Carpe diem

Long, long ago, 25 years ago to be precise, Tony Davis made a very cutting remark about us on The Sunday Game in the wake of our agonising one-point loss to Meath in that year’s replayed All-Ireland final. 

He said that Celtic crosses don’t get sent to players in the post, they had to go out and win them and Mayo had ultimately failed to do this. The criticism stung, in part because there was a large element of truth to it.

All-Irelands are hard to win. Lord knows, that’s a fact we’re well aware of. Ten finals – twelve if you include the replays – since 1989 and we’ve ended up with ten defeats. Losses to different counties, in different circumstances, but all with the same heartbreaking outcome from our point of view.

As we contemplate yet another final appearance and, with it, yet another chance to land the big one, it’s worth pondering on all those past losses. Not because there’s anything we can do about any of them now but instead to recognise that, for each one of them, there was no set narrative in advance about how we would fare out in them.

What I mean by this is that we weren’t predestined to lose every one of those finals. We weren’t cursed. We could have won some of them. We certainly should have won a few of them.

By my reckoning, having witnessed them all (bar last year’s Covid final) at first hand, four of those deciders – 1996, 2013, 2016 and 2017 – were ones we should have won. Three more – 1989, 1997 and 2012 – we could have won. We were never, in truth, going to win the other three.

We can – and we do – put forward a variety of reasons to explain why we didn’t come out on top in any of those finals that we were capable of winning. We talk about contentious refereeing decisions, injuries to key players, missed scoring chances, cruel luck, all manner of plausible reasons. Not to mention the fact that over the last decade we repeatedly came up against the best Gaelic football team of all time.

But that’s all in the past now and once again we’ve put ourselves back in the position of shooting for glory. Arguably, the chance we now have of getting across the line is quite possibly the best one of the lot.

This time, there’s no greatest team of all time barring our path. Also out of the picture are our other great final nemesis, Kerry. Strip those two out and out too go the three finals that I think we were never in the hunt to win – 2004, 2006 and 2020.

Instead, facing into this final we’re squarely in the territory of all those deciders we either could or should have won. Tyrone will be tough opponents but are they beatable? Absolutely. Can this Mayo team beat them? For sure they can.

On the podcast he does with Andy Moran, ex-Dublin player Paddy Andrews argued the other week that, having beaten Dublin, this Mayo team should fear no-one. He had a point.

I’d add to that by asserting that our semi-final win over Dublin – ending the longest ever unbeaten run in the entire history of the Championship – was of far greater substance than Tyrone’s victory over a lavishly overrated Kerry side was. 

Ladle on top of that the fact that we possess far greater big day experience than Tyrone do and that we have a kind of relentlessness to us this year that anyone who comes up against us finds very hard to match. Just ask Galway or Dublin.

In addition, our opponents in this final have a high regard for us, for the simple fact that our record against them in big Championship games at Croke Park is a very strong one. While we’ve regularly beaten each other in League games played at Healy Park and MacHale Park in recent years, at Croke Park we’ve come out on top every time we’ve met bar once.

It’s tempting, then, to believe that this time, finally, the stars are aligning for us. They could well be but if we think this one is just going to land into our laps we need to think again because we can be sure that Tyrone aren’t planning to come away from HQ without the silverware themselves.

This All-Ireland title is there to be won by whichever county strives hardest to win it. I can’t help but feel that if we play to our full potential victory will be ours. But only if we grasp hold of the opportunity that fate has once more presented us with.

Carpe diem – it’s time for Mayo to seize the day and, with it, finally, the Sam Maguire.

This article was first published in this week’s All-Ireland final supplement in the Mayo News.

37 thoughts on “Carpe diem

  1. One of your finest reports WJ, if I may say so. I totally agree with everything you say in there. Tony Davies was a fair and honest person, while he was on TV back in the day when I watched TV. He gave it as he saw it. I am not saying Mayo will win, but there is a great opportunity just around the corner for us. Tyrone will throw everything our way and their bench is very strong. If we get our noses in front things could get very interesting. An opportunity then to kick down and enter through the front door perhaps.

