This week I’m delighted to welcome my blogging colleague An Spailpín Fánach to the guest appearance slot on the site where he makes the case for a more positive assessment of our standing in the world of Gaelic football and the need for this to start with a reappraisal of how we view ourselves.
There is a branch of philosophy that talks about how perception creates reality. That there are no absolute things, but only our conception of them. The fifty-nine year wait in Mayo for the return of Sam Maguire is an interesting exploration of that notion.
Because it hasn’t been a fifty-nine year wait. At all. If you were reading the Mayo Post and Advertiser in 1979, say, where Willie Joe’s alternate self in the Bizarro Universe may have written in the pre-internet age, you wouldn’t be wondering about when Sam would return to Mayo. You’d be wondering when the Nestor Cup would return to Mayo. You’d wonder if you’d ever live to see a Mayo senior team play in Croke Park.
Maybe you were at the Connacht Final that year. Joe McGrath scored 2-5 in that Connacht Final in Castlebar but Roscommon still strolled it, winning 3-15 to 2-10. An eight point win. A walloping, and a tenth year without seeing Dublin other than on telly on the boat to England.
Things changed in the 1980s, when Mayo began to win Connacht Championships again, and changed again in the 1990s, when John Maughan brought the team to a seventy-yard hit and hope half volley punt of victory. From fourth and nowhere to bronze medal to so close, so close…
In thirty years, Mayo have gone from people dreaming of seeing a Mayo senior team in Croke Park to being sick of seeing them in Croke Park, and telling each other on the high stools or posting on the message boards that if Mayo aren’t going to win the thing they might as well have lost in Connacht.
It makes you wonder if we really understand what it is that’s going on. I don’t think we do. And I’m pretty damn sure that the man was right when he said that if you don’t learn from your mistakes you’re doomed to repeat them.
Mayo aren’t looking back at a sixty-year catalogue of failure. They’re looking at a fifty-year catalogue of improvement.
Mayo aren’t Cavan. In their prime, Cavan were much better than Mayo. But now they’re gone, with one Ulster title in forty years and disappointment in the qualifiers every damn year without fail. That’s failure. What would Cavan give to have Mayo’s recent history?
In the 1970s, Mayo couldn’t get out of Connacht. The papers like to say that Connacht is always a two-team competition; no it’s not. Mayo and Galway both go through lulls, and Galway are mired in one now while Sligo are going through a good spell for them and Roscommon may be on the way back.
The past four years have been bleak for Mayo but if you went back in time to offer the past four years to the teams of the seventies they’d snap the hand off you for two games in August. It only seems bleak in the context of a team that was in two All-Ireland finals in three years. Lost both certainly, but were at least there to lose them in the first place.
Mayo get no credit for this achievement. And it’s our own fault. The national media – with the exception of Keith Duggan, of course – doesn’t bother with Mayo other than the usual soft chat about fifty years of hurt, which is especially pathetic as it’s not even an original line. And then we’re our own worst enemies because we take the belts.
In the preview to the Dublin v Tyrone game of 2008, Colm O’Rourke said that there were four great teams of the 2000s – Kerry, Tyrone, Armagh and Dublin. Mayo didn’t feature, nor did anyone pull him up on it, and it’s not like there aren’t enough Mayo people around him in RTÉ to pull him up on it.
David Heaney gets roasted by Kieran Donaghy in an All-Ireland Final and doesn’t get an All-Star nomination. Graham Canty gets roasted by the very same man in the very same game one year on and he’s hailed as one of the best players in the country.
There are many reasons why a team wins an All-Ireland and many why it loses. But Mayo’s own inability to give ourselves credit for our achievements, within and without the county, really don’t help the cause. It’s hard to field a high ball if you’re constrained by using one hand to tug your forelock before the quality.
Positive thinking won’t turn a steak into a fish, as in the old joke. But it will mean that the next time a player in possession looks at a scoreboard to see Mayo six points up with twenty minutes to go he won’t think: I don’t believe this. He’ll think: in fifteen seconds it’ll be seven. Up Mayo.