Regardless of how the 2011 League campaign had gone, Mayo’s first year under new manager James Horan was ultimately going to be judged by what kind of championship we had. A Connacht title followed by defeat with honour in Croke Park, preferably not at the quarter-final stage, was probably the height of our ambitions going into that championship season.
That was, ultimately, what the supporters got and so the year did end up being chalked down as a success. That’s not how it began, though, because in our opening championship match – against London over in Ruislip in May – we courted disaster to an outrageous extent, only managing to avoid defeat in normal time thanks to two scrambled late scores and then doing enough in extra-time to win by three points. Had we lost that one it would have been one of the greatest championship upsets of all time. It would certainly have far exceeded the humiliation of the Longford defeat the previous year. It would, for sure, have ended there and then James Horan’s tenure as manager.
Despite my self-appointed role as Mayo GAA blogger, it was never my intention to go to the match in Ruislip and my plan had always been to listen to it on the radio. A slight complication arose a few weeks ahead of the match, however, when I got the date for another appointment which was set to occur on the same day.
This was for a piano exam – I’d taken up the piano the previous year at the same time as my eldest daughter had begun weekly lessons, a middle-aged flight of fancy on my part that, largely devoid of natural musical talent, I abandoned some time later – for which I had an afternoon appointment. The exam was set to happen late in the afternoon, after the match in Ruislip was over and so I reckoned I had enough time to listen to the match commentary on Midwest Radio over the internet before afterwards jumping into the car and heading into the Royal Academy on Westland Row to do the exam. Aside from anything else, I thought the match would take my mind of a trial I was, at that stage, dreading having to undergo.
My planning hadn’t, though, taken account of extra-time over in Ruislip. I waited at home until the last possible moment, by which time the match had gone into extra-time, but then I had to dash into town, craning my ear to listen to the commentary on the iPhone on the way in, my mind a complete jumble of thoughts about football and piano pieces as I tried to keep the car on the road.
By the time I’d parked up in Merrion Square, though, the match was over and Mayo had somehow avoided catastrophe but I still had my exam to do. I’d expected to arrive at the Academy in a cool and collected frame of mind but instead I was a sweaty, mentally-unhinged mess. The exam was a bit of a blur but somehow I got through it – I did okay in it too and have a certificate somewhere to prove this – muddling through in much the same way as James Horan’s charges had done across the Irish Sea.
My day’s fun wasn’t over yet, though, as after the exam I had to join the rest of the family at the afters of a Communion locally and so it was some hours later, with a decent quantity of alcohol in my bloodstream, before I got done to pen my piece for the blog on the match in Ruislip. Needless to say, I didn’t hold back in the match report I wrote that night.
In it, I railed about the poor performances we’d put in both on the pitch and on the sideline and I took the head clean off poor John O’Mahony who’d been on co-commentary duties for the game with Midwest, taking exception to his input during the match about what we needed to do to win the contest. I poured cold water on our hopes of winning Connacht, I dismissed our chances of reaching the All-Ireland Series and I portentously finished up by declaiming that “some may look at today’s match and see it as an escape but I can’t help but think we’ve had another peek at the abyss.”
Not for the first time, of course, I was to be proved completely wrong in what I had to say about the Mayo footballers.
This is a further extract from my unfinished book about the Mayo football team, the blog and me.