I love my songs about Mayo and this time of year, if the Lord spares us, the demand for them in my music library increases tenfold.
Famous singer/songwriter and long-time pal of The Saw Doctors, Padraig Stevens, has a song called ‘Up Mayo’.
The starting lyrics of it go: “In ainm an Athair, aon athair De, something is starting in the same old way”.
And what a way that is to describe the rivalry between Mayo and Dublin – the latter end of the Championship is kicking off and we’re facing familiar faces again.
If we were to update those lyrics to suit the occasion on Saturday, it would be something along the lines of “oh no, here we go again”.
I came up from Mayo the Sunday morning of the Connacht final to find a Galway flag sticking out my window.
That Galway flag has long since been lost and was probably used by myself as a flag of surrender when I went one joke too far to herself about Galway getting nosebleeds outside of Connacht.
But once the celebrations and the hangover wore off, the sinking realisation hit of what held in store for us in the coming weeks.
Of course, there was the immediate rush for tickets and what direction to look in. As you’ll know from the previous piece I did for the blog, my great friend and until recently housemate Matt had beaten the Ticketmaster robots to somehow land ten tickets for the Galway game when he should have only really been able to get five. We knew, though, that this wouldn’t be so simple.
First off, there was no sign of a general sale at all so it was time to get the contact book out and see if anyone could sort me out. One legend came back to me (and for the purpose of keeping you anonymous you know who you are, so thank you) “I’ve two, you didn’t get them from me”.
I ain’t saying nothing.
We’re sorted I say to Matt in what will be one of our last adventures setting off from the house before he moves onto exciting pastures new. Maybe second-last: if Saturday goes well, I might be able to persuade him to stay for another few weeks!
I was happy I wasn’t leaving it in the hands of the GAA’s ticket site – last time I did that was in the 2019 semi-final when they decided to boot me out when I was just three people from the front. But one man who did was a great pal and work colleague of mine, Gavin.
A die-hard Dub who remembers a time before six-in-a-row, and when winning Leinster was considered a successful season in itself. He’s a true blue who has already had his heart crushed by the hurlers so he can relate to my journeys with Mayo as the small ball does the same to him on a yearly basis.
I log onto Ticketmaster for the gawk and there’s thousands in line, at one stage it was reported that there was more waiting than was actually able to go into Croke Park on Sunday. But, I get the text from Gav to say he’s sorted and now I eagerly await his handshake in Drumcondra before we fall out for 70 minutes, just the the hour and ten though before we hug it out – ahem sorry I mean fist bump Covid, eh? – and dissect the match over a jagerbomb or two.
I love playing Dublin. I admire their fans – like Gavin – I admire their players and if they were denying anyone else the chance to win All-Irelands this last decade, you’d probably go even stronger than that again.
But facing Dublin post-2012 is like driving through Claregalway before the new motorway was built – you had to do it to get to where you wanted to be, you know every time it’s going to be a massive problem to get through with many obstacles in your way and you’re never going to come out the other side happy.
I was in Croke Park the last time we beat Dublin in the Championship. It was a scorcher and we raced off into an early lead that shot up as quick as the temperature that day.
Much like the weather in Ireland though, the scoreline soon changed drastically and we went from giving a hammering to barely hanging on. Like many the time before David Clarke sprung to our rescue, star-fishing his way to smother a one-on-one shot by Bernard Brogan and stopping a certain goal.
You’d think with all his Celtic crosses that Brogan wouldn’t even remember something like that – but he never forgot it. In fact, it was the catalyst for something extraordinary, as he told a Dublin GAA fan podcast.
It just haunted me for a long time. In my head I remember saying, ‘Strike it low, strike it low’ but I just struck the ball and it started to rise.
He got the hand to it; the rest is history. It lived with me but I learned a lot from it, I did a lot of visualisation around goalscoring, we would talk a lot about mindset, about when you get into those positions, what are you going to do? About making good decisions.
I tried to train myself to just get the ball low and to skirt it along the ground. I’d say that miss probably afforded me five or six or seven more goals that I got later on in my career.
I always felt I was fairly decent in front of goal if I got the chance after that but yeah, it did live with me.
Jesus, if we knew that save would have resulted in him slotting two goals past us in the final the following year…
Beating All-Ireland champions in a semi-final is something that’s happened a lot for Mayo in my life time.
