It’s my pleasure to welcome back into the guest slot this fine morning my fellow Mayo blogger An Spailpín Fánach who turns his mind to the nature of our relationship with the next-door neighbours and, in doing so, suggests where our loyalties might perhaps lie in this weekend’s U21 All-Ireland final.
The cliché has it that the Connacht Championship is a two horse race between Mayo and Galway. The cliché is wrong, and wrong for two reasons.
Firstly, the other Connacht counties win the province with greater regularity than Tipperary, Limerick, Waterford or Clare challenge Cork and Kerry’s Munster hegemony. But second sad truth for Mayo is that Mayo and Galway aren’t equivalent powers. Galway are better. Connacht is Galway and then the rest.
Galway’s nine All-Irelands against Mayo’s three. Five won by Galway since Mayo’s last title in 1951. Certainly, Galway owe one of their nine to chicanery in the smoke filled rooms in 1925 but the fact remains that Galway are on the floor dancing with the prettiest girl in town while Mayo are in the corner, minding the coats.
Consider the sad and lonesome case of 1998, thirteen years ago this summer. Mayo burst heart and hand to come within a hop ball of the promised land in 1996 and then, after dusting themselves down and picking themselves up and starting all over again in 1997 they get cold-cocked in the final by Kerry’s long postponed return to the top flight. Long campaigns over two years on roads washed with tears.
And what happens then the following year? Galway appear from nowhere to collect the trophy for which Mayo has shed blood on the via dolorosa. It’s like you spend hours chatting a girl in some gin joint and then, when the lights go up at the end of the night, she runs off with some guy with a jumper over his shoulders, sunglasses pushed back on his head and a Section 23 chi chi pied-a-terre by the waterfront.
Mayo people didn’t begrudge it to Galway at the time. There were a number of reasons for this. The media hype behind a Kildare team that weren’t that awfully good, the fact that there was a Mayo connection with Galway, the fact that any Connacht team is always supported by the other Connacht counties and the fact that we are a county of gentlemen and tend to place sportsmanship above ambition.
If Mayo were really ambitious, of course, we would have fallen to the knees in agony watching Ray Silke with the Sam, dry heaving hatred and resentment onto the fireside rug until the cold hand of winter calmed us down. But Mayo people aren’t like that.
Instead, whenever Galway lord their way to another All-Ireland we stand back and think: Good for them. And Galway are kind enough to pat us on our little heads and tell us the Mayo team of the ‘sixties was the second best in Ireland and the mid-nineties Mayo team showed Galway what was possible and it was just bad luck that these were decades when Galway happened to be in the mood for football, and not hurling or ayting oysters or knitting báiníns. And we smile back and send another generation young lads to Jarlath’s to keep Galway’s football factory going.
A strong Galway is good for football. A strong anywhere is good for football. It’s good to see the games being played well. Every so often, when the black dog appears and I curse Galway and wonder why they couldn’t have just died after 1983 and be damn well done with it, I realise that the game needs Galway, just as it needs all the other counties. And that if Mayo do lose to Galway every now and again that’s sport and we’re better off attending to our own shortcomings in Mayo than begrudging Galway any success.
And because of that need for all counties to do well, I’m sure that Galway, sportsmen that they are, will not begrudge the wholehearted support that every Mayo man, woman, child and beast will throw behind Cavan, our fellow sleeping giant, for this weekend’s Under-21 All-Ireland final. It’s all for the good of the game that the Breffni rises once more and if that’s at the cost of handing out a drubbing to the potential saviours of the Galway senior team sure that’s just bad luck for those fine young men.
If Cavan take inspiration from the football legends that have gone before them and their own great heroine, Ms Nell Flaherty, and deliver unto Galway a football equivalent of every old fairy from Cork to Dun Leary dipping them snug and airy in river and lake; if the eel and trout dine on the snout of the monsters who made poor Mayo’s heart break in this eagerly anticipated Under 21 Final, best for Galway to just think of it as we were instructed to think of it in Mayo in the ‘sixties and ‘nineties. Nothing personal, just the luck of the draw. Best of luck, neighbour!