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.