There are some advantages to watching the final on television.
The main one for me on Saturday evening was the proximity of the TV remote. At the push of a button, the screen switched satisfactorily to black, chiming perfectly with my mood.
It wasn’t a lack of respect for James Horan’s team that caused me to cut off the broadcast from Croke Park with such alacrity once the full-time whistle had sounded. It was simply that I had seen all I wanted to and didn’t really need to witness the afters, certainly not the dreaded presentation.
My mind wandered back to previous finals and how I’d felt once the whistle had sounded and the dream had died. The thick lump in my throat, the sting of salty tears and the urgent need to get the hell out of Croke Park as rapidly as possible. And then the gloomy walk home. Yes, this time the post-match bit was a whole load easier.
The lead-in to this unique made-for-TV final was, though, one that I found harder to handle than any of the others. I was perfectly okay until Friday morning but I then descended into a complete gibbering mess and my nervousness had only become more elevated when the day itself dawned.
Before the semi-final I’d gone for a walk down to Croke Park – which is located less than two miles down the road from where I live – and it had got me nicely into the frame of mind on that foggy day. I had planned to do the same on Saturday morning.
The day dawned bright and clear but my mind was all over the place. I hardly knew where my feet were, still less what I needed to do with them to propel myself out the door. Plans for a Croke Park walk quickly went by the boards.
When I’m at big matches involving Mayo, I often feel that the stress of the whole experience is just too much. So, getting to sit this one out at home should, in theory, have made for a calmer in-match experience.
Not a bit of it. I was instead like the proverbial cat on a griddle from the instant the ball was thrown in.
In fact, I wasn’t even aware the game had started at all and was as perplexed as the Mayo team were when I realised that Dublin had put the ball into our net with just fifteen seconds on the clock.
As our fortunes waxed and waned, I was up and down, unable to settle either standing or sitting. The tension watching the game was at times unbearable, with the contest’s shifting fortunes one minute settling me before then giving me the jitters anew.
By half-time, though, I was feeling okay. Just two points adrift having shipped two first half goals, we were well in this contest. Could we win it? I couldn’t, in truth, telescope my mind that far into the future. I was instead trying to recall where in the kitchen we usually leave the mugs and the tea bags.
Once more into the breach we went. We didn’t get the lift from having the extra man for the first ten minutes of the second half and I’d say that the hit on Lee Keegan rattled supporters watching on TV almost as much as it so visibly did the Westport man.
But at the second water break we were still in it, only a point in arrears. It was there for us, it was there for them.
The water bottles packed away, the play was back on for the final, decisive quarter. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, Dublin reeled off four unanswered points to open up a clear lead on us.
As I watched all of this unfold on the TV screen, as if in slow motion, it had an air of unreality about it. Not because of what Dublin were doing to us – they’d done this to other teams far sooner and to greater effect in other games this year – but because of its impact on me.
I came to with a start to realise that all of the stress and all of the tension I’d been feeling up until then had, as if by magic, evaporated. I was now perfectly calm.
And then I knew why. There was already no way back for us in this game and so there was nothing to be stressed about any longer. Although the match itself hadn’t finished, the focus, once again, now had to shift to accepting the looming reality of yet another final defeat.
This piece was first published in this week’s Mayo News All-Ireland final review supplement.