We’ve two All-Ireland finals in a single day to look forward to shortly but, as John Cuffe explains, this double decider appearance is but the latest in a long line of finals the county has contested in recent years.
They came in their droves to see the quarter-final against Kerry. Those old foes from across the generations locked horns for the first time since 1997 and before that we have to go back to the early Fifties and the 1947 famous Polo Grounds final. Cavan at last had their day in the sun and they will see 2013 as a success when one considers the depth of their fall.
In Mayo we at times are almost blasé about big days. We expect them and we get them. The breakthrough year of 1989 unclogged something within the county. It freed up a river and that river has flowed relentlessly since. Not just at inter-county senior level but right across the grades and also including our successful ladies teams. We stand alone for final day destination when compared to anyone else. Kerry head us at senior level but when you add in the rest we outstrip the so-called best.
Dublin’s win over Kerry last Sunday means that they’ve made it to just their second senior final since 1995. That’s the second in eighteen years, folks. We are making our sixth since 1996. Throw in League finals, add in U21 and Minor not forgetting Senior club and scare a year goes by that Mayo don’t have a trip to headquarters for some final or other. In fact in the twenty seasons I cover only 1998, 2002 and 2011 saw Mayo not having a representative in the grades I selected. More than likely they had someone at intermediate or junior in those years.
The table above illustrates the days out we enjoyed, the pain endured and often the ecstasy of victory. To put it in perspective, Cavan in 2009 had a 50th anniversary dinner for the last Cavan minor team that reached an All-Ireland minor final (which they lost.) In Mayo we would declare a crisis if the teenagers weren’t heading eastwards every three or four years. And if we were to honour every Mayo minor team that made the big day, then the county Board would be broke.
I am not a statistician but a quick glance at the table reveals, apart from a fantastic consistency, an unerring habit of coming in double bursts or twice in a three-year spell. Hence the seniors in 1996-7 arrived again in 2004-6 followed by 2012-13. At National League level we contested three finals in a seven-year sequence.
The U21s mirror the seniors, a double burst in 1994-5, and a single in 2001 followed by two in three years 2004 and 2006. Better, the U21s of the latter two dates doubled with the seniors in the same years. The minors go a two-one-two-one sequence. The excellent and bountiful team of 1999 backed onto the 2000 team. Alone stood a team in 2005 that fared poorly against Down but brilliantly gave us the bones of the U21 team a few months later and quite a few of the current senior panel. Tyrone and Armagh’s highly rated minors of 2008 and 2009 were put to the pin of their respective collars before Mayo unluckily were forced to yield. The lessons learned from that group are now in train. Inside the next few weeks the latest Minor model rolls off the assembly line.
Closely tied to county is club. Virtually every second year from 1994 to 2005 a Mayo club team graced Croke Park on final day. Rivalries were put to one side as all the Mayos put the shoulder behind Castlebar, Knockmore, Ballina twice and Crossmolina twice in their quest for national glory. The club sides never disappointed as the nation got to see the depth the county produced in those years. Often it was the loyal clubman who saved the day, eclipsing the county man on the same club team. Aidan Tighe’s block at the death for Ballina against Portlaoise in 2005 or Paddy McAndrew’s fierce determination against Nemo of Cork in 2001.
Not to be outdone, the Mayo ladies since 1999 amassed four senior All-Irelands along with a few national leagues. Throw in Carnacon’s club dominance nationwide and we see that Mayo need bow to neither male nor female. Taking the three years from the twenty under review that didn’t yield a final day out for us we must not see them as wasted. Mayo succumbed in a tight match in 1998 to the eventual All-Ireland winners Galway and in 2002 lost to reigning All-Ireland champions Galway. In 2011, meanwhile, we regained our balance after some dismal years by knocking out the then reigning All-Ireland champions Cork before laying the foundations against a wily Kerry side a few weeks later.
I am no expert but I doubt if a single other county could overlay a similar record as ours. I have carped and cribbed at times but often from a sense of frustration at our ability not getting the final day imprimatur or the respect we deserved. I have let that bone go and am proud of a county that – despite adversary, bad days, poor referees and life’s slings – simply gets back in the saddle and rides across those famous Yew Plains to give us followers days that we will never forget. To the two Mayo teams about to take up arms and don the armour…ádh mór oraibh agus tóg abháile na corn mór.