Mayo, help ourselves

The latest occupant of the guest slot is journalist and, more latterly, scholar Edwin McGreal who expands on the theme about how we should view ourselves as a footballing county before then going on to consider the importance of  more local GAA loyalties.

‘Mayo, God help us.’ My blood boils every time I hear or see that, the ultimate expression of a self-defeating prophecy.

It was with great enjoyment and complete agreement that I read An Spailpín Fánach’s contribution to this fantastic blog. It is not all about winning the All-Ireland Senior football title for Mayo people. If it was, then ‘Mayo, God help us’ is an undeniable truth.

And, far too often, we allow that mistruth to consume us and give it ample oxygen. Too often we don’t question it.

The Italian political thinker Antonio Gramsci – a neo Marxist – spoke of the dangers of the working classes accepting a line of thought peddled by a few. They wouldn’t question it and such a thought would become, for Gramsci, the common-sense views of all. For Gramsci, common-sense was dangerous. When he spoke he referenced it against his contemporary backdrop of an Italy being ruled by Mussolini and how so much of that regime went unquestioned. But it is a line of thought that has a universal bent.

In Mayo we do hitch ourselves to the national perception that we have one goal that has been consuming us for nearly six decades – to win Sam Maguire. The views of a few leading national media figures have become the common-sense beliefs of too many of us (although I’m not comparing Pat Spillane to Mussolini, annoying and all as he might be).

Spailpín is right. This singular view of us being obsessed solely with the search for Sam isn’t consonant with reality but too often we allow the myth to perpetuate.

Ask yourself this – has all your time following football in recent years been one of despair? Because if you only view success through the prism of winning the All-Ireland Senior title then despair is all you have been faced with. But we have had so much to sustain us as football people from Mayo.

Spailpín spoke perfectly well about the relative success of the Mayo senior team in recent years. Life has not been bad for us.

But, added to that, within a lot of us there is a parallel GAA universe too. Our world doesn’t merely orbit around the Mayo senior team. I feel two very strong senses of identity – being from Mayo, my county; and being from Breaffy, my club. For some reason being Irish doesn’t figure as strongly, although I’m not dismissive of it either. Maybe it is because the two teams who I identify with most and actually feel represent me are Mayo and Breaffy – in no particular order, I might add.

It won’t apply to everyone. Individual circumstances vary and not all people can remain to work in their home area and sometimes that club tie is slowly unravelled. On the other hand, for the Mayos based away from home the county team takes on a stronger meaning. The savage loves his native shore.

For more, some clubs can have a feeling of exclusivity about them and the Mayo team and their fortunes might be that bit more welcoming.

But, for all their flaws, the club has something so magical about it. Would you ever have heard of places like Garrymore, Hollymount, Burrishoole, Knockmore, to name but four, if it wasn’t for their football clubs? Would those rural communities, and so many more, have a real sense of identity without the local GAA club?

In my own club and so many more there is a flock of footballers who come west every weekend from Dublin during the football season because of the pull the home club has for them. Think about that for a moment. Lads in their 20s and early 30s, guys at the peak of their socialising careers, pointing the cars west for that weekend’s league, championship or even Kelly Cup game. A Saturday evening game might allow a few drinks in Castlebar but most games are on Sunday so, in high summer when many of their friends are planning party weekends, the lads drawn to home are contemplating how to beat Ballintubber in Clogher or wondering will they have to cope with Colm Mc coming out of retirement below in Newport.

And what for? Like the Mayo senior team there is one stand-out goal at the end. For Mayo the target is the Sam Maguire. For club footballers it is the Moclair, Sweeney or McDonnell Cup for the senior, intermediate or junior championship. But is the year a waste of time for the majority of teams who must, by the nature of the competition, fall short? No. There is a togetherness and a real pride of association for those who play and for those watching on. Success nourishes it but the club can and does survive without it. And that means that when the great days do arrive, you get to savour it with people who you have known since national school and guys who live beside you and all around you, people you have soldiered with in good times and bad.

We hear constantly of the effort inter-county footballers and hurlers put in. Let me tell you, club footballers aren’t far behind, even if they perform their shuttle runs, their tackle-bag drills and their gruelling core work far from Broadway.

For the committed supporters, family and friends the small community that is the GAA club is their community and there is a unity there, fostered through the GAA, which is such an uplifting presence in rural Ireland.

One of the great hypothetical questions in the GAA is which would you prefer – an All-Ireland for your county or a county senior title with your club? The great thing about hypothetical questions is they are exactly that – questions that don’t need an answer. Just as well because I don’t know which I would pick. I’d rather not choose and hope for both to come together in the one year, even if my liver might be struggling at the mere thought of that.

