On exile and the new madness

As we approach the start of a new season of competitive inter-county action, a new guest contributor star is born. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Dean Kelly who provides some thoughts on exile and the joys of setting out on a new league campaign. 

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Photo: Joe.ie

It’s possible that I’m wrong, that like a victim of previous tortures or violations, I wince now just at the clanging of a door or the turning of a rusty key.  But I can’t help feeling that there’s a new mania brewing where the green is worn above the red.  Faced with a stark choice between the palliative self-protection of ignoring the whole bloody thing or throwing ourselves back into the whirligig with all its sure fire promise of pain and disappointment, we have chosen the latter, dafter and nobler road.

And just as no two snowflakes are alike, neither does one GAA season ever reproduce the one that went before.  It’s not open to us to set sail with the relative calm of 2011, or the increasing confidence of the last two years.  That this is a boom-or-bust, all-chips-in-at-half-four-in-the-morning kind of year, goes without saying.  Social media in this parish is humming and sparking with the promise of death or glory, like copper wires over Dover on D-Day, as the countdown begins to an inevitable and definitive endgame.

I was thinking along these lines on the road back to Dublin from Ballinlough last Sunday.  Perhaps it’s the very direct way that an afternoon like that reminds you of what you lose when you pitch your tent in the capital, as so many of us have.  Let’s be clear, even in the earliest days of my exile I loved what I have always considered to be my city.  I never understood the D4-themed moans and mutterings from travelling companions on Barton’s Bus in the mid-Nineties.  I didn’t recognise their descriptions of a town where your bogman accent and desperate need for sedation from May to September, made you outside or other.  On the contrary, I felt I’d arrived in a place which, for the all the bells and whistles of a capital city, felt like my own crowd had been there before me and had effected a benign yet thorough colonisation.  I loved Dublin city then and love it still.

And yet, and yet, and yet.  I never feel a stronger draw to place and to family than driving the wrong way home from a Mayo match, a sense which weighs all the heavier on the quiet but magnificent winter Sundays like the one just gone.  You are in some real though ephemeral way not where you should be, apart from your own, and going the wrong way on the N5.  On those evenings, Dublin feels lonelier to me on my return than it has in eighteen years.

I thought as well of leaving Croke Park last September and in particular of a number of gentlemen of the city who struck up the timeless song of the Gael as we dragged ourselves away from Golgotha.  Cheerio, Cheerio, Cheerio, one alternating between two-handed waving and a gesture I understood was intended to simulate onanism.  I will defer to his knowledge.  They were lads just on the right side of middle age, well enough dressed and sitting in the lower tier of the Cusack Stand close enough to season ticket holders of both tribes.  And they seemed happy with the result of the match.  A friend who was with me addressed one of their young sons and pointing at his father asked the young lad if he was proud of him.  The young lad seemed confused, his father shut his mouth.

In that moment, as tears streamed down the faces of harder men than me, I took solace in the fact that I remained an expatriate part of something which that crowd of Sky Super Sunday/Arthur’s Day/Coldplay in Marley/Where’s me leprechaun hat gobshites are strangers to, and always will be.  And they’re strangers, not because they’re not welcome into this magnificent cult, but because when it comes right down to it they’ve no interest.  Win, lose or draw, the next few weeks will be all the better for their not being there.

An Spailpín Fánach wrote just before the Christmas of these days of magic and wonder in the county Mayo.  He said it better than I could and I won’t insult him by paraphrasing.  He’s right though.  We’ve won so much more than we’ve lost, and in the deepest mid-winter quiet, the joy of being part of this wonderful GAA thing is pure and sharp like the dawn air.  Those waving jennets are back where they belong – in shopping centres, golf clubs and multiplex cinemas.  Meanwhile the Christmas jumpers are gone out of our favourite pub, and the morning streets are ours to enjoy.  For the exiles in Dublin and elsewhere, the drive back might be lonely but the next few weeks sees us plugging back into home as if we’d never left.  Most depressing time of the year?  Not one bit of it, try bloody September for size.

