Hitting all the wrong notes

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.

Photo: thesun.co.uk

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.

10 thoughts on “Hitting all the wrong notes

  1. Smashing reading on a cold April evening WJ. You paint a wonderful picture of your day’s adventures. Love it!

  2. Well WJ, you had me there. I was full sure you were going to parse and analyse the April Fool affair of our nearest and dearest of rivals, the Dubs. But it’s a heck of a story and it glides along with a nice edge to it. Well written and looking forward to seeing the book!!
    Like so many people, I feel weary with lockdown and restrictions. I’m just looking forward to being human again. Take care everyone. Mayo for everything. A

  3. Sorted that handle, Mo-díreach. It did cross my mind alright when putting the piece together a bit earlier on that some would think it related to the Inisfail epic fail. That one has, though, been fairly well debated here and elsewhere at this stage and it’s now up to the GAA to act on it.

  4. Enjoyed the extract. Very interesting reading your blog post after the London match plus the contributions by other posters. We really did look all over the place. It didn’t look a remote possibility that evening that we would be consistently competitive for the decade.

    You didn’t spare anyone that evening Willie Joe!

  5. Ah. Lovely reading and I enjoyed reading the London report too. The Fe Huck ing language wasn’t spared in that report.

    It goes to show that when there seems to be no hope, there’s always hope. And sometimes when there’s great optimism, we get put on our arses.

    One would really need to go to any match with an open mind of what might transpire. Anything can happen.

    I’ve come from matches sometimes asking ” how did that shower beat us ” and sometimes wondering ” how did we beat them ” ?

    Funnily enough the most despondent I ever felt after a game was after watching a drawn game in castlebar many years ago. I’m not sure to this day why. I remember feeling on the day, I wouldn’t have felt as bad if we had been beaten by a point. Maybe it was all the excitement and build up and then not to win. A draw meant nothing to me that day.

  6. Mayo News reporting that 130 tiles sold(€33 grand) – that seems very low. However it seems there hasn’t been much interest. It will have to be back to the drawing board to come up with more fundraising ideas. Other counties in recent times have raised huge sums – Louth raffled 2 houses (1.2 million raised). Big efforts put in by Offaly and Westmeath and all the supporters/former players/clubs were involved. I had already mentioned Roscommon’s raising of €2 million. More needs to be done by Mayo County Board to harness our huge support.

  7. What about Cora Staunton 39 years of age and named on the AFLWL of the year and she scored 10 goals this year. If she was a man we would all be raving about her. She is quite possibly the best footballer ever to come out of Mayo and definetly the most decorated. Well done Cora a credit to Mayo and to Ireland

  8. Congrats to Cora Staunton on being named on the Aussie Women’s Team of the Year even though her club did not make the end of season playoffs. But ten goals in nine rounds of games did the trick for her. No mention on the RTE website where I saw the news of any other Irish player making the team. Still the best at 39 years of age. What a loss to Mayo.

  9. AndyD:Backdoorsam – great minds think alike! Piece just done on Cora now. Packy McGarty mentioned in it too, RIP. One of the game’s legends of yesteryear.

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