  2. We performed very strongly in 2013, 2016 and 2017. I actually thought our performance in 2017 would have won most finals over the previous two decades. But we were up against an incredible outfit that were able to match us, and ultimately dip over the line ahead of us.

    That they were able to do it several times was all the more frustrating, but that’s to their credit.

    This time I get the feeling that if we play to our potential, and deliver a 70 minute performance, then that will be enough. That leaves it very much in our own hands, which wasn’t necessarily the case in previous years.

  3. Seems to be a big focus on the strength of Tyrones bench. I don’t see this strength myself. I sss decent options they can bring in and no more.

    Very little mention of our own strength, you consider that if Mullin starts, one of starting backs against Dublin drops to the bench and will take his place alongside the likes of Harrison, Boyle, Hession, Flynn, Coen, Carr. Assume for a moment the starting six against dublin are ready to go, they are looking over there shoulder at Hession, Mullin and a couple of all star winners wanting to take their place. Coen politely reminding Horan of his point from distance “tis a great way to beat a blanket, James”. “Agreed” says young Flynn.

  4. Well done WJ, great report, Tyrone will be confident next Saturday in Croke Park no doubt about that. James Horan & Co will have their home work done for sure, game plan & tactics + the panel will know what the drill is for to play Tyrone & hopefully win the All Ireland final, I think this Mayo team has what it takes to go & win the All Ireland football final, I just feel confident this time. Up Mayo.

  5. Great article Willie Joe and thanks for all the podcasts and updates in the build up to Saturday. Would agree with your assessment of the finals we have lost and possibly should have won, and yes this one against Tyrone just could be our best opportunity. A lot seems to be in our favour going into the game but what worries me most is that shocking run of losses since 89 and our inability to get over the line in finals. I just can’t contemplate losing on Saturday and believe it will finally be our day. We are a better team than Tyrone.
    We have to win this one!

    We are Mayo

  6. Would disagree with Willie Joe on 2012, Donegal were ahead from the opening minutes and never relinquished their lead. I would put it in the “never going to win” category.

    Maddening really given that we’ve had their number ever since.

  7. darragh o se wrote something similar in the times many years ago saying mayo deserved an all-ireland but one often doesnt get what one deserves. All irelands have to be taken not deserved. Whilst it was an obvious point it did sting. Lets change the narrative this time and not be the ones deserving anything except an all ireland.

  8. Great piece WJ .
    From 96 to 2021 this is by far the most confident I have felt . Not a home run as you say we will have to play to our full potential and we must we absolutely must be brave .

  9. We could have won 2012 even after conceding the 2 early goals. I think we outscored them from the 2nd goal on. I remember watching a documentary about that game and as Donegal lined up to come out for 2nd half I passed a comment that they looked worried and shortly after which ever player was talking said “we were worried coming out for the 2nd half”. They knew they had it all to do to hang on.

  10. The gas thing is we were 3/1 or so to beat Dublin in 2016 & 2017, yet i think we were slightly less odds (about 5/2) to beat Kerry in 2006!

    We tend to forget how bullish a lot of us actually were though that time – obviously proven embarrassingly wrong in retrospect. We’d held them to only 3 or so points in 2005, were still obviously on such a high after beating Dublin, and the sense was we’d have learned a lot of lessons from 2004.

    But realistically 2004, 2006 and probably 2012 were more or less write offs. We kept Donegal honest enough, but without Andy we were a step below an all Ireland winning side back then, and benefitted from playing a Dublin side who were completely hungover from the year before. Donegal beat all of Tyrone, Cork and Kerry (3 of the 4 previous champions) on route by comparison. We were a much better side 2013-17 than 2012

    2020 is just an asterisked campaign in my mind, weird eerie championship that probably shouldn’t have even gone ahead. We did well to give Dublin a decent-ish game of it

