Sunday’s enormously uplifting win over Cork has, I’m sure, come to mean different things to different people. Here’s ontheroad with his perspective on it.
They say that only 126 pairs of corncrakes are left in the country. As a kid my night-time sleep was induced by the corncrake that lived in the bottom of our field. He was as much part of us as the lighthouse in the village and the fog horn on Eagle Island. Then the fog horn went and so too nearly the corncrake.
Near my home on the Erris peninsula lives one of the remaining 126 pairs of corncrakes. Recently I got a letter telling me the entire area is going to be an area of conservation for the very same fellow…the corncrake. Delighted I am. Indeed if I happened to live within 250 metres of said corncrake it appears I am entitled to claim a grant.
Now despite having four children, a mortgage, a pile of bills and a pickpocket government even I could not stoop as low as to claim for the privilege of hearing the threatened corncrake. The abrasive sound from his throat is payment enough.
Since 2006 Mayo started to take on the elusiveness of the corncrake. We knew it was out there but somehow it lost its voice. At first expectation was high that it would be found but as time went by with trips to Salthill, Derry, Cavan, Sligo and Longford the Mayo GAA corncrake almost disappeared.
The grand project of kicking on from two All-Ireland final defeats of 2004/06 became instead a tour of the Via Dolorosa with its attendant Sorrowful Mysteries. We went from expectation of the final piece of the jigsaw to rebuilding, excuses and grand ineptitude. Everybody seemed to be better than us. Every game seemed to take on the scale of climbing Everest.
The mantra of the poor mouth finally convinced the players and the followers than indeed we were rubbish. To confirm it we went and crumbled against Sligo and Longford a scarce twelve months ago. The prophetic covering of arses and options finally came home to roost. Like the corncrake, Mayo were about to almost disappear.
Then this year’s summer skies didn’t clear but Mayo cleared the mind. “Is féidir línn” somebody wrote for Mr Obama. Mayo, one of the last homes of the beautiful language heeded the message. The draw from Hell v Cork was met head on by James Horan with words along “well this game will tell us where we are”. It did sir. Can you imagine the keening, imploring and shaking of holy water had we drawn Cork 14 months ago?
Mayo won more than a game of football on July 31st 2011. They showed a nation what we mean when we say “the Mayo style”, a style good enough to produce two Millennium greats in Flanagan and Langan. The past is where we reference to but do not dwell in. But we should never forget our proud place in the history of the Gael. For the last few years we have tiptoed around almost apologising for being Mayo. No more.
I myself was inflicted by the doom and gloom going as far as to advocate a change in our jersey colours. Become like Sligo and Cavan by darkening the shirt. But darkening the shirt does not make you an All-Black or invincible, nor does the acquisition of a former Mayo fringe player or a former O’Byrne Cup Dublin player.
Last year I read the opinion of a former Mayo extra on playing his former county thus “What comes before me comes before me”. We were reduced to stage extras as our own came back to haunt us. The slashing in Longford mercifully put an end to the charade.
Whether we beat Kerry and then Tyrone/Dublin/Donegal is irrelevant. Like the corncrake, we have made our voice known once more. We remind a nation of our not inconsiderable pedigree. We ride tall in the saddle and we can look the nation in the eye. We ask no more than James Horan and his cohorts stay honest. If they do then we all benefit.
The corncrake will survive and prosper. As I went out for my run around Dunboyne on Monday I saw the village festooned with Mayo flags, many on houses that I never knew had a Mayo connection. Long may they fly and long may Mayo and the corncrake prosper.