Mario Balotelli, after one escapade too many, had beneath his t-shirt a slogan, “Why Always Me?” Indeed, we chuckled. Mario appeals to the Irish wit. After the titanic rumble in Limerick between Mayo and Kerry we could also ask ‘Why Us?’
History is what we look back on. I love it, some hate it, regarding it as sentimental and backward. Nothing could be further from the truth. History is our blueprint, our memory bank and once accessed properly, can provide the clues going forward.
History becomes just that with the eclipse of time but when the event occurs in real time, it can be exhilarating or hateful. But its creation is in real time, true colour and raw emotion. It’s how we deal with the fallout that prepares us one way or the other for the future.
The All-Ireland semi-final of 1939 between Mayo and Kerry finished 0-4 apiece. Interesting to note that Donegal hadn’t got exclusive rights to low scoring game plans. As time ran out the Mayo centre-forward was flattened on the run. The referee pointed to a free in.
As our man got treatment the Kerry County Board chairman and secretary approached the referee. A brief but intense conversation took place. As the Mayo man resumed duty the referee took the ball, indicated a throw up and then promptly blew the full-time whistle.
Mayo were outraged. Both referee and Kerry denied anything untoward. The referee simply said that a Mayo man fouled after he awarded the free thus negating the advantage, resulting in a throw up. Sheer fantasy. The replay saw Kerry paste a dispirited Mayo by 3-8 to 1-4.
At that juncture Mayo had been All-Ireland winners three seasons previously and were en route to league title number six in-a-row. The Mayo County Board withdrew the team in protest from the 1940 league and on their return in 1941, promptly won it again before travel restrictions arising from the war intervened.
In 1949 Kerry faced a new challenge. Antrim had swept through with a hand- passing game. They gave Kerry a mauling before Kerry decided to take out the initial passer, thus preventing him running onto the return. Officialdom looked on, shrugged their shoulders and smiled “cute Kerry hoors”. Years later the “Bawn” and other greats from the Kingdom acknowledged they fouled Antrim out of it.
In the 1948 All-Ireland final Mayo crossed Cavan. A storm and deluge saw Mayo go in at half time 3-2 to no score down. A battle royal saw the Westerners drag themselves back into it. Then two cataclysmic events occurred. Mayo had a 14-yard free in front of the posts charged down. Mick Higgins was a mere eight yards from Carney on striking. Then as Peter Quinn burst through a whistle sounded.
Quinn, outraged at getting a free when a goal was on, looked at the referee. But it was not a free. As Quinn handed the leather over, the referee blew for full-time. There were four full minutes left, not accounting for wastage. Mayo were robbed.
John Healy wrote majestically about the moment. A Franciscan reading his breviary during the storm on and off the field, asked Healy what had happened. On being told the sequence of events, the Franciscan snapped his prayer book shut and said “Fuck that”. My own sentiments decades later. Final score Cavan 4-4 Mayo 4-3. The installation of the Bogue Clock in Croke Park was the GAA’s limp acknowledgement that Mayo had been shafted.
I have no doubt that reader after reader have their own versions of Mayo being shafted. And we have to be careful here to disentangle shaft as from shooting in the foot which we are equally adept at. However on the balance of coincidences and fate, Mayo have got a poor shake of the dice.
In 1985 John Finn gets a broken jaw in front of the cameras and 55,000 people in Croke Park against Dublin. No-one was held accountable for that act of blatant thuggery. However it didn’t stop a Mayo worthy recently extolling the “great relationship” between the two counties. It wasn’t worth a pile of beans in August 1985.
Moving to the present we saw a diabolical display of officialdom in the 2009 quarter-final against Meath. Terrible line calls, sleeping umpires and a contentious penalty saw us off. A year earlier Tom Cunniffe was upended on a scything run through the Tyrone defence as time ran out and a point separating the sides. No free and an immediate whistle was our lot.
The year 2012 was to see our noses smeared in it a number of times. In the League final Mr. Deegan declined to award a rampaging Lee Keegan a free in when hand tripped attacking the Cork goal. The breakdown saw Mayo appeal, Cork attack, the ball hit a post and a Cork man plant it in our net. We went from a possible plus two-point lead to a minus four-point deficit.
The minors that year had the dubious distinction of having a debatable penalty awarded against them against Meath. In addition, Mayo’s line ball went to Meath with grievous consequences. One of Mayo’s star players was “dealt” with. All the papers noted the poor quality of the refereeing.
Now to the final of 2012 and the same Mr. Deegan refused a blatant drag back on Cillian O’Conner. As Mayo raged the ball was swept up the pitch, hit the post and wound up in our net. This is not Johnny Cuffe’s view, this was how the Irish Independent saw it.
Last year against Dublin Keith Higgins kicked a point at the Davin End. I watched it go over. The umpires weren’t sure but watch McQuillan, he was. Cluxton ran to restart , then Hawkeye was summoned. It showed the trajectory arch inside the post but slightly touching its inner. “Ah sure we know it’s a point” went a Dublin man behind me. Imagine our shock as the graphic “Miss” went up. The Dublin man and myself, for different reasons, used the old Franciscan’s refrain from 1948.
That Cormac Reilly made a mess of the All-Ireland semi-final is now accepted. When Colm O’Rourke noted his poor officiating led to 2-2 to Kerry, that says it all. Interestingly enough the County Board that reacted to Reilly’s appalling display was the Meath one. They backed their man to the hilt. Really it’s none of their business but I am shocked at the silence from the Mayo County Board.
So there we have it. Coincidences, bad fortune or poor choices? Either way Mayo have had an inordinate amount of unfair pain inflicted on them. The inability to deal with past misdeeds leads to future ones liable to happening.
Kerry disgraced themselves on the last three four minutes the last day as did Dublin in last year’s final. Why? Perhaps because the greatness of the prize. Until Mayo recognise that they are a soft touch in certain areas then they will be the victims of another chapter in The House of Pain.
Has the County Board the gumption to confront Croke Park or has GAA Headquarters some hold on the Mayo Board? Is there an issue – I am serious here – with Meath officials taking charge of Mayo games? Has the Mayo County Board full confidence in the (soon to be ex-) referees’ supremo McEnaney, bearing in mind the rancour and controversy he visited upon this county in 1996?
Until we can stand up for ourselves at executive level then the sterling work achieved by James Horan and his warriors will come to nought. Having had a brief but informative view of the innards of Mayo GAA with the ill-fated Strategic Review Report a few years back, I wouldn’t be holding my breath.