We all know the phrase: ‘Don’t count your chickens before they hatch’.
The last time I attempted to write something for the blog was just a couple of days after the League final win. I had scribbled down several paragraphs which remained in my drafts since the start of February for a couple of weeks.
The first hundred words described the euphoria of winning in Croke Park, hearing that song play at full-time and seeing that group of lads lifting a piece of national silverware in GAA HQ. It was the words that followed – that I struggled with. There was lots of typing at speed about how this win would propel us back into the big time and that football in August and September was a definite this year.
That was erased and replaced with words about how it would be great to finally win a Connacht title again after so many years of looking at our noisy neighbours taking control of the west.
Scrap that, I thought. ‘It would just be great to get to the Super 8s at any cost possible’, I bashed out at the third time of writing, but even that was probably thinking too far, too much, too soon.
I remember it was about 11pm on the Tuesday or Wednesday after the final. My backspace button was fairly worn out at that stage as was I and I closed down the laptop and told myself I’d get back to it tomorrow.
I never did.
When you write for a living, it’s hard to find the time to motivate yourself to write something in your spare time, even if you feel as passionate about it as I do about Mayo.
By the time I opened the laptop again, it was too late to talk about the league and come May, I felt there was enough hype about Mayo as thousands headed to New York. So I promised myself that I would write something for the blog again when we were preparing to face Galway in the Connacht final in the middle of June.
It is this mindset that has become the problem of most Mayo fans in the past few years. I remember last year, when we were in the qualifiers, I booked off all the dates for the Super 8s from work because it was unfathomable to think that we wouldn’t be there.
I had the dates pencilled in on my calendar – including the All-Ireland semis and final dates and who we would probably meet – and that blue ink haunted me throughout the rest of the GAA season. I told myself that I would never think like that again but it’s almost impossible to do so for me and I assume for a lot of fans like me.
Before we had even taken a bite out of the Big Apple, I had booked the Sunday and Monday off work for the Connacht final. Now an ‘O’ stands beside my name on the rota as I contemplate whether to just work those dates and save them for another time or go to the final with Herself – a Galway woman – and watch either the Tribesmen or the Rossies be crowned champions.
Like being lined up against a wall by a gunman in Pearse Stadium and being asked which kneecap you’d rather keep. Just take them both. The pain is going to be so bad, I’d rather not walk again anyway.
And I still haven’t learned my lesson. Luckily, and by chance, I have the dates off work for Rounds 2 and 3 of the qualifiers but I’m still keeping an eye out for July. Seriously, what’s wrong with me?
It’s not even July that’s the problem. Someone floated the idea of a lad’s holiday in Spain in August and before the dates were even mentioned, men were chiming in and saying not to book anything for the first two weekends “just in case”.
Are we allowed to think like this? Especially after the last 12 months? Especially after four years of qualifiers? I honestly ask the question as a Mayo fan: should we be optimistic? Pessimistic? Or realistic?
I am the first one, I try to be the second one but that way of thinking is always overridden by my head and I don’t know what realism entails when it comes to this team. I suppose it falls somewhere in between. But then you must ask yourself, is it realistic to suggest that we’d make the Super 8s at this moment in time? It’s not impossible but it’s in no way certain either.
Being realistic is saying this: no matter who Mayo play from Round 2 onward, there’s a chance that they won’t make it out the other side. It goes without saying that we want to avoid the winners of Monaghan v Fermanagh, which will probably be the former. But, that’s the game that the neutrals would want, that the GAA, RTÉ and Sky Sports would want.
Brolly, Breheny and co. wouldn’t be able to type the words ‘Early exit for big dogs’ quick enough in their draft headline. There’d be a capital M lying unfinished at the end and they’d know that if it was to end in ‘ayo’, their paper would sell 10,000 more copies and get thousands more hits online.
Those same columnists couldn’t wait to add their two cents to the Mayo defeat a few weeks back. It doesn’t matter whether they’re slamming the boys or saying that they’re still as much contenders as ever, they know that once the words Mayo are at the top, it’s going to be looked at by Green and Red supporters.
And always, it’s the columns of criticism that will get the most eyes. Breheny’s article days after the Roscommon defeat angered lots of Mayo fans with a headline that read: ‘Mayo players must ask themselves if they’re the real problem’.
It touched on the infamous revolt and compared it to that of Galway’s in the same year which saw the current Rossie manager face the same action for the hurlers as Holmes and Connolly did for us. Breheny’s argument was that Mayo had talked the talk in 2015, but had not yet walked the walk up the steps in Croke Park to lift Sam (it wasn’t for the want of trying, Martin) … unlike the Galway hurlers.
Despite the offence that it caused to a lot of fans, Breheny’s headline wasn’t wrong. And each and every player did probably ask themselves after that game if they had cost their team a point or two that would have made the difference. But, if you’re going to have a dig at the players, surely you must look at the manager too. After all, it’s not a foreign concept for Mayo fans to do this, with recent years providing as a firm example.
But before I pick at James Horan’s contribution that day, I want to say this.
Warning: Sidenote – The default setting for James Horan for me is ultimate love and I think I speak for most Mayo fans when I say this. No matter what he does. The man could take off his hat and beat me with it to within an inch of my life and my lasting memory of him would be that he is ‘The King’ of Mayo GAA. Why is that? Because similar to a certain song or a certain place or a certain time of year, his name associates nothing but good times for me. It was my first time experiencing full-on domination in Connacht and my first memories of heading to Croke Park on the train while drinking with my friends. That era was all feel-good times, even the final losses, because we thought it was better to have experienced the pain than to not have lived the dream at all.You can even say that’s why those who followed received such a hard time. ‘Oh great, another final loss. At least if it was James, we’d have a Connacht title to look at’. He’s been that paper-perfect, ex-boyfriend that nobody could compare to, no matter how hard they tried. And he was the perfect announcement for the job after such an early exit last year. He lifted everyone in the county up when they were down simply because he’s automatically associated with good times. Nobody remembers Kenny Dalglish’s second spell with Liverpool. If we got dumped out of the qualifiers and Horan stepped down at the end of the month, we would all just blank it from our memories and remember the 2011-2014 years only – fact.
But, even The King must face criticism.
Why take off Darren Coen, our top scorer for the day? Why take off two free takers in Doherty and Regan?
The sideline lost us the game against the Rossies as much as the players who misplaced passes, made easy mistakes and kicked any of the 15 wides did. In this instance, it’s easy to point the finger at a few people when in reality, it needs to be pointed at people on and off the pitch. But realism is not an easy thing to grasp.
I get teased in the office for supporting Mayo. ‘We’re too cocky, there’s too much hype surrounding us and for what?’ The usual.
Maybe we are too cocky, but we’ve become accustomed to the lifestyle of summer days in Croker so we think of it as the norm.
So I ask the question again: For the rest of this campaign, what do we expect from this Mayo team?
I’m working at 6am on Monday morning which means I’ll be sipping on a cup of tea in the office while Morning Ireland is on the television and the radio.
If Monaghan or Fermanagh come out of the draw beside us, it will be all talk about taking it one game at a time for me. But if it’s someone like Offaly or Longford I’ll immediately but secretly start calculating our possible opponents for Round 3.
I can’t help it, it’s a disease.