I know some of you have been wondering where John Cuffe has got to of late but you’ll be glad to hear that he’s been down in Blacksod saving turf, from where he’s sent on the following thoughts on our upcoming All-Ireland semi-final clash with Tyrone.
A big swell driven by a southwesterly gale has forced me to root out the last of my turf. I dried it the other day and now it heats the house in Glosh. I am reading last year’s Sunday Times where Jack O’Shea correctly predicted that not much was wrong with Mayo other than they got their lineups wrong for the previous Sunday’s final. Once corrected Mayo would be a team to be reckoned with in 2013 he stated.
Twenty-four years ago this month in 1989 Tyrone came to town to avenge a three-year hurt. It was the 1986 final against Kerry that itched their scab. “Unfinished Business” boldly blared one of their banners in the old Cusack Stand. That was their theme. In the rush to finish this bit of “business” they tripped over a banana skin called Mayo. A legend was canonised that day. Willie Joe, the other one, had a bandage wrapped around his head Viking-style and Mayo set out on a twenty-four year journey that awaits its final chapter been written.
Photo: Mayo GAA Yearbook ’89
In between Mayo did what they do best. Play good football with a nod to its original purity. Derided and scorned, labelled with the tag of “bottlers”, Mayo simply dusted themselves down time and time again and got back in the saddle to defy their tormentors. Six senior finals intertwined with four league finals testify to the county’s right to be placed amongst the very best the nation produces.
If we measure success purely on All-Ireland wins then Derry and Armagh head the Yew men. But success is defined not by winning a big cup once à la Wimbledon or Wigan. Success is defined by the time you spend on the coal-face mining for the finest gold and diamonds. Whilst some counties fly meteor-like across the firmament and then burn out, Mayo hang around the top table with a monotonous regularity. Mathematically they tend to break water in late September every four years.
Success to some is beating Fermanagh twice, Armagh and London once. That would lead to a strategic review in Mayo. Those that really know their football, the paid national writers, see Mayo as occasionally a figure of fun. One scribe consistently had Kildare a top four side on the basis that they, Kildare, would never allow themselves to be ripped the way Mayo were twice by Kerry in 2004/06. Essentially in 2011/12 we were still paying for the sins of our past in that scribe’s eyes.
That Mayo had reached three league finals and maintained Division One status in this period didn’t count. That Kildare never once threatened Dublin’s monopoly never got in the way of a good myth. It took a crucifying from an out of sorts Cork last season to bring the nation to its senses and see those Lilywhite emperors for what they really were. That Mayo slipped to double finals last year and Wexford were Leinster’s second best team didn’t fit the narrative.
The scorching early summer awakened something in the Mayo psyche. Like a shower of rain suddenly stopping allowing the sun to light the landscape, the consensus deemed those Mayo boys to be a real threat. Losing All-Ireland finals and league finals told part of the story. Bad teams seldom reach a final. Take a look outside the usual suspects for silver to prove that. Mayo’s problem was that having got to the final supper, they developed an aversion to the meal.
It’s irrelevant as to why they performed as they did. What’s important is their appetite for a return to semi-final and cutting-edge final days never waned. That shows a metal and steel that “bottlers” never possess. For sure the constant trudge up Jones Road on the big day became a pain but then look at those who couldn’t find Jones Road without the aid of a SatNav and we see how lucky we as a county are.
Four teams await war. Three are recent winners but one persistently refuses to go away. The match that matters is against Tyrone. That seventy minutes will define us but not determine us. For once we go in as equals across the board not just amongst our own people. Tyrone will relish the battle but they will also mark our presence. We are no strangers to big day battle against them. The Red Hands and ourselves have locked horns across the grades across the decades.
Indeed our trophy cabinets are almost identical. They posses three Big Sams and so do we. Under 21 and Minor are similar and we comfortably lead them in league titles. They won’t be swayed by what is currently written about us. They will simply recall recent battles at under age and senior to know that they are entering a bear pit. Only once ever did I with confidence state we had a big game in the bag before the end. That was the last 12 game in 2008.
Turning to my daughter as we opened a 4/5 point lead I said “One more score and their back will be broken”. Tyrone dug so deep that I felt the heat in the stand. In fairness Mayo battled and, but for the refusal to award us a free at the death, we would have taken them to a replay. The difference between the two teams that day was a guy who possibly would never made a Mayo team. That was “Ricey” McMenamin. He held the fort and ball in those vital last minutes and, most important, he held their nerve.
Today we have our own warriors to do such deeds. We enter the semi-final under our own steam. We need nor require any intervention beyond ourselves. Perfectly balanced to prove our worth. Seventy minutes granted to both sides in order that history might be met a month later. A point in the profit margin will do either side. For once it’s my belief that it will be us because the preparation has been done. The scales of battle are weighed and we will do our bit.
Tyrone came seeking “unfinished business” in 1989. In time they settled their debt. Mayo now have a bit of business themselves to settle. The last Sunday in August might be a good time to settle part of that debt. Seventy minutes to be battled over. We will give a good account of ourselves, be certain about that.