For most Mayo supporters, following the county team is a birthright. Why would someone with no Mayo roots, in fact someone with no tangible Irish connections, choose to join our ranks? Stateside Dean is one such person and I’m delighted to welcome him back into the guest slot to explain why he decided to become one of us.
So why would an American, with no Irish blood in his veins, follow a county whose history over the last half-century has been, let’s just say, rather meager? Mayo, as we all know, has not been on the tip of the collective national tongue for years, let alone a household name overseas. Well, Americans love an underdog, right?
A little background…when I stumbled across the GAA about eight years ago – first hurling, then football – I was blinded by the bright lights and the big city. You see, I was visiting Dublin and took in a hurling match at Parnell Park. I had heard of hurling, and wanted to see for myself what it was all about. Naturally, I decided to follow the fortunes of the Dubs. I even found a local club back in the States and started playing.
Then I realized that Gaelic football was the “real” sport in the Dublin, and followed Pillar Caffrey’s lot as well. Since football came much more easily to me and my skill set, I gravitated more and more to the big-ball game. My curiosity of the sport grew exponentially and I became aware that other counties existed outside the capital, many of which had just as rich a history as Dublin.
So back to the original question…why support Mayo, let alone switch allegiances from a high-profile county like Dublin? Well, take some other “big” teams from around the world – Manchester United, Barcelona, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers, etc. They’re always in the news, always winning, and their merchandise is everywhere. I could easily immerse myself into a team like Man Utd 24 hours a day, but it just seems wrong to jump on the bandwagon of a continuous success story. Not to put the Dubs quite in that category, but you get the idea.
Living overseas, it’s much easier to cheer on the big clubs, as their publicity travels farther than for the likes of Mayo. But that’s what makes following a less heralded team so much more rewarding. It takes a bit of effort to seek out information, to learn the players and personalities, and even listen to or watch the games. And while I get that Mayo and other GAA teams are somewhat different than commercial sports clubs due to their “amateur” status and county restrictions, I’m also in a different classification as a supporter due to my (lack of) Irish heritage…I’m not bound by local ties.
Fast forward to 2011 and my devotion to the Green and Red. I began following James Horan’s troops this year, captivated by the run in Connacht and subsequent chase for Sam. As I learned about Mayo’s gut wrenching quest for All-Ireland success over the last 60 years and watched a new chapter dawn in 2011, rooting for Mayo just naturally happened. And after reporting on the team’s win in the FBD Final and meeting nice folks from Mayo whilst in New York, my blood now runs green as well as red. Maybe supporting Mayo wasn’t so much a choice as an evolution of heart and mind.
It’s rather ironic that I switched allegiances from Dublin to Mayo in the same year that the boys in blue won Sam. I’m happy for them, but even happier that Mayo seem to be on the up. So while I may get the needle from the Cork, Galway and Dublin lads in my local club, I remind them that it’s far too easy to follow the popular choice or the perennial winner. Sometimes it’s more rewarding to cheer for the underdog.
Happy Holidays to Mayo supporters everywhere and best wishes for 2012.