Seated between one of my best friends (and by complete fluke) the priest who baptised me, I watched as a scene I have seen several times before in Croke Park play out in front of me.
If I wasn’t going to hell before this, the amount of effs and blinding at missed chances I let out beside the man of collar – who 26 years before that had dipped this quiet baby into a fountain of holy water – would probably be enough to get me a fixed long-term residency.
Being from the same neck of the woods, my friend Alan introduced me to Fr Pat Donnellan who had been my Parish Priest growing up in Killawalla. As he stuck his hand out, I said “I know you, but you don’t know me” before he started to piece together who I was from the family members I named out – and he did successfully too, asking for each relative individually.
26 years after he reassured my tiny crying eyes that it would be alright, that the cold water would soon dry up from my forehead, he put his hand on my shoulder at full-time in Croke Park as tears streamed down my face once again and reiterated similar words.
This was no baptism of fire – this was nothing new to me. To us. To them.
Myself and Alan solemnly and slowly walked back to McGraths in Drumcondra where just four hours previous there had been such joy; expectation; hope and well-wishes. On our return they were all lined up outside the door smoking like a band of mourners waiting to sympathise.
For that whole night, that weekend, the following week, it was all you wanted to talk about and it was the last thing you wanted to talk about. Watching the highlights of the final with one eye open hoping that Sky+ had a different result to the one you had witnessed live.
It hurts. It honestly hurts the heart like nothing you’d ever feel in your life.
And it’s not just that singular defeat, it’s not just one solitary 70 minutes that define that pain.
It’s the euphoric highs followed by the crushing lows – it’s not sympathy we Mayo fans need, it’s some chemical balancing potion you’d wish for at times.
I always try to find little phrases or nuggets that sum up being a Mayo GAA fan, if not for the blog but for my own little way of trying to process it all. I never thought it would come in the form of Home Alone around Christmas Time.
The Old Pigeon Lady is confiding in Kevin about how she is afraid to give her heart to someone else for fear of it getting broken.
Kevin replies: “I understand. I had a nice pair of Rollerblades. I was afraid to wreck them, so I kept them in a box. Do you know what happened? I outgrew them. I never wore them outside. Only in my room a few times. They’re kind of the same thing. If you won’t use your heart, who cares if it gets broken? If you just keep it to yourself, maybe it’ll be like my Rollerblades. When you do decide to try it, it won’t be any good. You should take a chance. Got nothing to lose.”
It’s silly, it’s childish but it’s my way of processing the Mayo GAA way of life. The rollerblades never come off, we keep skating until the blades are worn and when you think you’ve had enough and dump that pair of rollerblades, you’re only itching a few weeks later to buy another set.
We had had plans to go to the Dome myself and herself for Galway v Mayo. If you’re a regular reader you know the rivalry there, and not with the teams!
And, before we go any further, the Dome has a fitting name. It truly is a Centre of Excellence and a place where more underage finals, matches and challenge or FBD games should be held in future. It should be showcased to the country as it was done for that brief period earlier this month, not hidden away in the already secluded location of Bekan.
Covid meant watching it on a live stream from our sitting room while furiously switching attention back and forth between the screen and the podcast’s match-day chat on Discord which was hopping off the walls with discussions about play and new players – another fantastic addition for those not fortunate enough to be in the stands at any stage this year.
The FBD meant nothing, apparently – tell that to the person who drew first blood.
A Galway flag was summoned out of nowhere and placed, taped, to our curtain pole where it has remained since. She joked that if we got a similar game in April that it would make for a fantastic spectacle, yeah says I with an opposite result!
I remember telling some friends in Dublin that our plans for the night were staying in to watch the FBD – to them it was probably the actual equivalent of paint drying.
To me it was bliss, the start of a journey that Christopher Columbus would have been thrilled to undertake.
If seeing fresh faces like Frank Irwin and Donnacha McHugh or Ruairí Keane pull on the green and red shirt doesn’t get you excited.
If seeing a born winner like Stephen Coen with the captaincy being backed by the always reliable Paddy Durcan and free-scoring Tommy Conroy doesn’t get you hopping.
If setting the SatNav for Monaghan and Tyrone for Away Days (which if truth be told, we have seven of in the League) doesn’t get the blood flowing.
There was a picture perfect image on the front of the Mayo News after word came through that Oisin Mullin was staying with the words Home And Away and the last two swiped out to just show ‘Home’ against a backdrop of the Young Football of The Year beside his club gates in Kilmaine – that’s what it means, you can’t describe the feeling you get when you see that photo but you just know it’s what the season ahead means.
Much like the solace I found in Home Alone at Christmas, there’s two iconic TV show phrases that always make me think of Mayo GAA.
There’s one from The Office US where the main character Michael Scott looking directly into the camera says: “No question about it, I’m ready to get hurt again” and there’s another from Father Ted where after a tea machine salesman tells Mrs Doyle that his new TeaMaster will take the hassle and misery out of making a cup, she bites back saying “maybe I like the misery”.
I hope I don’t face another year of misery, and I don’t even know if I’m ready to get hurt again but one thing is for sure – I’ve got my rollerblades ready to go.