So, I shouldn’t have taken the Galway flag from its perfectly positioned place on our kitchen door and thrown it on the ground on Sunday night. And it probably wasn’t a good idea to sing – to the air of ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands’ – “You can stick your Connacht medal up your arse” to herself after full-time either.
But beating Galway in Salthill was probably as important a match to Mayo as beating Dublin in 2021 was. If you thought the tension in our household was high, multiply that by 10,000 inside Pearse Stadium.
I’m obviously not old enough to remember knockout championship football in its original format but I can only assume that the last gasp action experienced at the end when the ball was bobbling about the Mayo goal, was something similar to Ciaran McDonald’s shot flying off the crossbar and onto the line in 1998 in terms of ‘if only’, but this time for the opposite team.
Instead, and thankfully just like in 1999, Mayo came out on top in the wild Western waltz against the previous year’s finalists – packing the speedos, swimming goggles and sombreros in a suitcase for Galway and booking them on a one-way flight far away for a very early and extended summer holiday.
There was no point me writing a guest post for the Galway game. It would be a case of ‘who’s put the 50 cent in DB again’ such is the volume, length and depth I’ve spoken about the bordering battles over the years and the connections that tie me to it even more so than most.
And in truth the same could have been said about the Dubs too. 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2021. All those years I put words down for the blog as we were pitted against the unbeatable band of blue brothers.
Every year armed with the same hope that this would be the time we’d disarm their invincibility shield – and every time, except the last, coming out the other side thinking what more could we have done.
You can blame referees, own goals, mistakes, red cards, sponsorships and selection choices but it simply comes down to the fact that Mayo weren’t good enough. And it’s taken a good few years and a lot of tough losses for a lot of Mayo people, including myself, to come to that realisation. And it’s tough to accept when you juxtaposition it beside the fact of how unbelievably good we were during those periods.
Because when you hear the phrase ‘not good enough’, you automatically think failure and that’s not something we ever wanted to brand that team with. They didn’t fail, rather excelled in ways that in the darkest of Mayo days we could only dream of. Some of our greatest times on a pitch have been overshadowed by ‘not being good enough’.
How do you score 1-16 in a game that would win 99% of any other final and ‘not be good enough’? Because you’ve come up against something bigger and better – that’s what the Dubs have been to us in simple terms.
I think 2017-2019 was peak Dublin, completely untouchable. We could have scored 2-24 and they’d have hit us for one more in the dying moments.
That’s what makes the Mayo/Dublin rivalry as feisty and ferocious as it is. There’s a huge respect there and, don’t get me wrong, I would never begrudge any of the All-Ireland medals Dublin have won.
But there’s also a huge bitterness etched into the heart of it on both sides. I wouldn’t go as far as saying hatred but almost like a petty, sour feeling, where you’d almost moan in a child-like voice “would the Dubs ever just eff off for once”.
And for years that was very much one-sided until 2021. That beautiful day. The best day of my *footballing life. (Have to add the asterisk in case herself is reading). It was the first time we came up against the Dubs where I wasn’t afraid.
I wasn’t afraid of their manager, their starting 15, I wasn’t afraid of their subs and I wasn’t afraid of the result. Another Dublin loss would be and feel like another Dublin loss, I knew what that felt like. So, to go from no expectations and no fear to sheer euphoria two hours later.
That was our All-Ireland final in 2021 and we celebrated it like one too. It was probably part of why the loss to Tyrone was even harder to take, we jumped the final hurdle, we were clear or so we foolishly thought.
I heard a phrase today from a good Galway friend of mine Alan Devane (sorry ex-pal, as I was just informed today by his Dublin girlfriend that he’ll be wearing blue in The Hill beside me, you think you know someone, eh) which inspired me to write this post today and excuse me if it’s subpar as I am rusty.
If the opportunity doesn’t knock, you have to build yourself a door.
That phrase summed up that Mayo performance that day. Like a screenshot saved in my camera roll I can vividly remember being one of the 40,000 limited lucky ones who saw Diarmuid O’Connor’s outstretched leg save that ball from going dead, it rolling to Kev McLoughlin and him pointing over with his left peg.
And Darren Coen receiving the ball on the tight left angle, grabbing the size 5 and almost immediately dropping it onto his right foot and firing it over the bar in a first touch, head down, no-look style fashion. Those weren’t ‘worked’ scores. Those were ‘well here goes nothing’ moments.
A score cut from the same green and red cloth was pegged over by Cillian O’Connor with his first touch and swivel in Salthill on Sunday too. A sight to behold.
Keep possession all you want, build up attacks with 97 passes to get into ‘key’ positions for scoring just so shot selection looks good for the stat man. And who knows, more often than not the opportunity will arise – just like McBrien’s goal against Galway last week, when he galloped through like a college student rushing through the doors of the off-licence at 9:59pm.
But sometimes, just like DC and DOC did that day nearly two years ago, you have to create your own opportunities out of nothing situations. That’s what you need to beat a collective like Dublin. Moments of magic.
My hayfever has been very bad this year – Much like following Mayo GAA, your eyes water a lot in the summer with it and it gives you a lot of unnecessary headaches!
The last time it was this bad was probably when I did my Leaving Cert in 2013. One day in particular it was unbearable, obviously not the ideal thing to have to deal with during one of the biggest and most important milestones in your life.
I had my Honours Business Paper and I could barely concentrate between the sneezing, runny and blocked nose, watering eyes and all-round fatigue that it brings.
