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.