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.