I’ll go on

Although Mayo’s calamitous defeat in the qualifiers to Longford at the end of June 2010 didn’t – as had happened to me in the blog’s first year back in 2007 – leave me bereft of topics to talk about, it did leave me in a daze over the weeks that followed.

After Longford, the Mayo GAA story didn’t remain static. Far from it, in fact, because John O’Mahony’s decision to fall on his sword meant that we now had to appoint a new manager so naturally the focus began to turn to that to see who might take responsibility for getting us back on the road after Johnno had unceremoniously landed us in the ditch. Before that debate had a chance to get going, though, the County Board announced that a review of “the state of the game in the county” would be held, a process that was planned to last several weeks and which, it appeared, would be concluded before the new manager would be appointed. I felt having a review was a good idea – and said as much on the blog – but at the same time I was worried that too much time spent on introspection might delay the appointment, one that was obviously key to our hopes of revival.

More than anything else at that stage, though, I wanted to get away, away from talk about football, away from the blog, which I’d felt had become a big, and rather pointless, millstone around my neck. A work trip to the Middle East, which I had to go on the week after the Longford match, was a perfectly timed distraction. Then over the following weeks as a family we bailed out of Dublin, as we were getting some work done on the house that summer, and I was happy to let my level of engagement with the blog slide still further.

I didn’t cut the cord completely, though, and the minors’ progression to an All-Ireland semi-final meant that I’d still get a chance to shout for the county at Croke Park before the summer was out.  My devotion to the cause was, however, badly shaken and more than once during that peripatetic summer I did pose the question to myself about whether or not there was any point in my keeping the site going any longer.  

Part of me – a large part that summer – felt that the project had reached its natural end. I’d conceived it at a time when I felt we were about to embark on a final, decisive push for glory, a notion which – in light of how we’d fared since and, in particular, the spectacular way we’d imploded that summer – I could now see was little short of ludicrous.  This wasn’t some kind of glorious escapade I was chronicling, instead it was the story of how a mediocre team were, year after year, continuing to perform in an underwhelming manner.

I’d invested so much time and energy in it and for what? I wasn’t expecting any monetary reward – this was a labour of love after all – but, four years on, what glorious memories had I been fortunate to write about? Two League final defeats, two All-Ireland final losses at minor level, one senior Connacht title win (a game we’d almost contrived to lose). That was the sum total of all we’d achieved. Was there any point in my going on with this project at all?

The reason, in retrospect, that it didn’t end there was, simply, because I didn’t end it there. It was a case of my acting out the advice I’d given a few years before then to a guy who’d started his ill-starred Galway GAA Blog – if you want to keep it going, you have to keep it going. That summer, a combination of posts – about the minors, how the senior championship was going, the strategic review, who our new manager might be – kept the blog ticking along. My heart may no longer have been in it but it was like there was some residual muscle memory within me that enabled me to spit out a post here, another one there, so that the thing didn’t shrivel up and die. It was touch-and-go, however, and it could so easily have gone the other way.

As ever, it was football action that helped to keep me sufficiently interested to continue churning out the words that, in turn, kept the blog going. My then five year-old son was showing a precocious interest in the game and it was that summer in which he became an avowed fan, though to my chagrin the team he followed then was, naturally enough, Dublin. (That would change later but that’s a story for another time).

I was happy, to be honest, to have any team to follow that summer and being able to do the father and son thing of going to matches together telegraphed my mind back over the decades to those distant days when my Dad had loaded us all up in the Mirafiori and we’d gone careering off to a match somewhere some Sunday afternoon. Now, here I was, among the multitudes heading to Croke Park hand-in-hand with my own little boy, laughing together in the Davin Stand as Kerry wilted when faced with their original Northern nemesis Down, and cheering together as Pat Gilroy’s nascent Dublin team shocked Tyrone that same afternoon.

It all, though, ended in tears that summer. My son’s heroes were edged out of it by Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final, on the same sun-washed day that the Mayo minors – captained that year by Cillian O’Connor, a team that also featured future All-Star defender Brendan Harrison, as well as Danny Kirby – lost out to Tyrone in their penultimate round tie. So neither of us would have skin in the game on All-Ireland final day but, despite the Mayo seniors’ disastrous championship season, I was still able to bank some precious memories from the games we’d been to together. My mood began to lift, not before time too as the pace of events back in the west in relation to the appointment of the new manager had begun to quicken. 

This is another extract from my unfinished book about the Mayo football team, the blog and me.

   

15 thoughts on “I’ll go on

  1. This is lovely, Willie Joe, and very interesting. I’m so glad you kept the blog going.

  2. God bless your muscles memory, Willie Joe. Where would we be without.
    2010 may have been a disaster but I have been reading a piece in the “Western” by John Cuffe about an equally disastrous decade – a whole decade – by John Cuffe. Normally I see things a good bit different to John but this time we cannot differ. Sorry I don’t have the knack of putting up a link to the piece. But in highlighting the talent which we wasted in the ’70’s he does not make any attempt to analyse why. I was a decade out of Mayo by the time we lost to first Sligo and then Leitrim in replays so cannot make any real attempt at analysing why we were so shambolic. But I wonder whether emigration was one reason. Was players who managed to find work in Ireland being based outside the county having an effect? It’s difficult enough today travelling from Dublin to training/playing in Mayo but how much more difficult it was on the roads of the seventies? Remember that double righthand bend over the railway just outside Kilcock? I do, and without any particular reason like an accident at it. It was one of the many which added to the joy of motoring in Ireland in those days. I also suspect that the player of those days had to shoulder most of the expense of all that travelling at a time when being able to afford a car or petrol was very, very limited.
    But I suspect that the main reason for our shambolic ’70’s was Co Board incompetence which persisted into the ’90’s. Did John O’Mahony not bail out of his first stint as manager because the Board would not let him appoint his own selectors at the end of the ’91 campaign? Imagine a county board trying to impose it’s own selectors on a manager today? Kerry and Dublin may have had selectors elected at Co Board in the seventies but be sure they were selected first by O’Dwyer/Heffernan and the Co Board election was just rubber stamping.
    As I said I am only speculating. I was, and am, to far from the centre to make anything but a guess at what was happening. But I would like to read of the experiences of those involved in those times.
    Incidentally, the “Western” also contains an excellent piece by Anthony Hennigan on James Horan and how he sees things working out in the coming, hopefully coming, season.