    2016 its hard to find fault with the first day. we coughed up a lot of soft scores but ultimately we were 5 down at half time and 3 down going into injury time, we did amazingly well to force a draw in the circumstances. Still ranks as the tensest game I was ever at. The replay I’ve kind of blanked out, I still recall us being second best on the day though overall. We were awful in the 2nd half if I remember, aside from the substitute David Clarke

    2017 was tough to take as we probably played the best we ever have in a big game, yet again a few silly things cost us. Again though, Dublin were just that bit more clinical and their bench was far superior. A draw was probably the fair result really, but small margins

    2013 was – and still is – the real killer for me. Still cant fathom how we blew it. We lit up the championship to no end that summer, I’ll never forget the pre-match atmosphere, Dublin was absolutely hopping with green and red that day. The sun was out, our minors won their game and we even took over parts of the hill! It was all set up for a memorable day – and we started brilliantly – yet conceding stupid scores, a misfiring forward line and daft substitutions cost us in the end

    2014 was a close second, it wasn’t a final but was close enough – we’d have beaten Donegal by a few if we’d made it past Kerry. How we couldn’t put away that Kerry side still haunts me

    2015 was probably the de-facto final too, yet we should have been dead and buried in the first game, and they just overran us eventually in the second. Probably the easiest one to accept to be honest

    We definitely should have a couple in the locker over the last 25 years but hopefully, just hopefully, we can finally get the job done on Saturday

  11. James Horan and his management team need to focus on two things mainly:
    1. What we did well against Galway and Dublin and of course build on this
    2. They also need also to focus on what we did badly in those two games and set about putting those things right. The obvious things to me seem to be, slow starts, taking easy scoring chances when they come (eg AOS 2 missed chances v Dublin and indeed others as well)…..not running into trouble with the ball and getting dispossessed……not kicking the ball into their keepers hands…..not giving away silly fouls within scoring range.
    Winning an All Ireland rarely involves superhuman displays by most players. What it often does boil down to is most lads doing the basics fairly well with possibly one or two producing outstanding performances. Saturday will be no different. The team that can handle the occasion best and not make stupid mistakes will win.
    I don’t know what the weather is going to be like or indeed how Joe will ref it but I predict a dour affair with fierce intensity and lots of mistakes. Hopefully those mistakes will be on the Tyrone side and that we have the composure to make it count on the scoreboard.
    I think we just might do it this time. I have never been confident in finals and for good reasons but this time I feel it’s different.

  12. I think our best chance to win an All Ireland was 1996. We managed to lose a final we should have won. Very hard to read where either team are at going in to this final. We have played really well for parts of games but have not put in a performance to win a final. Tyrone played with great intensity against Kerry but made lots of mistakes. Room for improvement for both teams but believe Mayo will put in a performance to take us across the line this time and put our horrendous losing streak in finals behind us once and for all.

  13. This final pairing reminds me so much of 2014

    Two teams who caused upsets in their semis and not really fancied at the start of the year. Both with a few weaknesses and who have been inconsistent throughout all their games, mixed with patches of brilliance (the brilliance more-so in Mayo’s case)

    I still think both don’t have actually have fully settled starting 15s, there’s none of the top 5 or 6 forwards in the country on show, both looked to be in a ‘rebuilding’ phase only a few months ago – yet here we are

    Its exactly a final the game needed – and it could go any feckin way!

    But give me this Tyrone team any day over the juggernauts we’ve previously faced

  14. Anyone else read Tony Davis’ name in a Cork accent anytime it surfaces? Just me, ok ?

    Binge watched many games in last few weeks due to being excited about football for first time in a long time due to the Dubs being dumped out. For that alone Mayo, in theory and life was fair, should be ascending the steps of the Hogan stand. Let the best team, on the day, win ?

  15. As 2 bucks from Charlestown sang back in the day don’t look back in anger. We can’t change the past but we can win on Saturday and get the monkey off our back. Excellent piece Willie Joe I read it yesterday in the Mayo News

  16. My everlasting memory of Tony Davis is him tearing into Brolly in 2011 when Joe was criticising Cork, basically implying they’d never beat Kerry in a big game, and the 2010 win was more or less a default one as a result!

