Sweet Jesus and His Holy Mother, it’s the night before the big game.
The last few days really have flown and the game’s approach has been a quiet, unheralded one. Befitting, maybe, this still surreal pandemic era we’re now calling normal life. Or maybe, from our perspective, it’s that we’re inured to what most pundits expect will be our fate at Croke Park tomorrow.
Whatever it is, it has made for a relaxed lead-in to the match. For many of us there’s been at least a bit of mild panic about tickets – children, this is what life used to be like for those finals before thousands of us were lucky enough to get our paws on season tickets – but they started appearing in volume 72 hours or so ago and so hopefully most who want to go will be able to do so.
A team announcement at some point today would have given us something to talk about – if only to wonder if all fifteen named would actually start – but the absence of such news isn’t something I’d be at all bothered about.
Dublin often don’t name their pick until approaching midday of game day and then proceed to make three or four changes to the named fifteen before the ball is thrown in.
We might name our team later tonight or early tomorrow or not at all. That’s all fine.
What Mayo GAA did do tonight, though, was provide details of this year’s Championship panel. You’ll find that here. It’s a list that stretches to 41 names and those of a facetious mindset might observe that the names of tomorrow’s first fifteen are included in it, hiding in plain sight.
A number of times when we were playing in All-Ireland semi-finals (and finals), friends of the blog used to gather in Bowe’s pub in Fleet Street up here in the capital. More than once, I pitched up at Croker the following day with a big porter head on me as a result, as I’m sure a few of you did too. I miss those times.
Although I’m sipping beer here at home now – and very nice it is too – it’s in small enough volumes so my head should be clear tomorrow evening. That’s no bad thing to have in the heat of battle, including for those merely observing the combat.
I’m trying – and largely failing – to put a fix on how I feel heading into this one. There’s an element of fatalism, of course – we’ve all seen this same bloody movie so many times before and we know how it ends. It’s a crap ending, one badly in need of rewriting, but is this going to happen tomorrow evening?
Perusing the stats doesn’t help either. No win of any kind against them since 2012, nothing but defeats since 2016 and a gulf between us since that all-time classic decider of 2017.
But taking All-Ireland semi-final matches in the round, we’ve a decent record since 2011. Nine semi-finals in all, with five wins, four losses and two draws. While we’ve lost to both Kerry and Dublin (twice each) at the semi-final stage, we’ve beaten both of them there as well.
There’s certainly less pressure on us tomorrow. While I bristle at the notion of our being in bonus territory it is true that our main targets this year – gaining promotion back to Division One and winning Connacht (the latter without Cillian) – have both been achieved.
That does mean that tomorrow’s match has an element of a free shot for us, at a time when the six-in-a-row champions looks a bit more vulnerable than they have for a long time. Tell that to James and the lads, though, and I think you know the retort you’d get.
In any event, this is all just nonsense talk. Night before stuff. Pub talk without the pub. I think I’ll have another beer.
Back tomorrow with some final game day thoughts.