Sunday’s All-Ireland was, of course, just the latest big match to be played by the county. Here’s first time guest contributor Ruanejos who looks back at the defining matches that have taken place in his time as a Mayo supporter.
“What’s your favourite colour?” So asks the gatekeeper in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Any knight who hesitates is thrown into the canyon below whereas those sure in their conviction are permitted to pass. Well I’m sure of mine as I’m sure are most people reading this and I can remember the exact hour it happened as if it were yesterday.
Our minor team were playing Dublin in the 1978 final. I think I was brought to the first match that year where I think they put up a score of 10-11 on an unfortunate Leitrim and I have a very vague memory of them playing Kerry in the semi-final but the final is the game that changed everything.
There was a heavy mist all that day in Croker and they slugged it out with a Dublin team dotted with future senior All-Ireland winners. However coming down the stretch Dublin had forged themselves a five-point lead. Things looked bleak from the Western perspective .
But then Mayo brought on big Tom Byrne for Jimmy Lyons. I don’t know was it tactical or because Lyons was injured (my mother met him in Castlebar casualty the following evening and says she never saw someone more black and blue who didn’t come out of a car crash!) but the pendulum started to swing Mayo’s way and a fabulous solo run by Kieran O’Malley yielded a goal followed by two plays where the ball just ended up in big Tom’s hands and he dispatched two killer bullets to the back of Dublin’s net.
I was nine and charged by the emotional attachment of seeing my cousin captain the team, I cried. Then the phone rang. It was Granny. Had I seen the game, she asked. “I believe!” I answered with more tears. Green and Red became my favourite colour there and then and it still is!
Later, on the old brown Nordmende we watched Kerry dismantle Dublin after the ‘greatest freak of all time’ goals as described by O’Hehir and on Monday the great Con Houlihan would comment on ‘Paddy Cullen the Housewife’ but he also found space for lines praising our heroes on the back page of the Evening Press.
So that seminal Sunday I really began the journey of the Mayo football pilgrim. The next two years Dermot Earley broke my heart. How lucky were the Rossies that he came to them when his family moved from a house not two miles from me! How proud am I that our army carried this great warrior from his last battlefield.
A chink of light appeared in ‘81 and we beat the heavy favourites Galway in Castlebar. I was with my Uncle. God rest him – how he would be enjoying this past week if he were here. We beat them that day on the back of the best display of fielding I ever saw by Wille Nally. The sun shone and we won. Later that summer the dark cloud that is Kerry rained on the ‘81 parade, thunderstorm style.
I can’t remember being at any match in ‘85. We watched the semi-final in disbelief as we came back to draw with Dublin but the replay was an anti-climax as we listened silage pit-side to Dublin’s victory punctuated by Brogan’s belter. By ‘89 I was mobile and drove to Roscommon in the company of Sixpointsup to witness an epic Connaught Final. We punctured on the way but there was plenty more drama to come as we saw Jimmy Burke ‘pass out the ball as it flew to the net’ as my passenger always describes it. A garage man would later ascribe my puncture to ‘doing handbrake turns’. I don’t think my father believed him.
By 1990 I was in London and holidays were always planned with big games in mind. The ‘92 Donegal semi-final was disappointing but the ‘93 Cork edition was pit of the stomach sore. But brighter times arrived and in ‘96 I was happily reading Mayo match reports. And in August we were back in Croker with Kerry. I can still remember the sun on our faces as we greeted the final whistle having seen Mayo dismantle Kerry. There’s a great line from American sport where a commentator says ‘I don’t believe what I just saw’ and that pretty much sums up what I felt just then – it was that big a deal to beat Kerry.
But some weeks later I would feel very different and that quote would still be relevant. I’ll always remember sitting beside a Meath child and when they pegged it back to 5 points him saying ‘Here they come’. And happily for him they did. I didn’t make the replay, watching it with my Meath flatmate who happened to be Martin O’Connell’s cousin in a Greenford pub. It was a long walk home, Chinese in hand, and a long winter too.
And in ’97 back they came, and so did I for the semi-final against Offaly. We socialised in the Portobello and met neighbours and slightly the worse for wear brought the early Sunday papers and takeaways back to Sixpointsup’s flat nearby. And then sat watching the news as my brother sitting in a chair by the door and slightly the worse for wear uttered the unforgettable line ‘Dead as a Dodi’. We all laughed.
Sunday was cold and wet and Mayo took Offaly apart as we all expected. But four weeks later Sheridan’s hammer went and Fitzy broke his teammate’s leg and our hearts in a one-man show. A new flatmate’s father was a selector of that Kerry team, but not a month later her mother was dead. Two final defeats suddenly didn’t seem all that bad.
Since then we have lost two more to a great Kerry team and another two to teams more or less our equals. And with the arrival of the qualifiers we’ve played teams we never saw for years like Cavan, Fermanagh, Tipperary and Westmeath, hearing new accents and strange sayings. We have fallen and risen as is the cycle of all things and although we didn’t find the Holy Grail on Sunday I have come to realise that when we do, it is not the end of our Green and Red journey but merely a punctuation mark, because we will continue on following our team, cheering their deeds, sharing our stories and meeting our friends (and how nice it was to meet some people from here last Saturday night in Bowe’s pub). Perhaps Beckett summed up the ups and downs of a Green and Red follower best when he wrote:
‘I must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.
So on I’ll go and days will always be brighter for seeing my favourite colour. Mayo Go Deo!