I could keep writing about all the clichés about what makes the club great – the battles with your neighbouring parishes, the fact that county players still play with their club, the fact that there is so little movement between clubs and so tighter becomes the bond etc. We know the reasons and they are many. But it is no harm to remind oneself of them every so often. At club and county level we have much to be thankful for. A lot of clichés are undeniable truths. ‘Mayo, God help us’ is not. Enjoy your football and enjoy the journey – wherever it takes you in 2011.

24 thoughts on “Mayo, help ourselves

  1. When I hear the term “Mayo God help us” I smile. It confirms the dark side of the Gael, the ignorant and sneering side. “Mayo God help us” is thrown out as a sneer or a token of pity.

    If people actually read what the inscription on the old Mayo crest actually said they would see a different thing. “Dia Agus Muire Linn”. Its an old Celtic and Irish invocation that was used by our forefathers. It is a saying we should be proud of.

    Those that choose to use it “Mayo God help us” tell us all we need to know about them. I always give them a blank stare and a wide berth. Good article Edwin.

  2. Great piece! I hope we all have the health to enjoy any match we go to in 2011!! We might even have an excuse to celebrate!!!

  3. Well said. We need to make sure that we start being a bit more aware of the things that we really value and the many successes that we don’t always recognize.

    Well done, Ed. A good perspective to present at the end of a very unusual year for all Irish people.

  4. Nice one ed, I like to remind my dublin mate who isw always goading me about mayo being gutless that we have contested 5 all ireland finals(including replay) since they were in a final!

  5. Thanks folks. Observer you’d be amazed how a man can multi-task in college these days.
    Ontheroad I’m not sure of the origin of ‘Mayo, God help us’ myself. I know Leo Morahan said in Keith Duggan’s book that it is possibly famine related. Regardless, it is a woefully negative line.

  6. Great piece Edwin!!

    Happy Christmas Willie Joe.

    Thank you for your efforts over the year. You make following Mayo that extra bit more enjoyable.

    We have put 4 bad years behind us. 2011 will be better – it may only be baby steps forward but it will be an improvement.

  7. Wonderful article Edwin.

    Having been over in London since 1985, I’ve lost most of the association with my club, so Mayo the county has always been my badge of honour. And an honour it is.
    Mayo by the grace of God.
    Friday I’ll be back on home soil, amongst my own. But even after all the years over here, I’ve never felt like an outsider or disengaged from my county. That’s just the breed of us.

    Happy Christmas all of ye, thanks for all the work once again WJ.

  8. I’d like to add my thanks to Ed, as well as to ontheroad (who has given me another cracking piece that I’ll put up in a few days), Spailpin and Liam Horan for their eloquent contributions to the site over the last few weeks. For my own part, I’m delighted with how the experiment has worked and hopefully we can continue this kind of collaboration into the future.

    I hope you make it home okay tomorrow, Dan. I lived in London for several years and know full well how important it is to get back home at this time of year so hopefully the weather won’t prove too much of an impediment to your doing so.

  9. Good man WJ, appreciate the thought.

    These contributions have been great, especially around this time of year when we’re struggling for any GAA news.
    What I’ve found most uplifting is the general theme of them. We’re an obsessed people when it comes to winning this fecking All-Ireland, sometimes we forget to enjoy the ride along the way

  10. I’m in a funny situation in that I don’t really have a club. I’m kind of from a few different places (long story) and I’m in exile from Mayo now so there’s a selection of clubs who are at daggers drawn with each other but any of whom I’d be happy out if they won.

    That said, I agree with Ed fully and utterly about the importance of the club as the atom of the GAA. No clubs, no nothing. It really is as simple as that. As for the eternal struggle between club and county, that will always be an eternal struggle, and no two players’ cases will ever be exactly the same. It’s just the nature of the beast.

    There are just two little things before we all shut down for Christmas. My piece was about how wrong it is for Mayo people to torture ourselves for not winning the All-Ireland in a given year. That does not mean, however, that we shouldn’t start every year with the aim of winning the All-Ireland. I never meant that at all. I might expand on that more fully later but, you know, if you enter a competition you might as well take some sort of dart at winning it.

    Finally, I think I speak for all the people who are sitting around the hearth of the Mayo GAA Blog this Christmas Eve that we all owe bottles of whiskey, brandy and divers other hard drops to our host, Willie Joe. We mightn’t be great at winning football games but we by God are pretty handy at talking about them. Without Willie’s virtual rambling house, where would we be? We’d be following the crow, that’s where we’d be. Thanks for everything Willie Joe – happy Christmas to you and all the family.

