To win just once

It’s definitely the time of year for reflection and so here’s John Cuffe with some analysis on the notion of winning Sam just the once. Special thanks to Peadar at The Design Gang for the graphic that accompanies this piece.

Yep that’s what the song says. To win just once and we would all die happy or at least we would die knowing. It’s the unbearable tantalising mirage that we see shimmer across Croke Park every four years on a late September since 1989 in our case. Almost there and then, hey presto, back to the house of pain.

I did a rough trawl of the All-Irelands since 1960. Again I caution you, I am open to correction here. Fifty-four years have been debited from my ledger since 1960. Mayo has also run up the red ink. What does the fifty-four year spell tell us? Well firstly how damn hard it is to win Sam or if you are a Kerryman, how damn regular you grab the big boy by the lugs.

The facts are straightforward. The All-Ireland senior title has been won by eleven teams since 1960. Strip out Kerry and Dublin who have amassed twenty-five between them, leaving twenty-nine to be scrapped for between the other nine.

The roll call goes thus: Kerry 17, Dublin 8, Galway, Meath, Down with 5, Cork 4, Offaly and Tyrone with 3, Donegal 2, and Derry and Armagh a single each. Apart from Derry and Armagh, all the other winners won multiple All-Irelands. So to win just once tends to mean you might win twice and more.

Looking at the provincial demographics we see that Munster are über all. Two counties, namely Kerry and Cork, have 21 titles between them. Leinster with Dublin, Offaly and Meath hold 16. Ulster has Down, Tyrone, Donegal, Derry and Armagh with a total of 12.  Here we might avert our eyes – Galway prop Connacht with 5. Well, we in Mayo have tried, that much is for sure.

Having looked at the losing finalists I got a surprise. I assumed that we would have a varied group outside the serial and lucky winners. We didn’t, in fact we have just three teams that have got to that last hurdle outside the eleven winners. They are Roscommon in 1962 and 1980, Kildare in 1998 and Mayo a whooping seven times in 1989, ‘96, ‘97, ‘04, ‘06, ‘12, ‘13. Not another visitor to Croke Park outside the 11+3. That means a staggering 19 counties – if we exclude Kilkenny and include New York and London – have grazed on thin grass all those years.


Image: The Design Gang

In case anyone thinks it gets better by going back further, don’t. Taking the 1950s into account we can add on Mayo, Cavan and Louth as winners. Hell, we actually have to go back to 1936 to get a fresh face, a loser at that, as thankfully Mayo tanked the Boy Wonders team, Laois.  So we actually see this race for Sam, to win just once, actually has a very select membership. It is limited to about fourteen counties since 1930.

The Sixties saw five different counties claim the All-Ireland. The Seventies saw that reduced to four, going back up to five in the Eighties but allowing for Kerry’s dominance. The Nineties saw a healthy eight counties grab the big lad but that was reduced to four in the Noughties as Galway and Armagh split Kerry and Tyrone’s dominance. Whatever you choose to call from 2010 onwards has an ominous trend. Dublin has grabbed two out of the last four.

Trends develop amid those stats, Dublin like the threes, picking up titles in 1963 and 1983 against Galway. Again this year they added another against western opposition. Donegal like the twos, picking up titles in 1992 and 2012, once shoehorning Mayo in a semi and once in a final. Down took three titles in the Sixties, Tyrone did likewise in the Noughties. Ask Kerry about both sides. Offaly are also partial to Kerry especially if it’s a two. The five-in-a-row was halted in 1982 along with a clean bowler in 1972 that saw the demise of the great Micks – O’Dwyer and O’Connell.

Kerry you can permutate virtually any way. Wins in 1970, 1980 and 2000 along with 1969, 1979 and 2009. If we look at 1991 to 1995 we see a five D with Down, Donegal, Derry, Down and Dublin winning successive All-Irelands. What are the chances of a repeat next year and the year after? We have a triple D in place already with 2011 Dublin, 2012 Donegal, 2013 Dublin. Had Down did what they always did, i.e. win the All-Ireland final in 2010 v Cork we would be well on the road already. Can we say that next year’s All-Ireland winners will sport the letter D as their opening letter, Dublin or Donegal, Down or Derry?