38 thoughts on “On exile and the new madness

  1. Thank you Dean, i enjoyed your piece very much, your sentiments resonate will me, a paid up member of the green and red army who has spend some years downunder and indeed just a few days back from there after a family visit. September’s finale was a bitter pill and took more than a little time to lay to rest. Yet the prospect of the year ahead had me posing with my Mayo Flag at the Rod Laver Area and at the MCG, ever hopeful that such photo’s will be useful this September again. Look forward to reading posts from you in the future. let the games begin #seaofgreenandred

  2. What a cracking piece of writing, Dean.

    It’s like you’re right inside my head. Going the “wrong way” on the N5 on a Sunday evening after leaving a game is when I too most feel the draw of home. I also love the shared experience of away games during the league – making that trip and knowing that everyone else making that same journey is as at least as daft as you are. 🙂

    I’ve never known quite this level of anticipation at the start of any season. Not even last year. We’ve been there or thereabouts before, but there’s a strong level of quiet determination and rebelliousness bubbling beneath the surface, even at this early stage. It’s all or nothing, and to see people throwing themselves behind the team with reckless abandon, after the desolation of last September .. it’s special.

    This time of year reminds me of starting out on Croagh Patrick on a cloudy day. You know you’ve a job to do, and there’ll parts you enjoy and parts you’ll be a bit shaky, but if you keep going you might, just might be at the top when the cloud breaks and you get to survey your kingdom from the pinnacle.

    Either we’re just the masters of denial, or whatever happened in September has freed us up a bit. Maybe we’re just playing through the pain barrier and going for broke? And maybe this year will be something special. Who knows? And at this stage, it’s all ahead of us, all to play for.

    I drive past Croker every morning on the way to work, and there’s not a day the prospect of those summer days doesn’t make my heart leap a bit.

    Glory days indeed.

  3. Grt stuff anne.marie. When ever people say when will ye win sam i look at them and say we will win it. Its only a matter of ttime

  4. Fantastic stuff Dean and Anne Marie too. Just the one week to go and we’re back at it proper again. Maigh Eo Abu

  5. I enjoyed this piece Dean…the mention of Barton’s bus brings back great memories.. Don’t think it runs anymore. Like you, I never felt like an outsider there…..even when I was back in Sept, 19 yrs since I was in Dublin last, was like well, coming home!

  6. Well said,Dean…..I visited some of the colonists recently….heard you were slumming it in RDS!!!! I was in the august halls of Fitfwilliam…..Beir bua is nbeannacht. JC

  7. Well done Dean, on your piece, some lovely other posts too, fingers crossed that there will be a happy ever after ending, to this story! Some interesting games ahead this week-end, it’ll be great to see how our u21 team is shaping up, a tough game against Tipperary in store for them. Also it will be a chance to see how Kildare and Tyrone (our first opponents in the league) get on in their preseason tournament finals. Also we can’t forget the all-ireland semi-final appearance for Kiltane, best of luck to all involved in their quest for glory…..

  8. Great stuff Dean, a story I can associate with. A great way to start the season. Next time I am questioned about my current state of madness I can always reply with ” we have chosen the latter, dafter and nobler road.”

  9. Fantastic piece of writing Dean and a really good post by Ann Marie too.

    There is definitely an air of anticipation amongst the Mayo faithful . Personally I can’t remember a year where I was looking forward to it all as much , I’ve tried to ask myself why that is lately and I think it’s fairly simple really. We have established ourselves as a top side since 2011 and we deserve to be where we are because we have a great side , we should all enjoy this period , we can’t predict the future but these honeymoon periods don’t last forever either.

    Sam Maguire is what we all want and our quest for Sam is what defines us now at this stage but there will be several other counties with their eye on the big prize also.It will take a massive effort from this squad to get back to the place we were the last two years ,it would be some achievement but the reality is , it will take an even bigger effort to get there again. I don’t envy the players and management in the context of the resolve and determination it will take but my admiration for this present set up is enormous and I consider it the best Mayo team of my time.

