One of the things I like about Saturday games in Croke Park is the fact that there is still a good bit of the weekend ahead of you after the match. Last Saturday was a case in point and after bite to eat and a quick freshen-up, the town was there to be enjoyed. It was particularly satisfying to hit the town on a high after the wonderful performance we had witnessed. And it didn’t take long to get into in-depth football-related conversations with people from other counties. Two such conversations were particularly memorable.
The first was with a Kerryman. Fulsome in his praise for us, he was convinced that we had enough in the tank to take Dublin. However, that would be it. We would meet Kerry in the final, where Gooch and Co. would pick our pockets again. But we should keep at it, as our day will come. The usual ould blather! Mayo were great today but (according to this particular expert) the sight of a Kerry jersey in a final would spook our horses once again. I felt like I was talking to one of the lazy journalists that pepper our national newspapers with such crap.
The second conversation was with a Monaghan man. Obviously a bit down in the mouth after being dumped out, he didn’t hold back on his views of the negativity that has become so prominent, particularly in the Northern game. He told me that he had been a teacher and knew five or six of the current Monaghan team when they were kids. He trained their football team and he remembers them as being skilful, exciting young kids who loved the game and who loved to play with the shackles thrown off. “How it’s changed,” he said. “Looking at them now, the fun is gone. It’s like they are something that is plugged into a formula.”
“I’ll tell you what else,” he said. “Fellas like me don’t get to train kids anymore. We want to see them enjoying themselves, but that’s discouraged. It’s now all about the result. But the real result is that 14 and 15 year-olds are leaving the game in droves. As well as that, there are lots of lads that come up to their early twenties who decide that they don’t even want to play club football.”
“I’d give it five years,” he said “and Division One football in Monaghan will be a distant memory!”
Ok. You might say that being despondent would be natural when you lose your quarter-final and that the black clouds looked even blacker in such circumstances. But this was more than that. This was a real football man, one who is on the ground in a blanket county (his term) and he can see the game bleeding to death in front of his eyes.
But what really struck me was how his mood changed when we started to talk about Mayo. He became enthusiastic about the game. He pointed out moments that lifted him and about the joy that flowed from the way Mayo play.
“I envy you” he said. “I really envy you. Your county understands the soul of the game. I don’t care what my mate from Kerry says, yours is the team I want to win it now. And do you know, if Monaghan were still in it, I think I would still want Mayo to win it.”
Sometimes we give out about our lot. But after that conversation, I am once again so proud of my county and of the magnificent people that give so much to Mayo football. We are in the top three and don’t fear anyone that’s left. I can feel it in my bones. This is the year!
Keep the Faith!