    Brolly was then saying something like we’ll see how ready they are for Kerry in a few weeks in the All Ireland semi so, and Tony had to nicely remind him they’d the small matter of Mayo to get over first. Anyone remember how that game went? 😀

  17. Tony Davis also called Mayo losers after Kerry beat us in the 2011 semi final….although this outburst seemed to be more in frustration that after having knocked out the All Ireland champions (his native Cork) we then surrendered to Kerry but that was just the beginning of the 1st Horan era. Much has changed since and many chapters have been added to the house of pain.

    Win this weekend and all that built up frustration and agony is washed away. It’s time we just did it….just f@ucking go and take it.

  18. “strives hardest to win it” I believe that both semi final were won by this policy. Think this game will be a dog fight, cock fight, an arm wrestle. Not for the purist, but if Sam crosses the shannon, who cares

  19. Great article as always. I really cant wait for the final. Only seems like yesterday being a 9 year heading to a packed pub in West Mayo for the 96 final. Seems like those rural pubs havent been that full since. Great excitement at the time. I remember the great build up, flags and people coming home ” Last one out one switch off the lights and pull the door” road sign in east mayo. Travelled to every ground in connacht in the following years. The hyde and tuam were regular grounds. Supermacs on the way home .
    Ill never forget meeting an older gentleman back from Chicago before the 97 final he hadnt been home in years . He said he’ll be back the next time Mayo win the All Ireland . Joked we’d never see him again! Never thought it would actually be true.
    Made it to the 04 qf, sf and the final from the hill. Steve staunton was in front of us that day. Later found out he has south Mayo connections.
    06 Dublin semi from Cusack was special . Found Gills pub behind the canal end that day.
    Listened to NY game in Perth 2009. Watched Gardiner goal v Galway in a sydney pub great mayo people there .
    2013 final in a New Jersey pub owned by a man from Brickeens. Watched a semi final v Dublin in central London a couple of years back .
    Saturdays final with be watched at new home in Western Canada. Some journey . God I love Mayo.

  20. I agree with the assessment of potential ones we could have won. I remember Tony Davis once saying that he was a closet mayo fan and fair play to him. But this is a chance. Not a massive chance. It will be hard won. We can do it under the leadership of the great man

  21. Finding it very hard to get excited, I imagine its buried back there somewhere but isnt coming out yet. 2017 killed me to be honest, first time since 96 sitting in the stands with the clock ticking down with the real feeling, not the one where you cod yourself, that we are actually going to do this.
    I suspect its some sort of in built protection mechanism that isnt allowing me to dare to dream, I could always in the past make a case why we could win, or why we might not, this year I haven’t bothered as whatever I or any of the learned pundits say before a final proves to be completely off the mark within 10 minutes of the ball being thrown in.
    I have no idea what will happen and frankly wouldn’t be surprised at any of the possible outcomes, even the extremes of us giving them a trimming or vice versa

  22. Have always felt that our all Ireland win would probably have to come through us dominating a game. I find it hard to visualise us falling over the line in a close game. The nerves would just be too much.

  23. Looking back the two finals I could not see us losing beforehand were 1997 and 2013. We were the best team in the country going into those games but for some reason we never showed up. 97 was particularly bad as it was such a poor game and easily there for the taking. Both games were lost as much on the side-lines as on the pitch. However it is obvious that James has learned a lot since 13/14 and the mistakes made then won’t be repeated on Saturday.

    As for this weekend my mood swings from confident that we are finally going to win and pessimism as I prepare for another let down. One thing for sure is that the team will give it their absolute best and leave nothing behind on the pitch.