Of course I have an idle head, why else would I write this type of stuff but Colm O’Rourke got me thinking. In his weekly Sunday column he posited the common-sense approach taken at club level. Each county has its own Senior, Intermediate and Junior competition. Teams progress up and down the ladder, each grade having a proud status. At inter-county level we persist with a one-fit-all type of competition. A sop taken with the back door saw the big guns get a second chance thus robbing the underdog of his day in the sun. Instead of narrowing the gap it has actually widened it.

So we have, let’s pick a random one here – Sligo, they will never win an All-Ireland…ok? Not because John Cuffe says it; no, John’s people were Sligo on the Quay side. History not Johnny boy says it. Cold and calculating history says that. A county that has won three Connacht titles at senior, two at minor (one being an objection and you know what they say about a cup won on an objection, you will never have any luck). The most glaring gap is that they have not a single U21 title.

I pick Sligo but you can pick another ten solid counties caught similarly either with a lack of personnel or clubs or that damn indefinable variable, history. A graded system would allow teams to progress incrementally up the three grades. Measured sustainable success or lack of it would come to the front quickly, thus allowing that particular county to be no longer making up the numbers with the only prize on offer, the chance to get back inter-county training in November, the ultimate insult to the loser.

We in Mayo know how hard it is to win just once. Team after team has stumbled short of the flag-planting ceremony. Our minors have bitten dust in 1991, ‘99, ‘00, ‘05, ‘08 and ‘09 before getting to paradise this year. Even then it was slightly dampened because big brother got mugged in the yard. It’s never easy but we are lucky in a way, we get a glimpse, a taste and a day out.

Pity poor Cavan, their last minor team to get to a final was back in 1959. Sligo was in 1968 where my school mates Ritchie Boland and John Kilgallon starred for them. Pity the poor counties that will man up next summer, managers given unrealistic riding instructions, supporters believing impossible dreams. Counties will have psychologists, stats men, men wired up with phones, men who break up icebergs for tired legs, men who will slog through mud and abuse all year for a glimpse of a sunny day and a dry sod.

Like going over the top in the Somme, by the time July comes most will have been mown down. That’s not how it should be but that’s how it will be. History rarely gets it wrong. You can be sure that next year’s All-Ireland winner and finalist will come from two of between eleven and fourteen teams. The rest will listen and hum to the Saw Doctors, dream on and hope to win just once.

49 thoughts on “To win just once

  1. Reading that roll call of AIF defeats made me shudder, but we will be back and we will win that trophy one day. Hopefully 2014 of course!

  2. Excellent blog John even though we are losing finals I think the experience gained in getting to them will stand to us one day no option but to keep supporting the team and keep knocking On the door until it we knock it down one day

  3. By God John Cuffe, that’s one hell of a piece. Don’t know how long it took you to dig out all that stuff but to plant in on the page as you have, is something else. For Mayo people it sure makes for very painful reading and must ask a lot of questions regarding team preparation,
    but sin sceal eile. On the other hand, compared with other Counties who as you put it will be “mown down come July” it gives us something to hold on to……

  4. Very important to keep getting to the business end of the year – the more people we have getting experience of it be it players or management the better chance we have of having the personnel capable of knowing what it takes to operate at that level and then maybe adding the 1 or 2 percent extra that will deliver the big prize.

    As fans maybe we have to stop worrying too much about it – we’ve lost a few now and ya know what – were still here looking forward to the next game. Its like that line from Kingdom of Heaven when Saladin is asked what Jerusalem means to him – ‘ Everything Nothing’. So even if we win it- the next day it will be history like all the days we lost.

  5. I love the aul stats but they do make painful reading for us , it’s slowly becoming one of Irish sports great mysteries ( how the hell have Mayo not won an all Ireland since 89).

    After this years final when the dust settled , even the most optimistic supporters are starting to just shrug the shoulders in response to ” will ye ever win it ” .

