Photo: The 42
I need to buy a new flag.
There’s no shortage of flags in our house but the one I’ve used so far this summer is a bit on the large size and so difficult to get hoisted quickly enough after a score. The one the young buck uses is a bit smaller and so perfect in this respect. I’ll take a trip down to Elvery’s in Croke Park later on today or tomorrow to see if I can pick up another one like it.
All the flags, hats, replica jerseys and all the other accoutrements that supporters wear or carry with them to games will need to be sorted again soon ahead of Sunday. With such a run of games for us this summer, however, I doubt that this gear has been packed away at all in many houses over the past few months. In the unlikely event that it has, it’ll need to be rooted out again shortly.
I’ve no idea what the likely attendance from the county is expected to be on Sunday. It’s fair enough to conclude, though, that (a) it’ll be bigger than anything seen to date this year and (b) we’ll comfortably outnumber the opposition.
This summer, perhaps for the first time, the country at large has woken up to the phenomenon that is the Mayo support base. In a sense, so too have we. While support levels have been rising in number and increasing in volume every year since 2011, this summer it’s been off the map altogether.
Most supporters will recall the stinging barb directed by James Horan at supporters during the winter that followed our 2013 All-Ireland final loss to Dublin. Most of the hurt engendered from that cutting observation came, surely, from the fact that it was true. When the team really needed us that September day, when our job – after Andy’s goal – was to roar them home, we failed them. We clammed up.
Ever since then, things have been completely different. Both days in 2014 against Kerry, but especially on that night of infamy down in Limerick, the support given to the team was little short of awesome. It was the same both days against Dublin the following year and even more so last year when, in both the drawn game and the replay, every single attempt by the Dubs to start their Come On You Boys in Blue was shouted down by the visceral, tribal Mayo Mayo Mayo chant.
But the true worth of a support base is how fans react when the team is in difficulty. I always find it striking how useless Dublin’s huge support – where inevitably they’re always in the majority at Croke Park – so often can be when the going gets rough. If the Dublin team are in a hole then it’s up to them to dig themselves out of it – they’ll get little or no encouragement from the stands or the terrace. Come On You Boys in Blue will start up, alright, when the game is won but not before then.
It was the Round 2A qualifier game against Derry where I first noticed that supporter behaviour had shifted to a new level. We all remember that day: time running out, the game running away from us, visible signs of panic out on the pitch.
What was different, though, was the reaction in the stand. Every missed shot – and there were rather a lot of them that day – ratcheted the encouragement levels up another notch, with very few fans moaning and groaning about how badly we were misfiring. The sense I got that day was that the supporters simply wouldn’t let the team lose and kept rooting for them until the dam finally burst and Derry were swept away. It really felt as if the supporters dragged the players over the line that day.
The Clare match wasn’t the same knuckle-gnawing event but the sheer size – and volume – of the Mayo support turned Cusack Park into a home from home for us that sun-washed afternoon. Over on the covered terrace, a group of us were little short of unhinged for the seventy minutes such was the partisan nature of the backing we gave the team that day. There are, I’m sure, a few bewildered Clare supporters still looking at us after that one.
Sadly, I missed the Cork game and missed too the opportunity to exorcise all those bitter memories from the Gaelic Grounds three years ago. But I know from those who were there that the support level that day was extraordinary and, on a day of extremely tight margins, the huge disparity in support for the two teams was a significant factor.
We were probably outnumbered by the Rossies on both days but during the drawn game (I was away for the replay) it sure didn’t sound like it. In fact, I felt the Roscommon support sold their team short in the drawn game. When they stormed seven up that’s when their fans should have been on their feet yelling them on to sink the knife in further. Instead they sat down timidly and did nothing as their team started to shrink out on the field. Support really does matter.
Before we pat ourselves too much on the back, however, we need to recognise that – no more than the lads on the pitch – our performance levels have sometimes fallen short too. In particular, against Galway both this year and last year the encouragement and general noise levels from supporters weren’t anything like they should have been. I’m not sure why this happened and I’m at a loss to know why we lost both games as well. Are the two connected? Possibly, but it’s impossible to say for sure.
What we can say, though, is that the support the team has the next day will be critical. Stephen Rochford has said more than once this summer how important it is, so has Cillian O’Connor. Just the other day Kevin McLoughlin and Paddy Durcan both voiced their appreciation for the vociferous fan base the team can rely on.
So while we can ponder away about what our starting fifteen should be, what kind of tactics we should deploy and how best to handle Donaghy, we need to recognise what our job is on Sunday. Management and players will handle what happens inside the whitewash, it’s up to us to sort what happens in the stands.
You don’t need me to tell you what to do. You’ll bring the colour, you’ll bring the noise and once again you’ll leave with your voice croaking, having again ruined your vocal chords roaring the team on. Because, collectively, we’re the 16th man on this great team of ours and the part we’re called to play is one the players draw strength from and feed off.
After all, we’re Mayo and we’re in this together.
There’s a jackpot of €15,300 and stand tickets for the All-Ireland hurling final up for grabs in the Mayo GAA Players Welfare Lotto. Play the Lotto here.