  3. .It is good you did stay with it Willie Joe.I am not much of a contributor but i sure am a eager reader. I remember that dark day after the Longford defeat not being disrespectful to them but after the loss to Sligo i think everyone expected Mayo to put on a decent show next day out, i hope you do not mind me reminding you of the comment you made in your report on the blog after the game as i sat at the table reading the report it went something like It was obvious something needed to be done but O”Mahony just stood on the sideline with his arms folded with a puss on him like a bulldog that was after licking piss off a live nettle, Well i was down in the pits reading all the bad reports about the game but i just pushed the chair back and start to laugh until the tears came to my eyes and every time since i think of that statement i chuckle, Thank you.

    .

  4. The defeat after a replay in 1975 set back a long way. We had a very young talanted team build around the 1974 u21 team

  5. Michael Gallagher,
    Having spent a while on the sideline I can tell you that sometimes you know that something must be done but you are at a total loss as to what should or can be done. You put a squad of 15 out to do a job but if they don’t do it or are not able to do it, although it appears well within their capabilities, there may well be nothing you can do but endure it. Then you are well entitled to look like a bulldog licking piss off a very live nettle. Especially if, poor as they are, there is only a kick of a ball between them and the opposition. Anything you do, like substitution, may make things worse.
    All you can do is hope you get the last kick at it, as Longford did that day.

  6. Andy I agree. Very few managers make game winning changes. Boylan and oDwyer were poor on sideline. Mind you moving O’Callaghan to FF in all Ireland was a master stroke

  7. WJ, Just ‘Thank God’ you kept that blog going. We owe you a huge amount for the hundreds of hours you sacrificed so that we could have a forum for sharing our theories and conspiracies on Mayo GAA. I don’t think it exaggeration to say that there were days over the last decade when my very sanity was at risk if this blog didn’t exist to vent and share on the latest football drama in Mayo.

    Unrelated – great article in the Advetiser with James Horan
    https://www.advertiser.ie/mayo/article/120610/horan-sets-out-his-stall-for-season-ahead?cmpredirect

  8. Well done WJ for all the work over the years .. Does your blog now have an association with the Mayo News .. ??

  9. There’s no formal association between us, My Ball, though obviously I’ve written a fair few articles for the paper at this stage and the podcast flies under the Mayo News banner as well.

  10. James Horan seems to be talking a lot lately. The Mayo News interview or what they have picked up from him is interesting – more specific that the CRC one. Name checking a number of guys: Enda Hession, Jack Carney, Aidan Orme, Luke Doherty, and Johnny Maughan. He’s much more specific about McHale Park – it’s crap. He didn’t say that, but I’m translating.

    Details are here if that’s ok Willie Joe:
    https://www.mayonews.ie/sports/36641-horan-hints-at-new-faces-for-squad

  11. Super stuff WJ as always I remember that Saturday evening after the Longford game driving back to my home and the feeling was just desperate On the same day ( I think) Armagh whacked Donegal. If someone told you that night that Mayo would play Donegal in an AI Final two years later you’d say they were off their heads. Enter James Hiram and Jim McGuiness. No huge change in personnel but a massive change in everything else. As for the 70s losing to Sligo in 75 and Leitrim in 76 both after replays were dark days indeed. No offense to either (great and deserved wins for both) but they were hockeyed in their next games, Sligo whacked by the emerging great Kerry ream and Leitrim hammered by Galway. The 70s was a horrible decade for our Senior team made all the worse by successes at minor and U 21 which we did not build on

  12. Longford was the darkest of dark days for Mayo football, 4 years on from winning U21, we should have been flying at that stage but instead it seemed Mayo where at the end of the road. As bad as it was, would we be where we are now without Longford? Had we won that day and gone on to have a decent run, get to quarter final and put in a decent showing, would the county board have been forced to turn to Horan, a young manager with a different outlook on how to play. I dont think so, OMahony might have gotten another year or a safer more traditional manager picked. While Longford hurt, it was the kick in the ass Mayo needed to adopt a new approach.

  13. I listened to James’ interview on crc which was very positive. Great to hear that as things stand Oisín is committed to Mayo. Hope we never lose him.

    It will be exciting to see some new players feature over the course of the year, and to see the new lads from last year continue to improve. Jason Doc and Harry seem to be recovering well and have the same anticipated timeline to be back (think James mentioned this in the midwest interview). These two are key players in the team.

    Great to hear James speaking so highly of Ciaran McDonald’s coaching. I’m delighted he’s there, as by all accounts he seems to be a real student of the game and has bedded in nicely to the setup.

  14. Ah, The Longford Game.
    I had a season ticket at the time. Because of a technical problem and although we got in, attendance wasn’t recorded automatically. We, therefore, had to queue to get it recorded at half time, so we could be assured of tickets for The Final.
    After the game, I had a great and growing fear of appearing in a photo in The Roscommon Herald, with a cruel yet appropriate caption. Even the more gentle of my Roscommon friends and relatives could not have resisted adding a bucket of salt

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