head. It's just one of a vintage crop – making bold declarations and having knowing jibes at ourselves.
The video is a whole-school operation. The action rotates, as all the best film reviews almost say, between classroom, woodwork room and school yard: hundreds of young people marching, waving and dreaming in a coherent narrative that truly delights.
“Time to say Mayo,
I promise you this time will be like no other, no other endured
Sam Maguire’s heading west”
Given that school is only back a few weeks, it is quite a feat of planning and execution.
Local musicians have outdone each other in producing a catalogue of songs that amount almost to a recent social history of the county. Right now, it feels like a county shouting as one: “Mayo, and proud.”
God and Paddy Power
Only God and Paddy Power know how tomorrow will go, but, here in Mayo, the litany of final disappointments no longer feels like a yoke, and rather has been transmuted into something positive and powerful. It is quite an achievement to re-inject such hope into a county that has experienced so many heart-breaking defeats.
Mayo come to Croke Park tomorrow with the jauntiness of a county that hasn’t darkened September’s door for decades. It’s as if people know the worst that can befall us is to lose, and it’s not as if we haven’t coped with that before.
Reading the mood, the county’s civic leaders have ruled a man who was stoned to death in 2006 – his final words were to say “it wasn’t me who put up the flag. . . it’s the wife, she always had it in for me!” – should be officially pardoned, a symbolic act that makes people feel good, not that the man himself will feel the benefit of it, though the fact that the pardon was accompanied by a Nally Stand ticket (restricted viewing) certainly eased the family’s suffering.
A sheep was given leave to paint a farmer.
We mightn’t win tomorrow, but we’ll have fun trying.
Damn it to hell, we'll win the Sam Maguire and we'll fly it into Knock.
Author’s admission: I speak with authority. I am not without guilt. Greed got the better of me, m’Lud, and all it took was 30 words to transform Labi Siffre’s ‘Something Inside So Strong’ to ‘Mayo Inside So Strong’. It was 1997. I needed the money. They say profit is private, debt is public. They’re wrong. The seven years exiled on Burke’s Island put me right.