I watched Dillon blast over points against Tyrone while my dad and uncle sipped them in an Irish bar in Spain in 2004.
And I was well able to drink my own that day in 2012 as well as the following year when we dethroned the winners who had taken Sam from us twelve months previous only to be upset again by the men who had their title rights snatched by us just the year before too.
But I don’t remember what the feeling of beating Dublin is like.
I remember talking in 2017 on the blog about beating Kerry in that semi-final replay and my eyes flooding with tears of joy at the final whistle. Herself was with me and she asked ‘why are you crying?’ “Cause I’ve never felt this feeling before”, I said.
My childhood had been destroyed by the Kingdom’s reign of terror and the Kerry killings of 2004 and 2006 not to mention the near misses of 2005, 2011 and 2014. I never knew what it felt like to beat them but that day I did.
And now I don’t think about The Gooch smashing nets or Mick Barrett invading fields but too much damage has been done to be able to rely on 2006 or 2012 to bring up happy memories about Dublin.
Especially the former. We cherish 2006: Hill-gate, the 7 points down, McDonald’s finger wagging. Ask anyone in the county and they’ll be able to tell you who passed the ball off to Mac, how many Dublin players were near him and recall word for word the “it’s high, it’s over” commentary.
But in order to release that endorphin, you’d have to trawl back through a lot of hurt, heartache and if-onlys against Dublin and by the time you’d get to McDonald’s finger wagging, you’d be instead maybe thinking of fingers to use to salute the Dublin players.
Being lucky and unlucky is a very fine line.
My local shop, which is less than a mile away, is one of very few stores up here that happens to sell the Mayo News and a few copies at that, every week. Lucky.
Earlier today I said I’d nip down quickly and grab a copy to get myself even more revved up to chalk up something for Willie Joe.
Just as I was turning out of the estate, I realised I had forgotten my mask. I have dozens of fresh ones which I keep in the car for same said reason.
By that stage I thought, ‘ah I’m as well to drive now since I’m in here’. Thirty seconds later, an almighty thunder shower burst from the heavens and I envisaged how drenched I’d be if I hadn’t forgotten my mask. Lucky.
I’m flicking through the Mayo News and thinking to myself, ‘Jesus the lads aren’t hyping this game up too much off the front page, maybe that’s the way the media are playing it back home’.
Get to the Sports page and again no mention or build-up. Now I know something’s definitely wrong as the sports pullout for a match would be the size of Keegan’s calf muscle.
I throw the pages back to the front and have a look at the date – August 3, the shopkeeper has sold me an Eoin Mulligan. Unlucky.
Supporting Mayo, more often than not you feel luck is never on your side. That if good things happen it’s more divine intervention than luck. So, when news filtered through on Wednesday that Oisín Mullin had apparently got injured during the week and was a doubt for Saturday, Mayo fans collectively threw their eyes to the heavens and muttered ‘of course, he is’.
If he was injured in a game like Cillian was you’d say fair enough, but how unlucky do you have to be to lose one of your best players in training just hours before the crucial game? It’s on a scale of two own goals or a freakish bounce of a ball.
Not that Mullin’s fitness – and let’s remember, at time of writing the reports are still unconfirmed – is a definite indication of a Mayo win or loss, but Lord knows it would have helped solve one of the many headaches currently splitting James Horan’s head.
Trying to combat a team like Dublin is like the little Dutch boy who put his finger in the dam to the stop the flood or a game of whack-a-mole. You may have the solution for one but what happens when the next problem comes along?
You’d have to think that Mullin will be put on Con O’Callaghan if he’s fit. The All-Star was the All-fixing, All-marking, All-havoc inducing defender that we thought we’d never see the likes of for a long time when Keith Higgins called it a day.
Mullin is a little cog but that tiny wheel on the machine turns James Horan’s headache about the opposition into a migraine about Mayo.
Do you bring in Boyle? Do you bring in Eoghan MacLaughlin? Is Harrison going to spring back suddenly? Are Brickenden or Hession ready? And then who switches over onto Con? O’Hora, maybe? And what if he was marking Kilkenny or Costello, which one is the fella coming in going to take?
