Setting sail

Several different strands came together the morning in February 2007 that I brought into being the phenomenon that became known as the Mayo GAA Blog. At one level, what I did that day was just a flight of fancy, a mere whim, an idea that simply may not have been followed through on at all. It wouldn’t have been the first weblog to suffer such a fate.

Under the surface, though, different thoughts were coalescing inside me. It was the melding of a number of things that first of all spurred me to action and then helped me to sustain the effort over the years that have followed.  None of these factors on their own would have been sufficient to continue the project, certainly not over the longer-term, but each were necessary to make it happen in the first place and, once launched, to keep the vessel afloat.

The first is the obvious one. There’s been a frustrated writer residing somewhere within me all of my life.  I’ve always wanted to write – something, anything at all – for as long as I can remember but aside from stuff I was compelled to write as part of work and a diary, which I’d kept up religiously – and still do – since 1990, I had until then nothing at all to show for my efforts.

Several bold beginnings, of short stories (a few I even managed to complete), poems (which, though I’ve long parted company with copies of, embarrass me still), novels (there’s a first draft of an execrable attempt hidden in a suitcase somewhere) and assorted attempted bits of non-fiction, all abandoned, all largely forgotten about were, up until that point, the sum total of my writings.

So, with weblogs, or blogs as they became to be known, a flourishing medium of expression in the early years of the Millennium, here was a fresh new idea to have a tilt at. Getting a blog up and running was easy enough – even for someone such as me who wasn’t all that well versed in detailed IT issues – as using a platform such as Google’s Blogger, on which the Mayo GAA Blog (or Green and Red as it was initially known) was first hosted, meant a blog could be up and running following a few simple keystrokes.

I still needed something to write about, a topic on which I could, if not propound upon with an air of authority, at least attempt to scribble on without making a total ass of myself. What am I going to write about, I wondered. Or, put another way, what do I like and might, at a push, be able to write about? Well, I like the Mayo football team – perhaps I could write about them?

Once it took hold, I could see that there might be something to this idea. It was, for sure, a topic that I had no little passion about – now that I’d more or less returned to the fold as a committed supporter of the county team, even if that support was still more often than not expressed in the abstract rather than on the terraces at each and every competitive game – and I had a template, of sorts, to go on. I even, dammit, had a high-brow reference point.

That pre-social media period being the high point of the blog era, there were loads of football blogs on the go back then. But the ones I knew about were all soccer blogs, devoted to following the fortunes of English football clubs. This was a movement that had, in large part, been spawned by the popularity of fanzines, inexpensively produced samizdat-type magazines written by and for fans, sold outside and around English football grounds on match days. I’d seen them myself, and had occasionally bought editions of them, during my years in London. That same era also saw soccer writing elevated to a higher literary plane, in particular with the publication in 1992 of Nick Hornby’s groundbreaking Fever Pitch, a book that was partly an autobiographical love letter to Arsenal FC and partly a personal account of the trials and tribulations of being a lowly football fan. It was a book that had struck a deep chord with me.

The soccer blogs that appeared in their multitudes as the medium flourished were highly entertaining places in which to waste time on a daily basis.  The material published in them was cutting, witty and often highly profane. It was the language of the segregated football ground, outrageously tribal and enormously insulting of the opposition. It was one-eyed too – my team good, the other lot bad, no matter what the circumstances.

Even I could see that the ultra-tribal nature of what was published in these blogs wouldn’t fly in a GAA context. There’s a reason why GAA fans aren’t segregated at matches and that ability to sit beside a supporter of the opposing team while both of you express your full-throated opinions on the game you see – from very different standpoints – developing before you is one of the things that makes attending GAA matches such a positive experience.

A quick perusal of the internet confirmed to me that no fanzine-type GAA blogs devoted to following any one county existed. Rather than deterring me, that discovery had the effect of prodding me onwards. Were I to do this, I’d be breaking entirely new ground. I’d be the first onto this field, one that, I imagined, would eventually be filled with several discordant voices, each of us carrying the torch for our own particular county, voicing all those hopes and fears that supporters everywhere do.

Two further factors spurred me to action. One was the shifting technologies of the time – there was much guff being spouted then about “citizen journalism” – and the notion that the narrative as reported by the mainstream media wasn’t the whole story at all. Online tools had opened up entirely new avenues of creativity and expression, as well as different ways for disseminating this new content. Surveying this shifting world, I could see that an opportunity now existed for me to project my voice out into this brave new world. If only I could find my voice.

