No, not you lot, not those who follow this blog nor the Mayo followers in general. Páidí Ó Sé described, in a 2003 Sunday Independent interview, the Kerry followers as “the roughest type of fucking animals you could ever deal with”.
No ambiguity there. Páidí could have melted down eight Celtic Crosses won on the battle field. He could point to managing Kerry to an U21 All-Ireland, two Senior ones plus a few League titles.
So what reduced a certifiable gold-plated Kerry warrior to utter such an unambiguous statement about essentially his own people? Well a number of planets aligned and dimmed Páidí’s star. His use (scant) of Maurice Fitzgerald , the 2001 battering by Meath, the throwing away of the 2002 final against Armagh and the inability to deal with Tyrone’s “puke” football in the summer of ’03.
Páidí was actually assailed in Croke Park by a follower. Had Páidí gathered his medal and managerial haul in Mayo, we would have built a gold statue to him and returned him and his offspring to the Dáil until doomsday.
However in Kerry, like in Kilkenny, winning is the only accepted currency. Past glory and gold only remind them of their status. Páidí took his treatment badly but Kerry annexed the following year’s title under Jack ‘Hard’ with us rolling out the carpet for them. In fact since 2003 they have added five more All-Irelands with a few Leagues thrown in. Jack Hard felt the cold hand of fate after the 2011 final loss and was replaced by Eamon Fitzmaurice.
How badly did Kerry and Fitzy want last year’s All-Ireland? Bad enough to mug Mayo, toss a boot into the crowd and, in the final, for the Mohican-shaved Barry John Keane to knock over Paul Durkan’s teed ball at the death.
Paul would have understood. Against Mayo in 2012 himself and his full-back line breathed heavy on the Mayo full-forward line. Once in a skirmish, Durkan drew on anything moving within his domain. It was ugly but to win, it was necessary. Nice guys are nice guys and often winners aren’t, but the mob howls with delight at the glint of silver and the hows and whys no longer matter.
As Murphy raised Sam that day, the ground beneath me shook. All Donegal’s gamesmanship was consigned to the skip and we stood hands on hips once more in the Garden of Gethsemane.
In his book “The Keys of the Kingdom” Jack O’Connor referenced his fore-bearers who struggled but ultimately survived on their mountainy domain. Often the struggle for that survival meant a neighbour lost out. In the West and North-West we can understand that. O’Connor was comfortable with the “Hard” status . It inured him to the slings and arrows of life but he inherited it from the generations of yore.
So are Kerry followers “animals” to coin Ó Sé’s term? Of course not, no more than the Kilkenny followers. What they are, though, is shrewd and not prone to unnecessary or overt sentimentality. Your record is your calling card, your medal a mere reminder you were once a contender. A kind of Henry Shefflin to a DJ Carey, the present and a past.
And what may you ask are the Mayo people? Easy, that one. Mayo people are amongst the friendliest, most decent and generous people in this country. Allied to that is an almost Corinthian approach to sport, Gaelic football in particular. A sociologist would describe us as warm, forgiving and enduring. However to succeed in what now for me is a quest now entering its seventh decade, we need to shed the soft skin and man up.
Playing “our” way will take down many hurdles before playing “their” way trips us. A thread on this blog recently bemoaned the lack of identifiable anthems and songs we have. I met a member of the Tyrone back room team a few years ago and he asked me who did the Mayo people look to in the past for inspiration.
He had me thinking. No one bar Michael Davitt sprung out. Luckily he had also referenced him. The Great Famine of Black ’48 wreaked havoc on our county. Mayo suffered the most deaths in the nation and saw its population halved. Idiotic political initiatives in the ’30s to late ’50s decimated the county further.
Psychological, I believe those periods when basic survival was at stake sapped a lot in our psyche. We turned bitterness into stoicism and acceptance. We let others think and act for us. Our football team was the single entity that bound us. But, as Eamon Mongey once said , it was not because of certain people, no , it was despite them.
I’m a soft person in terms that I forgive a slight. No point bearing a grudge that corrodes. And yet, myself included, the nostrils flare if an outsider should dare to point a finger at us. But is it real anger? Joe Brolly was the bête noir of Mayo followers for years. He then arrived down in Knockmore and suddenly Facebook, Twitter are full of selfies and praise for our former tormentor.
McEneaney – a man I’ll never forgive after ’96 (I know, there are a few grudges I’ll hold to the sod) after a sulphuric All-Ireland final that crushed my heart. Was I shocked to see a photo of him with a few Mayo worthies hill walking in our county? Actually no, we do that type of thing – kill with kindness instead of holding our noses in the air as we emit our perpetual distain for past transgressions.