    I practically jogged away from croker in sept, I couldn’t bear to chat or even have a pint, it was the most horrible feeling I ever had , it was like someone had died .

    I got as far as Connolly to get the dart to malahide , no train for half hour , went back out and jumped in a taxi. Taxi driver , pleasant foreign national chap, seen the headband and started to sympathise with me, he says to me in broken English, that’s a lot of finals to lose , something wrong up here you know ( pointing to his head) .

    I didn’t debate it with him, just agreed but although it sounds the most obvious thing that’s been thrown at us a lot down the years, maybe it’s something we are not fully addressing .

    Are we mentally right, are we the same place psychologically as Dublin, Donegal, Tyrone, Kerry, on all Ireland final day or are we carrying this enormous weight of pressure through failure since 89 on final day.

    We need to be honest as a county and find out why it’s going wrong. We should be all Ireland champions and we are not , the cold reality is something needs to change , go with the same again and we will fail in sept again.

  6. Not sure about about using the terminator image? sure in the first film Arnie looked great but he failed to achieve his objective and it the 2nd,3rd films he killed himself. (some will say like Mayo in the last two AI finals)

  7. In a sadistic way it highlights how lucky we are, getting so close so often. Painful yes, but always exciting.
    A quick look to 2014 sees Mayo start with the best defence bar none. But as Joe Brolly stated at ht in the final – wishy washy forwards who won’t just go for it. We need forwards with the mentality of Boyle, or barrett or Keegan, who regardless of their perceived ability will go for it, bull headed…

  8. Great piece and the stats of loosing finals in depressing but what are we to do? With some of the commentary after this years final you would think people except us to pack it in and take up rounders or something.

    If you keep getting up of the canvas and coming back you will one day fall over the line.
    That’s what we got to believe anyway.

  9. Don’t know the team who put the graphic together but fair play to them for a brilliant bit of work and Willie Joe for putting it up. Actually the reasons for Mayo losing finals is now definable and measurable. And they are simple. If my host permits, some time in the New Year, if I survive, I might throw out my reasoning.

  10. That’s a drum that a few of us have been beating here Sean. There is obviously mental baggage associated with the Final with Mayo teams. How is it that we can beat Kerry in a semi (’96) yet lose to the same team in a final (’97) – likewise with Dublin in ’12-’13? How is it we can beat every major team in Croke Park – unless we’re playing them in a final?

    To my mind, that’s where the team should be concentrating their efforts now, especially as Mayo under Horan have got so many other things right. Physically Mayo are not bullied by anyone any more (and that was a problem for years and years). Skills-wise there has been huge improvement, particularly in tackling and players kicking and handpassing off both sides. Psychologically Mayo have no problem with Connacht, with AI quarters, with AI semis.

    The psychological aspect of the final is what needs attention – the temperament and decision-making of both players and management under the pressure of the biggest day. The Mayo management could do worse than talk to some of the recent Cork retirees, who suffered beating after beating in Croke Park for a decade, including two final defeats, before finally falling over the line in 2010. Their experience is the closest recent equivalent to what Mayo are going through and they would surely have some wisdom to offer.

  11. The image is the work of a relative of mine who is a graphic designer. He described it as ‘art therapy’ as, like the rest of us, he tried to deal with having witnessed yet another final defeat. It’s a cracking image for sure and I felt that it sat very nicely with John’s piece.

    John – any time you want to put together a piece on your reasoning for why we keep falling short, you know there’ll always be room here for it.

  12. Here is a comment from a Dublin contributor to WJs site after the All Ireland.

    “hill16bhoy says:
    September 27, 2013 at 3:04 pm
    It might not feel like it to a Mayo person but there has to be something almost spiritual about following a team like that. It’s something bigger than just following a team, and as a Dublin supporter, I almost envy Mayo supporters.”

    He summed it all up. That’s the highest praise that can be lavished. The graphic catches that mood.

  13. Good piece on stats John.
    As an aside my sources in Kerry have been telling me of a proposed change in the club structure down there. Essentially they are worried (and probably rightly so considering the age profile of their present team) and they are expanding the net to attempt to unearth new talent in the county.