That’s where opportunity twinned with opportunism for me. Following the shafting of Mickey Moran – where, I wonder, would I have stood on that issue had the blog been launched a few months earlier? – and John O’Mahony’s installation as the new manager of the senior team, optimism was, despite the awful battering Kerry had given us in the recently-played final, on the rise again. Soft fool I was, I fancied that Johnno’s return to the helm constituted the final piece in the jigsaw. My timing couldn’t, then, have been better. Under Johnno’s guidance there was a good chance we might, sooner rather than later, find ourselves finally inhabiting the Promised Land. Here was a readymade bandwagon, just about to hit the road. I fancied tagging along for the ride, chronicling this final, decisive push for glory.

This is another extract from my unfinished book about the Mayo football team, the blog and me.

10 thoughts on “Setting sail

  1. Out of interest Willie Joe if you open a diary page from 1990 do you remember the events described.

  2. I do, JP. It also gives me a good handle on what happened in which year. Memories can be tricky, though, as it’s my impression that we often tend to recall events, particularly from years further back, with a more nostalgic hue so that can lead to a mismatch compared to the actual lived experience. In my view at any rate!

  3. Very good idea WJ regarding a diary. I must try and do one of those myself. Found your last two blogs very well and honest too.

  4. Agree Willie Joe, people in particular overstate secondary school or University experience as being somehow way more elevated an experience than reality.

  5. Hi All, Very interesting. ( secret ambition to be a writer myself and achieve fame). Memory is a great gift. I guess we are all unique!

    Just slightly off topic. I read out of 27 in primary school in Bekan in 1948 or so, 3 went on to Secondary School and one of those stayed in Ireland.

  6. Willie Joe,
    I never knew about the blog back in 2007, but if i can guess correctly, maybe you started the blog to somehow try and understand and dissect the two bad defeats at the hands of Kerry in 04 and 06.
    Somebody mentioned on the blog a week ago that it’s all about the journey, the book is open and maybe there can only be one way to finally close it, of course Mayo will need to win Sam.

    After the Dubs start to to crack, and they eventually will, things will level out on the playing field.

  7. WJ…….Lovely piece above thank you and I like your remark about Mickey Moran being shafted……..My feelings too at the time for sure. The 2006 AISF was a special game for me……..As it turned out, my last ever Croker Mayo game with my late father Tom. And what a game against the Dubs. Like a finale to a Rambo movie, our lads turned an 8 point deficit midway in the second half into a 1 point win……Ciaran Mac the hero with his magical winner. And before the game started at all, the dramatic Mayo takeover of Hill 16 end for the warm up and the standoff with the Dubs……. Mickey Moran was an amazing man……a passionate, committed, honorary Mayo Man that day and shame on the Co Board for shafting him in the way they did………Got us to an AI Final, in some style, in his first and only year in charge and then bye bye…….feckin unbelievable…….I hadn’t known you started the Blog in 2007 and wish you and all bloggers many more years to come of green n red tribal outpouring and sharing on this site…….Of them all, hands down the most professionally structured, moderated and vibrant GAA blog in Ireland……

  8. I have commented previously about the Mickey Moran issue and his achievement in getting Mayo to an All Ireland Final as if we had never been in one or not for years. It was basically the same team which John Maughan got to a final two years previously when we were beaten by eight points rather than thirteen. And in the intervening year with John Maughan, 2005, we also met Kerry in the Quarters where we got to three points of them. So what was the big achievement in 2006?
    Regards the take over of the Hill End of Croke Park before the 2006 semi final it is obvious to anybody looking at the TV coverage of the day that it was the players idea and that Mickey was trying to get them to cut short that episode. Several of the players have since confirmed that.
    Mickey Moran may have been a very nice man but some Derry people might disagree with that, considering his role in the shafting of Eamonn Coleman in 1994.
    Reality is that Mickey Moran only got the Mayo job because Co Board officers miscalculated John O’Mahony’s intentions after he retired from the Galway job. They did not anticipate him taking a year out in 2006 and John Maughan had already got the message that with the Messiah back in Mayo he was not needed. Not the first or last time Co Board officers messed up team manager appointments.

  9. Looking back on it John O’Mahony’s Mayo football career was unfortunate in that he took over Mayo teams when they were in their peak or decline. In 1988 the keystones of the team, Padden, Kilgallon, Jimmy Burke, John Maughan etc. were all at their peak and it was an achievement for a new manager to come in an try to remould them. John Maughan’s career was in fact over by then.
    Similarly in 2007 the likes of David Heaney, James Nallen, David Brady, were at or over their peak even if they were soldiering on. The toll of heavy defeats on them cannot be discounted either. These were of a totally different character than the narrow defeats suffered by the James Horan/Rochford team of the past decade.
    In Leitrim he took over a team coming to their peak and in Galway a team of great talent starting out. Mind , it was something of an act of desperation for Galway to invite a Mayoman to manage them, or as I say to my Galway friends, to show them how to play football.

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