  10. mayo at best ,this season will make allireland semifinal ,they havent got the footballers to drag us over the line .tyrone willbe thedark horse thisyear

  11. I think putting the mayo flag on the that statue did not help mayo s cause hopping mayo cause a few upsets this yeAr by beating Kerry and Dublin hope the dubs fans won’t be offended.

  12. Looks like the game’s up for Mayo in the Hastings Cup as the Tipp lads have a comfortable lead going into the last few minutes.

  13. Great fight back by Mayo but unfortunately came up short. final score Tipp 2.10 Mayo 2.8

  14. I think a final is well within their capabilities, winning it will need jh to be just as capable. Tyrone, by the way, looked fairly ordainary in last years semi where Mayo should have leathered them by 10-12 points instead of 6. I don’t see them as dark anything.
    Dublin and Kerry are the ones to beat. Donegal may come good too.

  15. Great entertaining article Dean and so easy to relate to.

    Thanks for the U-21 update and result Mayo McHale. That’s a good Tipp side, but taking part in the Hasting cup will bring our lads on. The Rossies result v Cavan will give an idea of Connacht form, along with how many players Galway have from last year.

    And I want to remind everyone that Kiltane play the All-Ireland Intermediate Club Semi-Final in Ballinasloe tomorrow. I’ll be there and a big shout out for the Erris men to make the Final!

  16. Cloud9, you just beat me to it, will be travelling tomorrow to see Kiltane play Clydra Rovers, we need to have a many winners as possible in the county, just like last years minors. The more that do this across different levels can only be good for the county. Hopefully Kiltane will take one more step on this great journey, and spread more momentum into the new season. I have no doubt that the team will nothing behind and confident that we can reach Croker,

  17. Cloud9 is it on tng I saw something on gaa beo on tg 4 am wondering or could that be national league preview am wondering. Could be wrong

  18. On right thanks think there showing next week game are they hopefully mayo have good league and beat the dubs

  19. As expected Mayo have been making good use of their panel during the Hastings cup with mixed results.

    Mayos strongest 15 for the championship?

    Goalkeeper? (four different keepers chosen in four games)

    2 Kevin Lynch 3 Liam Kitterick 4 Aidan Butler

    4 Sean Regan 6 S Coen 7 C Burke

    8 D O’Connor 9 G O’Donnell

    10 A Jordan 11 A Gallagher 12 Ryan Quirke

    13 J Shaughnessy 14 C O’Shea (if not fit Kevin Gibbons) 15 E Regan

  20. I thought Irwin and docherty might of been given a run out during Hastings cup but they obviously didn’t make the panel , strange enough esp with Irwin when you think he has been mentioned for seniors even with some .

    Was Conor o Shea on NUIG panel for FBD ?

  21. When you go back to our last win at U21 in 2006 we had I think at least 5 players just out of minor and several in key positions.

    Off the top of my head we had: Cafferkey at FB, Cunniffe at CHB, SOS at midfield as well as Chris Barrett and Aiden Campbell.

    That 2005 minor team got to the AI final but were well beaten by an exceptional Down side.

    So I go along with Sean here in that it’s strange that only Diarmuid O Connor and Stephen Coen seem to be in the running this year, especially when we had such a potent forward line last year.

  22. six and half weeks to the Roscommon game plenty of time to try out a few more guys in challenge games however the team above will be close enough.

  23. It was very interesting to read the great Mick O’Dwyer’s comments about Mayo’s chances this year in the Indo. The legendary former Kerry Manager, 8 times All-Ireland winner said as follows: “Mayo have not blown their chance of winning an All-Ireland. If they were good enough to reach two finals, who’s to say they won’t win this year? They must remain positive and build on what they have, including last year’s impressive minors. If they do, there’s an All-Ireland there for them.”………..Wise words indeed, I hope that he is right too!

  24. Cait, mayo are a top team, so it wouldn’t be any “upset” if they were to best Kerry and/or Dublin along the way to league and/or AI.