One of the stand-out quotes from the frenzy of WhatsApp messages flying around about the reported injury was one pessimistic fan saying “well we had no hope to start with and now we have even less”.
And sure, if that was last year, I would probably echo similar words. But Dublin have been no great shakes this year, from what we’ve seen of them, you’d feel the chance is there to give them that crucial skelp once and for all.
Against Kildare, Meath and even glimpses against Wexford before that, we saw unforced errors, wayward passes and shots and gaps in the defence that a Corduff Travel coach could park in.
The so called ‘3rd and 4th’ quarters where Dublin have been so powerful in and blew us away with in 2019, have not been present this year. In fact, it was the opposite against Meath where they blew a healthy lead back to a small margin which, had Meath taken earlier goal chances, could have been a dark day for Dublin.
They started extremely slow against Wexford and against Kildare too – a slow start against us could hopefully see the floodgates come before the water break.
Sure, there wasn’t many positives from the Leinster final from half-time onwards but there was some hope to be taken from Daniel Flynn’s goal.
A quick dispossession in the middle of the park, head down and driving towards the line. His team were already behind by a truckload so a point wasn’t an option. Bursts past a Dublin player, tight angle on the righthand side just on the 21, lets fire and bang – net.
Watch that goal on YouTube and tell me one outfield Mayo player who wouldn’t be able to do that on Saturday. We have runners by the score positioned all over the park who are able to snatch a ball cleanly before setting off like a rocket only touching the pitch in spots with their boots.
I said the same in the Galway game and it rings through for the semi-final too, the ‘keeper needs to be tested.
Comerford is no Cluxton and that statement alone is better than any Panadol for Horan’s headache.
So much focus in previous Dublin games used to be on Cluxton’s kickouts. It was his party piece in every game. If you could call someone a one-trick pony for doing one thing over and over again, you can coin Cluxton a one-trick thoroughbred stallion for not only changing but perfecting the restart.
After years of trial and error, Mayo seem to be comfortable with their press too, allowing a surging sea of Green and Red to launch forward forcing the kicks to go long and trusting our towering midfielders to reach high and beat their man.
There’s already big pressure on Comerford to fill the huge boots left by the greatest goalkeeper to ever play the game. This is Mayo’s chance to capitalise on that inexperience.
Walsh, DOC; Conroy; O’Donoghue; MacLaughlin; Keegan; Ruane; Paddy; whoever – Take on that man, take that goal chance from the tight angle, silence the Hill, push up on the kickout and then watch the panic set in on the other side of things for once.
Because if that ball is going long, we have been able to put our trust in Loftus and Ruane in the middle of the park.
One will more than likely be entrusted with the impossible job of keeping Brian Fenton quiet – and my friend group have a phrase where we say ‘BOLTY’ or bestalucktoya with that – or maybe we’ll see big AOS dropping back to give a hand with Fenton or will he and McCarthy go toe-to-toe in the half back and forward battle?
You’d feel the winner of the midfield battle will have a lot to answer for by the time the full-whistle goes. As has always been the case with Mayo and Dublin, though, you can wax lyrical about the match-ups but really you won’t know how things are turning out until the lads are making tracks down to their man after the last roar of the National Anthem.
I feel the team collectively is the strongest it has been since the 2014-2017 period.
Without going back on myself and the last blog diary, our forwards and backs are some of the best, young emerging talents in the country. The promising thing as a Mayo fan is, regardless of the result and if it is to be the same old story as before, we’ve another decade watching 90% of the lads who take that field on Saturday blossoming into All-Ireland champions eventually – and that’s a fact.
It might not be this year…it may well be this year. Forget youth, if they’re ready, they’re old enough.
I get slagged for listening to the songs about Mayo. There’s so many created throughout the years and while they don’t beat The Saw Docs duo, they still, shamefully but unapologetically, sometimes bring tears close to my eyes as I dream about, well you know what.
Herself’s favourite is the one that goes “play that whistle baby, let me know, gonna show them how to do it just like Willie Joe” – she gets a great laugh out of the Flo Rida X Mayo remix.
One song, which stood out to me from the very first day I heard it, had a lyric about being in Croke Park and the “atmosphere bubbling like a saucepan on the hob”
The atmosphere is Dublin like a saucepan on the hob this week. Get me to Croker.