It’s been said countless time already but this truly is a year like no other.
For Mayo supporters, this Championship campaign has certainly been a unique one. While the players have had to cope with all the Covid protocols and the odd experience of contesting high-octane knockout matches behind closed doors, at least they’re directly involved. They get to be there. Supporters, though, have found themselves confined to barracks.
That’s a familiar discipline for Mayo supporters fated to live abroad. They have to love the team from afar, with many emigrants rarely if ever able to attend a game. These fans are, though, often as obsessive in their devotion to the cause as those based in Ireland who follow the team all over the country. Despite this, the county’s huge ex-pat following is often forgotten about.
That fact was brought home forcefully to me the last time Mayo qualified for the final. Shortly before the 2017 decider, Mike Finnerty, Rob Murphy and I took the Mayo News football podcast on tour to London where, in the Oxford Arms in Camden, we packed the place out for a live show.
What struck me most about that night – and, as a former emigrant myself, it did so forcefully – was how the many Mayo supporters we met wanted so much to identify with the team and how, from afar, they were walking every step on the road to the All-Ireland decider.
A lucky few of those we encountered that night would, of course, have been in Croke Park a few weeks later. But most wouldn’t have and, like countless others shouting for Mayo across the world that day, their support for the team during the game would have been shouted out while watching on TV or by listening to the radio commentary.
For one reason or another, I’ve missed plenty of big Mayo games myself down the years, even after I’d started the blog and so felt a greater need than ever to be there. Last year, for example, due to different commitments, I failed to get to four of our Championship matches. (In this year’s knockout format, that’s as many games as we’ve played so far). But, since 1989, I’ve yet to miss a final.
Many Mayo supporters will, I know, find it incredibly difficult not to be at Croke Park for this year’s decider. What if, after all these years and all those final losses, we go and win the bloody thing, the very year nobody can be there to witness it and to celebrate it?
For sure, that thought is a hard one. But, you know, people are having to cope with far harder this year. Many will be seated around dinner tables this Christmas contemplating the absence of loved ones and so we’d all do well to keep a sense of perspective about what’s really hard in this life.
This is, after all, only football.
Me? I’m viewing the match as a chance to taste what life is like on the other side of the street. This year, for this final, it’s like we’re all in America.
We’d have loved to be there, would have done anything to be at the game, but it just didn’t happen. Or perhaps the logistical challenges were too great or that hoped-for ticket never materialised. Or that reality simply got in the way.
So, instead, we’ve accepted the next best thing, of watching the game on TV from wherever we are. Our shouts may not carry to Croke Park but our hopes and, yes, our prayers take wing. We’re there in spirit even if we can’t be in body.
This year, as we all yell like loons at the television once the ball is thrown in at an empty Croke Park, we’ll be able to take comfort that we’re part of a huge global Mayo support losing the run of ourselves in households the world over. Regardless of where in the world we’re marooned on the day we’ll all form part of the same unified diaspora.
All of us shouting for Mayo, all of us hoping beyond hope that this one will be the one. Even if none of us can be there to see it.
This piece was first published in the Mayo News All-Ireland final supplement, which is available here.