In seven days time, we face Kerry in this year’s All-Ireland semi-final. Given the county’s underwhelming championship showings in recent years – this is the first time we’ve made it this far since 2006 – it’s great to be back in the shake-up once more. In light of what almost happened to us in the first round over in Ruislip back in May this year, you could say it’s almost miraculous that we now find ourselves among the last four standing in the 2011 championship. But here we are and next Sunday we get the chance to qualify for our sixth final in little over twenty years.
We’re heading to Mayo ourselves later on today and, as well as another assault on the Reek (weather permitting) and picking up a bagful of tickets for Sunday, I’ll also be interested in gauging what the mood is like on home soil as we count down the days until our clash with the Kerrymen. I’m hoping to see a bit of colour about the place and I’d also love to hear some fighting talk about our prospects. It’s an All-Ireland semi-final, after all, and we’re in it.
Almost as soon as the final whistle sounded the last day, the talk started up about how important it was that, after this great win over the All-Ireland champions, we shouldn’t lose the run of ourselves. The lazy punditry, which in advance was all about how we’d get the shite roundly hammered out of us by Cork, now moved on with equal confidence to predict that after every win of this kind we always took leave of our senses and only recovered them after we got the shite roundly hammered out of us in the next match. The earth-shattering advice imparted to us was that our best defence against future disappointment was that we should vigilantly guard against hype. It’s for your own good, you poor dears.
Hype, is it? The on-board dictionary on this machine defines this particular noun in the following terms: “extravagent or intensive publicity or promotion” or “a deception carried out for the sake of publicity”. Based on these two definitions, I don’t think that excessive hype is anything we need worry unduly about over the next week or, indeed, if we do manage to fell the Kerrymen, I don’t think it’s anything we should be losing sleep over for the coming month either.
We definitely lost the run of ourselves in the lead-in to the 1989 and 1996 finals but I don’t think the same is true of the three we’ve been since then. By 2006, I’d say that the dominant emotion in the days and weeks before the decider was one of growing trepidation. It’s counties who come from nowhere after a long absence who tend to hype up their achievement in reaching the business end of the championship. This year, the only ones that’ll do this will be either Donegal (if they reach their first final since 1992) or Dublin (who last made the decider in 1995). It certainly won’t be Mayo.
No, it won’t, I can almost hear the rejoinder – because ye won’t be in it. And this is where we reach the nub of the problem facing us. The greatest enemy facing the team’s supporters the next day isn’t any exaggerated sense of self-worth, instead it’s a chronic lack of self-belief. That’s why we had that pitiful turnout at McHale Park against Galway back in June, it’s why we were outnumbered three-to-one by the Rossies in the Connacht final (a match I even missed) and it’s also why so few genuine supporters were there to witness the truly joyous sight of our toppling the All-Ireland champions at Croke Park on Reek Sunday.
In all three matches, there were many – including plenty of our own supporters – who believed we would fall on our faces and it was obvious from all those empty seats that many more felt that way too even if they didn’t say so publicly.
In doggedly grinding out those results, however, James Horan’s Mayo team of 2011 has shown character by the bucketload and they’ve also demonstrated their enormous self-belief. It’s now high time for the rest of us to start believing in them too.
The most tangible way we can do this over the next few days is to get a ticket for the game and get to Croke Park on the 21st. I’m not saying we’re going to win this one – this is Kerry we’re facing, after all – and I’m certainly not claiming we’re good things for the All-Ireland this year but in a very short space of time James Horan has fashioned a Mayo team that we know will give its all for the county.
As supporters we can’t ask for more than that and if we really are supporters what we need to do now is get out there and support. So, no more talk about hype: self-belief is what we need now and it’s also what we need to show, both to our own lads on the field and to the wider world, at Croke Park next Sunday.