Earlier this year it was like the football would never start and that, even if it did, we’d be stuck at home watching it all on TV. But now today we’re back in an All-Ireland semi-final, facing Dublin at Croke Park where 24,000 punters are being allowed attend.
It’s not, I know, the old pre-Covid world we once inhabited. But it’s not half-bad either. It’s great to be going to HQ today to shout for Mayo.
Those who get there by mid-afternoon will have more shouting to do as the women are also in All-Ireland semi-final action today. While this piece concentrates on the men’s game later on in the evening, it’s important to note that the women also have an all-or-nothing clash against Dublin at the big house today.
The men’s team are facing familiar opponents this evening. A county that has had our number for the last nine years, a team that no matter how much we put it up to them – and we did – always had an answer.
But time moves on. Our team today – we still don’t have a starting fifteen named and, even if it was, we couldn’t be sure if all of them will start – is a much-changed one from the side that went toe-to-toe with Dublin in the 2017 final.
Only four of the team that started that day are likely to feature for us this evening. By contrast, the bulk of the lads who were involved in the pre-Christmas All-Ireland last year will be in the thick of it again this time.
There’s a sense this year that the dial is shifting. Dublin haven’t blown teams away in Leinster the way they did in recent years and they don’t appear to be firing in the same remorseless manner as they’ve done for much of the past decade.
But, of course, they’re still winning and winning well. They’re still the champions. Still the team that’ll get greeted back onto the pitch for the second half with that David Bowie beat.
So, while they might be slightly on the wane, it’s also the surely the case that Dublin are still operating at an extremely high level. To keep winning All-Irelands they don’t have to continue to be the best team ever, they just have to remain better than everyone else.
While giving us a decent shot at an upset this evening, all the major pundits have stuck with the herd and plumped for a Dublin win. They’re probably right too – when you look at it in a hard-headed way, it’s difficult to make a compelling case for why we’ll prevail over them.
But that doesn’t stop us heading to Croker – I had to pinch myself for a minute there just to confirm that this is what’s on the agenda for later today – with plenty of confidence in our lads. We know they’ll show up, we know they’ll set up in a way that gives us the best chance of winning – however high-wire that may be – and we know they’ll give everything in the pursuit of victory.
Who could ask for more? The easy path, one taken by far too many in recent years, is to prostrate yourself in front of the blue altar and proclaim how incredibly brilliant the current champions are.
We’ve never done that and we never will. We respect Dublin highly – we’d be fools not to – but we’d love nothing better than to knock them off their perch.
We’ve tried to do this against them repeatedly since 2012 but every time – often with agonising closeness – we’ve come up short. It would be easy to throw your hat at it and walk away but we haven’t. We’ve kept coming back, we’ve kept banging on that door.
Many of the old warriors who took that fight to them the most are no longer in our ranks. But we’ve now got a bunch of new braves, equally keen to do so. This, surely, is what James Horan meant when he said his ambition was to make us consistently competitive.
Will this be the day when we finally get the better of them? I’ve no idea but I do know that if it’s not it won’t be for the want of trying.
And if it’s not, then we’ll brush ourselves down and go again. But we’re not thinking of that outcome now. Now, as we ready for the battle, our eyes are once more on the prize, which today is dethroning the six-in-a-row champions.
It’s a big prize, one worth putting it all on the line for.
So let’s get to it. Let’s dance. Up Mayo.