I was a top-class student in Business. I loved it and not only that but I understood it which is always half the battle with any subject. I could rhyme off the sales and supply of goods act like a starting 15.
I got an A2 in my mocks and hopes were high from my teacher that I would repeat the same in the real test or even better.
I left the two-and-a-half-hour exam after 90 minutes – and I was counting down the minutes from about an hour onwards to get out and home to bed.
I remember meeting my Business teacher at the entrance of the exam hall and I just said “I’m so sorry, I am fecked. I’ll be lucky to get a B”. I was wrong, I got a C1!
I’ll always remember, she looked at me with a state of confusion and surrealism when she spotted me opening that exam door, almost as if to say ‘is that buck who’s walking away the same grade A student whom I’ve taught for years’.
That same expression is how I would sum up how I’ve looked at Mayo GAA this year. A pure Jekyll and Hyde type set up and by god have we had some strange cases to illustrate.
In the same month, we became the first team in nearly three decades to beat Kerry at home and followed that up with lacklustre displays against Louth and Cork.
Only a week separated winning the League in outstanding fashion against Galway – a trophy in Croke Park always feels sweet – and being handed our arses by Roscommon in our own backyard which made the Rossies louder and more unbearable than a tractor exhaust with a hole in it.
And only 15 minutes of teas, sandwiches, Supermac’s or toilet breaks – whatever you did at half-time in Salthill yourself on Sunday – was between Mayo’s first half against Galway and their second half.
They say you’re always only a couple of inches away from a slap on the back or a kick in the arse but sometimes this year with Mayo you’d be left wondering where does the ‘good Mayo’ start and where does the ‘bad Mayo’ end.
I wasn’t Kevin McStay’s biggest fan coming into this season but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the long range, look up, kick passing play he’s brought into our already well working running system. As well as the work being done on everyone’s shooting both long range and otherwise – Aidan O’Shea has been a man reborn under McStay’s guidance.
That Mayo team can beat Dublin, the evil twin that stumbles out unwanted as a surprise to the paying crowd, that one can mind MacHale Park for the weekend.
You’d have to put some of it down to first season teething problems from McStay and Co which is only fair. Nobody expected him to have this successful of a season at the first go. Remain in Division One and win Connacht I said at the start of the year and I’d be happy.
But beat Kerry and Galway with the possibility of knocking the Dubs out in their hallowed park as a semi-final awaits? Not a bad season in anyone’s eyes even if it was to finish in the final four.
Like most Mayo seasons of late, if we are to solider on, we’re doing it the hard way. And while you can call the experience a lot of things like painful, a struggle, unnecessary – you always have to circle back to the fact that it’s a fun journey, while you’re still riding high, that is.
I think Mayo management, players and fans alike previously had an unsettled feeling if Mayo didn’t go ‘the usual route’. You know, blitz through Connacht and a lesser feared team in the quarter-finals and see who was really waiting to test us in the semis.
Whereas this new format has seen an end to that. Connacht doesn’t matter as much anymore, despite how much its pains the purists to admit this, and nearly every week is a case-by-case basis where one loss doesn’t define a season as much as it used to.
Aidan O’Shea was asked by the papers during the week if he knew that pointing that free against Cork would have gotten us a home tie in the preliminary quarter-finals.
He said he didn’t and even if he did what did it matter, “people give out about our home record anyway. Doesn’t matter who we played or where, it was s*** or bust”.
And he was right. The format can change all it wants but the fact still remains the same. To be the best, you must beat the best. We’ve already beaten the All-Ireland champions, we’ve beaten the runners-up and now we face the impossible dream, made possible in 2012 and two years ago, once again.
It’s no wonder it’s been hard to get tickets. It’s no wonder there’s a rumoured sell-out. It’s Dublin v Mayo. The blue brigade will be foaming at the mouth for a test. Division Two, Leinster and the group stages were all just a formality for them – a box-ticking exercise. They’re coming in cold but don’t be fooled, five minutes going to toe to toe with us and the muscle memory of the last ten years will kick in.
As I’ve done for nearly every Dublin game, I will be perched in The Hill, surrounded by Dubs. One of whom will be a great pal and former colleague Gavin Quinn.
It’s been like the early days of the rivalry in some way with the digs he’s been throwing around all week. Posting ‘Dublin for Sam, Mayo for Sambos’ pictures on my Facebook wall and tagging me in ‘How Many Days Since Mayo Won The All-Ireland’ tweets – I’m just waiting for him to find my Bebo and infiltrate that form of social media as well while he’s on the rampage.
Doesn’t matter how old you get; the childish digs are still the best to give and the most infuriating to be on the receiving end of.
Gav was one of the many Dubs left devastated in 2021 that the other half of this great decade long power struggle had come out on top, putting the sword in their reign of ’split them in two’ terror.
But he was one of the first of many Dublin fans that night to shake my hand and say “well done, now go and effing do it”. He remembers the barren days and while it wasn’t as long as ours, they still hurt the same when you’re waiting on your team to win Sam. So, he’s never took a single Dubs game for granted, never mind another All-Ireland final win when they started coming in a row.
For many, just like Gav, it will be the first full, or close to that, house since before Covid.
Imagine the roar, imagine who draws first blood, imagine a crucial goal rattling the net to separate or pull the sides closer. And imagine that one moment that could make your day and destroy the night of another’s.
If the opportunity doesn’t knock, you have to build yourself a door. But this is Mayo and Dublin and going off past records of tit-for-tat games with only the light of day left between them, if the door gets built by one team, it won’t be any surprise if the other comes along and busts it down in response seconds later.