  25. Think when Micko was talking up our chances he was attending a function somewhere in Mayo – and as we know these fellas will tell you anything, to make you feel good …….

  26. I see nothing wrong with having a bit of faith and optimism about our chances this year. Our opinions as fans have little impact on how the team goes out and performs on the big days, and who knows how it will all end up? We might be sent packing in the quarter finals, we might lose another final, we might win the damn thing out. No-one knows.

    But tell me this. As a supporter, if you don’t have that hope in your heart at this stage of the year, what’s the point in it all?

  27. Well Micko’s words make sense anyway, I heard Alex Ferguson say, that the two most important words in the english dictionary and the least used are, “Well Done”. So I’d say “Well Done” to all involved in the Mayo quest for glory so far and be positive that the biggest mountain can be climbed, winning the All-Ireland. As the saying goes, if you think that you can or you can’t, then you will be right and I think that we can be as good or better than most counties this year! At the end of the day, its what the players believe not what anyone else says that really matters…..

  28. Very fair comment Anne-Marie. You are more than entitled to have hope in your heart. We all have hope in our hearts but there is also a deep fear with that hope, leading to a sense of caution. I never had as much hope in my heart as last year and it was shattered, so, this year I will just wait and see. I saw Sam in Mayo all those years ago and it is very difficult to be optimistic for 63 years. 🙂

    On that note, I just saw the scoring highlights from last year’s final on TG4. (Willie Joe will have for harping again but some has to say it, I said it all last year year), Mayo did man to man marking and had absolutely no cover at the back. They were exposed time and time again, end of story!!!

  29. Excellent piece Dean. My better half is a Jackeen, her Dad being relocated there is the 50’s, and I have to admit that I didn’t buy into some of the anti-Dub sentiment in the lead up to the final. A lot of comments were very stereotypical of the “howeyaz” culture and not representative of the vast majority of the GAA supporters. To be honest the GAA Dubs are mighty crack and half of Dublin can trace it’s ancestors (I am talking about only 1 or 2 generations!) back to the West coast of Ireland anyway. I love going up there but my missus wouldn’t go back if you paid her, believe me I have tried:)
    I did feel walking out of Croker last September that the victory was wasted on them. There was no delirium or great celebration. It looked to me, like it felt to the Dubs, that it was just another game. Much like when they beat us in the league semi final earlier in the year and it did hammer home how much we would have gone mad had we won. I think there would still be some of us up in Croker yet. Or Coppers?

  30. As a long-standing resident up here (but still an Exile), I’d agree with that assessment, Pebblesmeller. The one they really enjoyed winning was 2011 but last year didn’t provoke anything like the same outpouring of celebration. They’d have traded it in a heartbeat for a hurling one, that’s for sure.

  31. It was hard to pick up the pieces after last September Joe Mc – like yourself, I had full belief that day that we’d finally do it and it’s taken me until now to get over it. But I believe in throwing yourself fully behind the team and taking whatever come with that on the chin. While the 22nd was tough, days like we had in Salthill in May and in Croker in July against Donegal will stay with me for the rest of my days. And on we plod again. All we can hope is that lessons have been learned from last year and that some of our weaker spots will have been reinforced after this league campaign.

    And Pebblesmeller you’re spot on re the Dubs and the lack of an outpouring of celebration – it was odd – it just felt like it was no big deal to them. While the roar did come it was nothing to what we heard the year before when Donegal won. Now that was a roar. I stuck around to see the presentation and the joy when Donegal won, and I usually would, but I’ll admit I couldn’t get out of there fast enough last year. I didn’t even wait to see Cluxto get the cup. But it’s at league games you meet the real Dubs fans and despite the negativity I saw on the day of the final, I’ve always enjoyed outings with the Dubs.

    Anyway – we move on! 😉

  32. I think the Dubs fans are the second best in the country. Good fun always. The feeling one gets at league and FBD games is great. We will persevere.

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