This is the piece I did for the Mayo News All-Ireland final supplement, which was published yesterday.
It’s a well-known saying, one that’s often quoted in relation to financial investments, that the four most dangerous words in the English language are “this time it’s different”. As we look forward to the county’s seventh appearance in an All-Ireland final since our last win way back in 1951, it’s natural to look for ways to convince ourselves that this time things are truly different. But are they?
At one obvious level, of course they are: no two games – even involving the same set of opponents – will ever be the same. A trite observation, perhaps, but it is surely still one that contains a germ of truth.
An obvious retort to that line of thinking could, of course, be that there was nothing too different about the outcome of the last six finals we were in. That’s clearly true but it’s also the case that all of those finals reside in the past and their outcome can’t be changed whereas the 2013 one still lies in the future and is still there to be fought for.
So how is it different this time? One area where I think this championship campaign departs from those other ones is in the uncompromising approach of the players and the manner in which they have imposed themselves so resolutely on every match they’ve played to date over the summer.
The way we were able to dismantle before half-time the challenges posed by Galway, Roscommon, London and Donegal was something new to Mayo supporters. In previous years, we’ve seen some high-watermark performances but the swathe we’ve cut through this year’s championship has been of a completely different order. Although Tyrone brought the sequence of landslide wins for us to an end in the semis, this was still a match we won well and one we had comfortably in the bag with more than ten minutes left to play.
In all my time following Mayo (which now numbers more than thirty years as an adult) I’ve never seen anything remotely approaching the utter ruthlessness we’ve shown so far in this year’s championship. There were hints of this form last year – against Leitrim and Down and for part of the semi-final against Dublin – but this year it’s been the consistent application of the same template, game after game, that has been so impressive.
The self-assured performances on the pitch have also, I think, translated into a significant shift in thinking on the terraces too. Following Mayo has always been a seats-of-the-pants experience yet this year it has, by comparison, often bordered on the serene. I don’t recall too many championship matches involving Mayo where the outcome (in particular in our favour) was assured with the bulk of the seventy minutes still to play but that was the case on every occasion, bar the Tyrone match, this summer.
This has meant that Mayo supporters have been a relaxed bunch in this campaign and so, when the pressure came on against Tyrone, I sensed no panic amidst the faithful in the Cusack Stand. There was some mild impatience, for sure, that the anticipated fun hadn’t started on schedule but once we had wrested control of the contest from the Red Hands early in the second half, the happy, carefree mood that’s been there all summer was quickly restored.
There are other things that may be pointed to in arguing that this final marks a departure from previous ones. We’re evens with the bookies to win, we’ve no problem with being talked up and we have strength in depth within our panel in a way we’ve never had before.
And yet … despite all these positive markers, every Mayo supporter knows full well that success on Sunday is in no way guaranteed. We know we’ve got a great team but we’re realistic enough to recognise that Dublin are no slouches either. We also know that it’ll take a special performance from every one of our lads if we’re to engineer a different outcome to this final compared to the crushing disappointments of all the other ones.
But, as another saying goes, if you’re not in you can’t win. We’re in – and with the minors as well as the seniors this time – and our repeated ability to dust ourselves down and redouble our efforts surely speaks volumes for our determination to reach the summit. So while there’s simply no way of knowing in advance if this year will really be different for us, what we do know is that James Horan and his team have given us every reason to believe that it will.