    Up Mayo.

  11. And so say all of us! Well done Willie Joe – keep her lit and maybe we might have something to shout about in 2011.

  12. Spailpín,

    That’s certainly not how I picked you up anyway. Of course Sam should be the target. But it is not the end of the world if that target isn’t reached. That might sound negative to some but I don’t think it is. Our day will come. Maybe this year, maybe next year, maybe in five years. But in the mean time we should enjoy the journey.

  13. Hi Edwin – yes, this is it exactly. Not fulfilling an aim for the year doesn’t mean that the entire year was a failure. We have to give ourselves permission to lose if we’re ever going to win. We’re of the one mind.

    Up Mayo.

  14. Edwin an interesting article, but your summation of the
    situation is not factual. You are painting a picture of discontent
    across the whole of Mayo and insulting the majority of Mayo
    followers by insuating that “mayo god help us” is a common
    expression used by the majority of fans after any sort of a defeat.
    This is simply not the case, yes this expression is undoubtedly
    used but it is used by ignorant football fans who show up once a yr
    for a connacht final and go home with nothing else to do but
    complain. I assure you in my experience this negative attitude is
    not held by the majority of true mayo fans (of which I would
    classify myself as one). True Mayo fans as Spailin has rightly
    indicated appreciate an honest team and team who is giving there
    all and is not simply judged by winning an All Ireland every year.
    I am sure I speak for the majority of Mayo fans with these beliefs.
    As for Pat Spillane having a Mussolini like authority over the
    minds of people by spouting his views for a few minutes a week on
    RTE. this is ridiuclous as the majorty of mayo viewers just see him
    as a joke character making a few headlines with strong views which
    are usually not entirely accurate. hope this is clear

  15. Jonno,

    I don’t ascribe to the Mayo God Help Us way of thinking, you clearly don’t either and neither do a few more genuine Mayo fans that I know. But I also know plenty of Mayo fans – both hardcore and fair weather – who are extremely negative towards the team and towards the players. I know people who go to a lot of league games and still talk purely in terms of the All-Ireland as the barometer of success.
    Whether they’re genuine supporters or not it almost a moot point. If you are a Mayo player out and about and you hear seafoid about how hopeless, depressing etc being a Mayo supporter is, it is going to drain you, regardless of the type of supporter that person might be.
    I know a young Mayo player who was in a conversation in the canteen at his work place and they were all on about how the Mayo minors were in the All-Ireland final and how they hadn’t a hope, Mayo teams always calf etc etc. This guy was a player on that minor team, but these ‘supporters’ didn’t know it. The fact that they didn’t know one of their work colleagues was about to go out and play in an All-Ireland final in Croke Park tells you straightaway that they weren’t hardcore supporters. Did that make the lad feel any better? No. That’s the kind of nonsense I refer to. Imagine having to listen to that, after putting in a huge effort all year.
    Until enough people get this negative mindset out of their heads, we are going to keep perpetuating the Mayo, God Help Us crap. And it beholds the genuine Mayo supporters who don’t adhere to the Mayo, God Help Us nonsense to rally against anyone that does.
    As for my comment on Spillane and Mussolini. It was a joke and you obviously picked me up wrong. The comparison is the hegemony of Gramsci’s Italy with the hegemonic national media views of Mayo football. Spillane as Mussolini was merely a means of humourising it and I did state I wasn’t comparing him, in case poor oul Willie Joe would be subject to a libel suit!
    Roll on the FBD!

  16. Edwin, am I right in saying that you agree that all Mayo fans are not of the “Mayo god help us” view point and it is in fact the minority?
    This is the point I take umbrage with as it is a minority in my view and not the majority
    As you say “I know people who go to a lot of league games and still talk purely in terms of the All-Ireland as the barometer of success”. Yes they may use the barometer in terms of success and this is a not a bad thing, but they also appreciate when we are knocked out that we are simply not good enough or it’s just not our yr and don’t just write the team off as no hopers