I’ll not give my place any the queue in my distaste for Eugene McGee but he won a county an All-Ireland and made UCD a top team. He doesn’t rate Mayo, possibly never did. The week gone by he told a few home truths about “that game” against Dublin. We had Mayo outrage at him daring to do so. Now, despite his sniffy opinion of us, this time, as often before, he was dead right.
When you suffer your worst defeat since 1993 and worst home defeat since 1956, Eugene McGee is not the enemy – hell, he might be the antidote. I won’t go into some horrendous refereeing and Croke Park decisions that have cursed us down the decades. Not because I don’t want to be seen as a whinger blaming anybody but ourselves. No, I won’t go into it because our own officials right back to the ’30s never challenged or called the big shots’ bluff. Mar a deirtear sa bhaile, ní seas síad an fód.
We make officers out of footmen, princes out of corporals and kings out of princes. I’ve done it. We cut out the past as if only today matters – hence the 2011-2014 team was the greatest since ’51. No it’s not, the 1996 team that actually drew the final before being shafted on the narrowest of margins in the replay hold that honour.
From the 1996-‘99 era Burke, Ken Mortimer, Cahill, Flanagan, Holmes, Nallen, McHale, Brady, Heaney, Fallon and O’Neill would comfortably hold their own with today’s boys. What would we give for a number 12 like Horan essaying points over the bar from all angles or a young McDonald toe-flicking the ball off the wet Croke park carpet, as I once saw him do, before driving it over the bar?
We are sentimentalists, unashamedly. Andy Moran wrecks his knee against Down in the 2012 quarter-final. What happens? Instead of rehabbing him quietly, Mayo seemed to set him mid-stage on the rest of the quest. Heck he was even made selector for the final – why? Darragh Ó Sé broke his leg before the 2004 final. We never heard from until he was given his winner’s medal around Christmas.
Have we become a “club” side rather than a “county” side? I only ask because a few weeks after Donegal beat us in ’12, a Mayo player declared he would not retire until HE had won an All-Ireland. After the ’13 final loss to Dublin a different player stated that he would hang around to win one “for the Mayo people”. Hello there! It’s hardly for the Sligo people we are trying to win it for is it? Interestingly none of the two uttered the magic words “if picked” in their public annunciations.
I cannot imagine Brian Cody running a ship with such crew. Charlie Carter had issues as captain about his position. He blew tough but Cody blew tougher. Carter, a class hurler, moved out and Kilkenny moved on. The quest is not about the individual, the quest has to be about the collective in order to succeed.
So we got a recent trimming. Where does it leave us? The truth is I haven’t a clue, as some might have noted this Mayo team to me has surpassed any notions I had about them. Horan deserves credit for his stewardship but I believe the cutting edge given by Cian O’Neill and Buckley was vital. I also believe they deserved more input.
As others here have correctly pointed out, we are dealing with the hand we have. Certainly going man-to-man is no longer viable. But have we the players capable of playing a cross between Tyrone and Donegal? One thing we are certain of is that off-the-cuff football no longer suffices. So as Pat Gilroy found out with his “startled earwigs” team of 2009, the blueprint has to be shredded and new skin for an old ceremony found.
Football is cyclical, perhaps we are drifting out for a period? I don’t buy that though. And where I take issue with McGee is here. We do have the players, we do have the depth. A midfield selection from SOS, AOS, Barry, Parsons, Kirby, Gibbons, Geraghty, Corcoran is not to be sniffed at.
The team that wins All-Irelands tend to do so on their own terms not aping other teams. Hence Dublin in 2011 were diametrically opposite to Dublin in 2013. Kerry in 2014 were different than Kerry in 2006. Armagh laid down a marker in 2002, Tyrone modified it the following year. A decade later Donegal dusted it down, trained it up and succeeded by making it even darker.
For us to succeed we must break moulds, find real leaders like Dooher, Donaghy, Darragh, Big Joe McMahon, McGeeney, Ger Brennan, a Connolly . We don’t possess enough of them apart from AOS , COC and Higgins. Loading them much heavier and they will collapse.
And no, we don’t want to become as Páidí described his own “fucking animals” but the odd baring of the teeth and a snarl can act to remind our latest stars that they are merely on stage in a 62 year-old movie and us movie goers have demands. This is the famous fork in the road we read about or that shadow that exists between the rock and the hard place. Some are crushed by it, others conquer it. What will our lot do?