In the days that have passed since Sunday’s defeat, we’ve all had to rationalise what it means in our own minds. Here’s Rob Murphy of the Mayo News and Mid West Radio making a first appearance in the guest slot to provide his perspective on it.
I’ve lived through it all and while I wasn’t at the ’89 final, I remember my seat in front of the television at the Grandparents’ house in the centre of Ballinrobe and I remember even more clearly driving to Knock Airport the next day holding my flag out the window of our Toyota. The buzz when the plane landed. The cheers.
I’m far too cynical these days to go to homecomings after defeats and it usually takes me 48 hours to even begin the process of getting over an All-Ireland. I’m thinking of writing a little pocket book guide for recovering from final defeats. I could sell it outside Croke Park each year as fans of the losing county stream out.
As some of you will know I work for the Mayo News and Mid West Radio following the fortunes of our inter-county footballers. It takes me to Newry on February weekends and Tullamore on August Bank Holidays and I’m privileged.
I’d love to write about the fans you see in Tullamore the day after a big quarter-final win or in the Dining Car just outside Páirc Esler on a damp Saturday in late winter. Car loads of them following the team through thick and thin but let’s park that thought this time.
This year, more than any other in my time following the team, I was taken aback by the number young fans you see at games. I had post-game interviews to do after the Galway match on the pitch in Pearse Stadium back in May and I took to the field bang on full-time.
There must have been 1,000 kids on there looking for autographs before me. I interviewed Enda Varley and Tom Cunniffe while they were signing away. All of these kids had the jerseys, all were fully familiar with every Mayo starter and subs. All fanatical and all exuding positivity.
There is a whole generation of Mayo people under 25 who don’t even remember the defeats of the 90s. Then there are those under 20 who have no real recollection of 2004 and only young memories of 2006. When you get to under 15s and under 10s, their memories are of many, many championship victories in Dublin and in Connacht and just one or two important losses.
Time is passing and events of the past are becoming less relevant to the generations of the future, that will hopefully play a key role in bringing euphoria to the people of the county. When we despair after days like Sunday, we need to remember that there is more than one perspective on all this.
I have seen old images of the dejected Irish international soccer team sitting on the bench in Belgium in 1981 after missing out on qualification. I wasn’t even one year on the earth and while the images bring a sense of sadness they don’t strike any chord emotionally, because I didn’t live the moment.
Other more recent images are different like the one of the frozen Irish players stuck to the ground in Euro ’88 after that wicked spinning ball nipped in to give Holland a poxy 1-0 win. Or a similar scene from Macedonia in 1997. How about the full time shot of Richard Dunne in Paris in 2009 or Ireland’s best player in Euro 2012 Keith Andrews, walking down the tunnel after his red card?
They all rankle. The emotions are raw and I was part of that – I lived through the horrible punch in the gut feeling that enveloped me in the seconds after. Those moments mattered to me and always will matter because they unfolded in front of my eyes.
Perspective is always needed on these important moments. Euro ’88 was better because it was our first major tournament. Had we gone to six or seven before my time, the whole event would have been different.
The Mayo minors celebrated with more gusto on Sunday because they knew how long it had been. Yet the pain of what has gone before won’t burden them either; it can’t as it has no relevance, it’s history and it’s before their time. It just means the party is better when they succeed and that’s a nice bonus, that they happen to be a breakthrough generation.
I firmly believe that Jame Horan’s tenure has been underlined by a mental fortitude within the squad which has helped firmly establish the separation from the defeats of the past. Their dejection this week is based solely on the fact that they were so agonisingly close two years running and key present-day mistakes were made. New mistakes.
It is not a case of jitters or holding their nerve anymore, they showed bottle and class both last year and this year at different junctures in the final but they also showed flaws and deficiencies. These need to be addressed and others more qualified than me will discuss and dissect them.
All I can talk about is our state of mind as Mayo followers, it is incumbent on us all to stay positive and it ain’t easy, On Sunday night, I was adamant that no team comes back for a third year in a row and we were in for a hiatus period again before our next tilt but now I’m not nearly as sure. The landscape hasn’t changed all that much and as Willie Joe has pointed out elsewhere on this site, we are rightly second favourites for 2014.
The Mayo football team are a sporting team like no other I have come across yet in the world of sport. They are a team that through numerous generations over the last quarter of a century have been better than most other teams, most of the time. They just have never been the best and the margins at times have been minuscule.
Sports science in 50 or 100 years time may have evolved to be able to study cultures and nuances within communities and explain why such an unusual repetitive cycle like this can happen in one corner of a small island. In the meantime, though, all we can do is shoulder our burden, refuse to let it break us and continue to try and figure out a way to break free of it.
While we do that, the younger generations will look upon our philosophical musings and deep thinking as nonsense and just get on with getting on. The players on this great minor team will put their heads down and work harder than ever to make this All Ireland medal one of many, they’ll believe that they can be the key to future success.
And all the while, the current crop of senior stars will spend the winter months rediscovering life and relaxation before catching the bug again and saying:
No, I’m not done yet.
We’re not done yet.
And by the looks of things, everyone of our neighbours, friends and clubmates are ready to back us once again.
Let’s do this.
Rob Murphy is on Twitter @murphyrob.