    In doing so they are promoting a proposed structure where additional amalgamated teams are allowed to play at senior club level. Note they alread have the amalgamation in place. The goal is to bring through new talent (ala Galvin, Declan and Darren O’Sullivan, Killian Young etc. etc. )

    Bigger (non amalgamated Div 1) clubs are against it and it will be interesting to see how it goes. But long terms it’s a forward thinking move I believe if they are to compete with the likes of Dublin and their potential squad.

  14. I’d like to use that poster as my facebook profile picture but would I be taking liberties in doing so?

  15. Have to say he looks like a guy who wouldn’t be fazed by all ireland final day.
    One look into those green & red eyes !
    Did ye hear about the terminator who lost his left arm & left leg in an accident ?
    He’s ALL RIGHT now !

  16. I remember reading that and I was impressed. However, I would take a little less spirituality and alot more envy to be honest.

  17. I presume that is COC. The medics have done a geat job on him.
    He will be well able for the fair shoulder now.

  18. Is that what they’ve done in surgery to Cillian O’Connor’s arm??? They got the wrong shoulder too :p

  19. Sean and Davy, it’s great to see both of you focusing on something that has been brushed under the carpet and dismissed so often. Well said!!!

  20. This could turn out to be a nightmare for the County Board.
    Just when they’ve employed the physios they must now fund the additional costs of a mechanic !
    With apologies to John Cuffe & his excellent article …. its just that a picture is worth a thousand words … or something to that effect !

  21. Anyone know the deal with Cairdre season ticket holders who renewed and paid the day they gave out All Ireland final tickets. Will we get new 2014 tickets by post?

  22. Mayo Mc,I’d say Steve means the Cairde Mayo ticket(card) for the coming season.I paid on the day I got the AI tickets as well.I presume they’ll post the card for the 2014 season Steve

  23. Lads slightly off topic but well worth reading is todays interview with Richie Feeney by Christy O’Connor in the Irish independent (its available on the Indo website). A very poignant interview, in which he speaks about his fathers influence, but also very encouraging from a Mayo supporters point of view with regards to Feeney’s future involvement with the Mayo team.

    It appears, (surprise, surprise) that a lot of the rumours that were circulating about Feeney’s non involvement on all Ireland final day were bullsh*t, including:

    1. That he travelled to Dublin separately to the team
    2. That there was a massive bust up in the camp before the game.

    The best part of the interview from a Mayo supporters point of view is the following quote:

    “I don’t think the defeat is going to have that much of an effect on us,” says Feeney. “This group of players are just so driven that we are not going to give up until we get there. I don’t see any reason why we can’t win next year’s All-Ireland.

    “We lost two county finals with the club before we eventually won it. It could take one or two more All-Ireland finals with Mayo before we win one. But we will get there.”

    Love that kind of fighting talk! So much for Richie “packing it in” and “never playing under Horan again”. Great to see, he’s been arguably Mitchells best player this Autumn and will hopefully play a big role for Mayo next year.

  24. James Horan strongly (and angrily) refutes the rumours too in today’s Mayo News Sport – some of it is up online, worth a read. Sounds very determined to go for it again next year. The last quote is telling: “I wish there was more noise during the game than what I ever heard after it.”

    That Richie Feeney piece is excellent – one of the best I’ve read in any paper this year on any player. Delighted to hear the resolve and hope Sunday is a good day for him and the rest of the Castlebar crew.

  25. Mayo Vs Dublin AIF 2014 again lads, I have no doubt about it. Not sure about the result though! Great to read Feeney’s interview and if we develop our forwards or pick up some along the way it could be a good year for us.

  26. Yes I just read the first part of that Horan interview Anne-Marie, sounds like he is in typically bullish form regarding our prospects for 2014, its good to see, was upsetting to read that some of the players were contacting him in a distressed state because of the rumours swirling around the county in the weeks after the final.
    Although one could argue that someone from within the Mayo setup or indeed the county board could have released a simple statement the week after the match clarifying that all the rumours were untrue, it would have nipped most of the nonsense in the bud. I suppose at that stage the players and management needed a few weeks to reflect before committing for 2014.