  24. Like yourself JJ I was convinced we’d do it in 2013 beforehand – I think we all were? Don’t ever recall such a bullish feeling among Mayo supporters in the lead up to a final (rightly so too), that’s why its the one that hurts the most imo

    Its the only time we’ve genuinely been the better side heading into a final imo (until this year) – granted Dublin hammered us in the league but we were absolutely on fire that championship, absolutely thumping everyone that came in our way. Dublin were carrying a few raw 19 and 20 year olds, a very dodgy defence, a defender playing midfield – they weren’t the force they would go on to become in the subsequent years

    Despite the questionable decisions on the sideline, the endless turnovers, the poorly conceded scores – I still thought we would power on to do it when Andy got his goal. Sadly it was our only score from play in the 2nd half

    I still think its down to that day that I could never be fully optimistic heading into a final again. As I outlined above the party mood in Dublin beforehand was surreal, the city was completely taken over by green and red, it honestly felt like it was our day and we were there to just collect the trophy! It was like winning the heart of the woman of your dreams, until her ex-boyfriend turns up and steals her away at the last moment 😀

    A different time back then though, surely we won’t be nearly as flat in a final again – and as you say Horan will have learned a lot (hopefully)

  25. Yes Ciaran 2013 was the least enjoyable of the finals and hurt for the longest, well into the new year. They all stand out in different ways but 2013 def went very deep.

  26. 2013 was probably the toughest and most brutal final in a long time. Played in the sweltering heat to boot.

    When I think back on it, that’s the one that stands out as being the one we should have lost and didn’t. It was 15 v 13 at the end, in effect. O’Gara’s Hamstring was gone, we could barely walk, let alone run. O’Sullivan was clearly concussed – didn’t know where he was. We were there for the taking.

  27. @Reekclimber 96: Some globetrotting you’ve done there! Was in Canada for a bit myself and it’s a great spot.

    I watched the drawn 1996 final in a pub in London, which was run by a Meath man and his Mayo wife. The craic was had! Was back in Ireland for 2004 and 2006, luckily got tickets for both (or unluckily, depending on your perspective).

    By 2012 I was in Belgium, got a ticket for that final too (went over with a Donegal lad). Watched 2013 from a pub in Brussels.

    Was in Austria by 2016, went back for both finals (drawn and replay), nearly got roasted by my boss for coming in to work a bit late on the Monday! (Flights weren’t convenient). Watched the 2017 final in a pub in Vienna.

    Came home for Christmas in 2020 and watched the final from my parents’ house, which was a drag as its only a 25 minute drive to Croker.

    Would have been guaranteed a ticket for the final this year, as I’m the only person from Mayo or Tyrone in our GAA club. But the Covid capacity limits at Croker put paid to that. No biggie.

    On Tony Davis, wikied him just now and it turns out he has seven All-Ireland medals, fair play to him. So tbh he would know a thing or two about what it takes to win one.

  28. @It Means Nothing to Me . Yeah its been some craic thinking back . Always a great bond between Mayo people no matter where we meet.

    I thought long and hard about travelling back for this final but opted against due to chance of getting a ticket.
    For Saturday I just need to get my midwest commentary and tv stream on the same timing!

  29. @Reek Climber: Do they still charge into the pubs to watch GAA games over there? It was 20 dollars Canadian back when I was there, over a decade ago.

  30. Well done WJ on another brilliant article. That’s a great summary and rating of all those heartbreaking finals.
    Redemption is there for the taking; but as you point out, we must actually take it.
    Looking forward to reading the rest of the Mayo News.

  31. They did charge $20 entry, the last time I went to pub to watch, that was a few years back not sure if they still do. With the time difference here (early morning west coast) was never much craic, not many Mayo people either.
    Ill be watching on Gaa Go from home with midwest on.
    Really cant wait, reading and watching very preview I can find this week . Great coverage on OTB youtube today. Liam McHale is still a hero. John OMahoney has lost some weight . Willie Joe looks sharp. Gees we’ve some legends and personalities in Mayo. All seem like genuine gentleman too. Proud to be from Mayo.

  32. Willie Joe looks so svelte he could almost be lining out on the 40!

    I do get a bit apprehensive when I see so many pundits picking Mayo to win, though. That will be grist to Tyrone’s mill and no better lads to relish spoiling the party.

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