The site’s host may have sloped off to the sun (and sunny it sure is over here, hombres) but the show must go on and helping it do so with another twist in the guest chair is FourGoal McGee who provides some thoughts on how our footballing prospects could be improved by taking a leaf from another county’s book.
A few months ago, I stirred a bit of a wasps nest here by expressing a view that Galway winning an U21 title might be good for Mayo football. At the risk of raising the hackles again, I’m now going to praise Dublin and suggest that we could learn from them.
I’m under no illusions about the love for Dublin – or lack thereof – that exists outside the Pale. Growing up in rural Mayo, there was a local urban/rural divide that we all experienced. Those of us who spent the Summer footing turf and making hay held a thinly veiled resentment for the town crowd, who we believed sat on their holes for the entire summer while we worked. And as far as we were concerned they had it easy and they were full of shit. They might grace us with their presence on a visit on Sundays, when they would tell us how much better things were in the town and express surprise at the fact that the nearest shop to us – 4 miles away – might not even be open on Sunday. Of course we did have loads of space, our own goalposts and could do cool things like raid orchards, but that didn’t seem to cut any ice with the townies.
However, feelings of this nature were suspended when people from Dublin came around. They gave us the impression that we were all boggers, much to the disgust of the townies and this had a uniting effect on the non-Dublin contingent. The Dublin crowd would tell us of all the stuff they could do, the buses that could take them everywhere, the fact that they had been to Croke Park, there were street lights everywhere, there were shops of all types all over the place, etc, etc. They rattled on and on about how Dublin was a better place than “the country” (i.e. anywhere outside Dublin). And, of course, we even contributed to this view by having to go to Dublin if we wanted to see the Spring Show or the Horse Show. We even went there on school tours! So as far as they were concerned, Dublin was better. So to us, beating Dublin at anything was a bit like beating England, you would love to do it yourself, but if anyone else did it, that was good too because we liked to bring them back down to earth.
Following the growing up years, emigration and finally settling in Dublin, my attitude had gradually changed. The Dubs are indeed a strange breed, but they experience highs and lows like the rest of us. I’ll never forget the picture on the Evening Herald of a single disconsolate fan pictured on Hill 16 in August 2006 after the crowds had long departed following Mayo’s smash and grab victory. The banner headline simply read “Where did it all go wrong?” There was no need for an explanatory article. The picture and the headline said it all. But the following Thursday, the same paper was predicting that Dublin would win Sam in 2007. They were back on the horse again with the papers writing the feel good stories that would boost sales and raise expectations at the same time. And the analogy to England was not lost here, doesn’t the UK press always make a case that they should be considered favourites for every World Cup.
But this constant looking at the new dawn has brought about an attitude in Dublin that it is just a matter of time. They always consider themselves to be in the elite few that could break through despite the fact that it is now 16 years since they won Sam and, even worse, that was the last final they played in as well. And we listen to them telling us that Dublin “needs” an All-Ireland. Like we don’t or something? But they have convinced themselves that it would be good for everyone if they won it.
Of course this doesn’t endear them to us, but something has happened in Dublin in the last few years that has seriously impressed me. (He finally seems to be getting to the point, I hear you say!) And it is not the big ball fraternity that is doing it, it is the hurlers. It started with the minors developing teams that were beginning to challenge the big hurling counties. Leinster Final victories came in 2005 and 2007. Another major sign of the underage revolution came in 2005 and 2007, when Dublin clubs – Kilmacud Crokes and Castleknock respectively – won the Division 1 Hurling Feile. It might be under 14, but these were All Ireland titles and it was unheard of that Division 1 Feile would be won by anyone outside of the traditional strong hurling counties. A Leinster U21 title followed for Dublin in 2009 followed by another in 2010, and they are back in the final again this year.
And then there is the Senior team. They hadn’t won a League title since 1939 – until this year. They haven’t won a Leinster title since 1961. But they were back in the final in 2009 and again this year.
On Sunday last, I went to Croke Park to watch a hurling match. It was the first time I ever deliberately went to a senior inter-county hurling match, I have seen one or two before as curtain raisers to football. What I found surprising was the confidence of the Dubs. They knew that Kilkenny would come at them like men possessed, but they dared to hope. The magnificent Dublin minors set the scene, beating Kilkenny in the minor game and they were given a standing ovation for their deeds. In the pre-match parade, the seniors were given a standing ovation as well. And when it was all over, and Kilkenny had marched on, the talk was of the qualifiers and of the continuing next minor and U21 games. Nothing negative. They took their beating. They won’t win the All-Ireland this year or probably in the next few years, but they dare to hope that their day is coming.
And the reason they hope it is nothing to do with the media, it is nothing to do with being superior in any way. It is because of the hard work that has been done. Dublin hurling went back to basics. It put the structures in place. It promoted the game. It developed the coaching system. It built the supporter base. It invested in the future. And it is building success – starting in under age – and gradually making an impression in the senior grade. It is an unlikely success story, but it is gathering momentum.
Is there something Mayo football can learn from this? Structure, hard work, coaching, promotion, building the supporter base, investing in the future, building success from underage? Now where did I hear all that recently?
We can learn from the Dubs. And in this case, it is about having the courage of our convictions. We already have the Plan. We just need the balls to implement it.
Keep the Faith!