    Your right about the Feeney interview though, an excellent piece and not the first time I’ve enjoyed an article from Christy O’Connor. I’m not 100% sure but I think he’s the same guy who wrote an excellent book called “The Club” a couple of years ago, about St Josephs Doora-Barefield in Clare, he’s a brother of Jamesie O’ Connor.

    I reckon the Indo should send Martin Breheny out to grass and give him the GAA correspondent job!

  27. I think that’s him alright MLB – The Club was recommended by a friend only last week and it’s on the Christmas wish list. I didn’t know he was a brother of Jamesie.

    You’re probably right that a statement from the inside might have put a bit of the rumourmongering to bed, but it might also have fanned the flames. Maybe going to ground was the right thing to do but it didn’t make for a pleasant few weeks on the outside.

    Onwards and upwards!

  28. Horan,Feeney are hardly going to come out and say all rumours were true and they hated each other? clearly something happened likewise with Freeman but all seems ok for 2014 now and thats all that matters now.

  29. With so many Cork retirements there aren’t many true contenders, can Donegal recapture their form of 2012? Kerry aren’t getting any younger while Tyrone will do well to reach another semi final. 2014 might be a great year for the unfancied sides.

  30. Last 4 for 2014: Mayo v Kerry, Dublin v Donegal. Cork are gone. Monaghan have had their big year. Different story when you’re defending provincial champions, as they’re about to find out.

    Donegal will take serious watching in 2014, especially now that McGuinness has got his way regarding fixtures etc. The trimming they got in this year’s Q-F gives Jimmy a massive stick to beat them with.

    Tyrone might make the last eight, but they looked pretty limited once Mayo got moving against them in this year’s semi, and it’s hard to see them seriously troubling Dublin, Donegal or Kerry either.

    As for Connacht – well, if Mayo negotiate the trip to the Hyde then it’s Galway or Sligo in Castlebar. Galway would be the preference as we need very tough games as early in the year as possible, but Mayo should have enough to win the province.

  31. The Club is a fine read alright, I enjoyed it. Real warts-and-all stuff and Christy is certainly not afraid to give or take a bollocking, that’s for sure.

    He’s probably better known for his previous book, Last Man Standing, which is all about hurling goalkeepers (Christy being a fine one himself). I haven’t got around to that one yet but it’s meant to be superb.

  32. ‘The Club’ is fantastic, probably the best GAA book I’ve read.

    O’Connor is a fine journalist and puts Breheny, McGee and the rest to shame. No sensationalism or hidden agendas with his writing.

    Didn’t realise he had another book DavyJ, I’ll have to get it.

  33. CoveyInDublin is correct we will be back in final again next year,he must a green and red crystal ball!!!

  34. Great summary piece – John Cuffe and great graphic. The answer is in the graphic and it’s the TerMAYOnoator team. There is no rule in the GAA handbook that specifies your county team needs to be human. A TerMAYOnator robot will have the standard buttons necessary to play Gaelic i.e RUN, CATCH, JUMP in addition to a number of must have buttons on the remote control namely:

    – Meath Button: (punches in a sneaky fashion but effective)

    – Connoly Special Button: (punches in a blatant manner, to opponents face and in front of Ref)

    – Cavanagh Crunch Button: (High shoulder tackle followed by full rugby tackle in front of goal )

    -Long Range Point Button: (Scratch this, not available in the TerMAYOnator Robot)

    – Mortification Button (Throw Jersey to subs bench as you are subbed, only available in the small dyed blonde version)

    – Déjà vu Button: (5pm 3rd Sunday Sept, sink to Knees with Oil streaming down face)

    – Rustproofing Button (Permanently on in Connacht, optional in Leinster)

    -Self-Destruct: (for use only before match or at half time in the dressing room)

    – Win Button: (Missing on current model).

    Well done to Mitchells yesterday, not easy for a Covey to support the Fish-heads.

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