    “If you are a Mayo player out and about and you hear about how hopeless, depressing etc being a Mayo supporter is, it is going to drain you, regardless of the type of supporter that person might be”. I don’t agree with this at all in fact as a former player myself, (I played in a club county final not county level) but nonetheless we had a poor/average team by the clubs standards that year and made an unexpected run to the final resulting in a win. I remember the morning of the game the parish priest making a comment at Mass that he would go if the weather held fine that day and not bother otherwise. This was the feeling throughout the parish prior to the game and actually resulted in the team being extremely relaxed prior to the game as nobody expected us to win and in fact were making little of our achievement in reaching the final putting it all down to luck. As a result the team was relaxed entering the game and wholly determined to prove people wrong who thought we were no hopers. So the negativity in this case proved to inspire us. So this is why I don’t buy into your argument above.
    In fact as James Horan pointed out in a interview I heard after he accepted the job, Mayo fans have a habit of getting to excited and build the team up to much when they are doing well which doesn’t do them any good.
    I would add that this negative mindset which you speak of is not solely engulfed in Mayo but rather in every county in Ireland, im sure there were plenty of “Down god help us and Kildare god help us until recent yrs have seen a turnaround in fortunes”. This is simply human nature and not a disease engulfed in the minds of Mayo supporters.
    I was aware that your comment on Spillane was a joke and I did see your comment in brackets as I can read, but I couldn’t resist a pop at him as harmless as it was.
    But none the less you do clearly state that “The views of a few leading national media figures have become the common-sense beliefs of too many of us” so you are implying that too many Mayo followers don’t take there own views but rather let the national media form them. This is why I made the Spillane comment in detail as I do not let Spillane or any other national journalist form my view. And I do not believe that informed football fan lets the national media form there views either. It is the uneducated Mayo follower which allows an article in the national papers to form there conversations on Monday morning as they would not have anything else to talk about otherwise.
    I take exception to your presumption that I “obviously picked you up wrong” on the Gramsci/Mussolini comment. Thank you for explaining the hegemony of Gramsci’s Italy point again as I am a teacher by profession and may use this topic with a class in the New Year.
    Gramsci doesn’t quiet make the curriculum but Mussolini is obviously a key man so I will work Gramsci in somewhere. Although my own thoughts on Gramsci is that although he may have called himself a neo Marxist he wasn’t a very good one and in fact cared more about his own safety than fighting for what he actually believed in. That is of course if he actually believed in what he was saying and wasn’t the communist which many informed writers believe him to have been given his significant links to Stalin. He may in fact have been expelled from the PCI had he not been imprisoned first.
    I digress
    Mayo for Sam but if not a re establishment into the top 8 counties in Ireland would be very good.

  17. Some good debate here lads but I think you are getting dragged off point here lads, some supporters regardless of the depth of their support are just negative people..

    You hear them at every game, in every code, nothing good to say and using the seat or the place in the stand to vent frustration which may indeed have nothing to do with what they are watching!!

  18. Jonno,

    I’d agree with Jonno, we are getting dragged off topic. From my experience Mayo supporters are more negative than most. And can also be too suffocating too. They go up and down like yo yos. You have a different experience. That’s fine, I hope it stays fine in your side of the county.

    I would like if more Mayo supporters had a more considered approach to things. That the football team wasn’t seen as so negative by some and that the All-Ireland wasn’t the be all and end all from others. There is a middle ground we need to reach. And I believe this to be the case more than other counties in my experience. We’ll leave it at that.

  19. this is from your experience, I lived in cork for 10 years and played intermediate football for a club there, I can assure you the attitude to their county footballers during that time was every bit as negative if not worse than some Mayo fans today.
    This is human nature, there are negative people in this world Edwin and it is not confined to Mayo. Nor is it any worse in Mayo than any part of Ireland. In fact in my opinion we are a more positive bunch than a lot of other counties.

    As roger says above you hear them in every game in every code.

    I hope you can take this from our discussion and can try to open your eyes to a wider view point.

    A wider view of the world is a much wiser view in my opinion.

  20. Thanks for the advice Jonno. It was such an enlightening experience to hear your views. Up Mayo.

  21. good man Edwin, dont feel too down hearted that your views may have been a bit naive. I have a few more miles on the clock than your good self. Knowledge builds up over time.
    anyway all this aside Up Mayo is right

  22. A good passionate discussion. I’m hoping that Mayo will win their first match against New York. It’s one game at a time for me. No pressure needed. A new year, a new championship.
    Re the expression above, I have noticed people who come to the door asking for charity, if you ask them a question such as “Do you have children?” their reply can be something like “I have six chidren, God help us”. My own feeling i that it is a kind of asking for pity, based on real need in the past.
    Ask the same people where they are living and the reply could well be: “Foxrock, God help us”. It’s not saying Foxrock is a place they are ashamed of – it’s just a habit at this stage.

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