Yeats talked about the Irish people and their abiding sense of tragedy, but had he looked a little further he would have found even a deeper resonance in Mayo, or more specifically, in Mayo football.
I think as a county, we’ve grown accustomed to the heartbreak and to waking up on that wicked Monday morning with a hung-over heart and a belly full of recycled disappointment. It has yet to stop us dreaming though, and amid the moans of, “That’s it, I’m never setting foot in Croker again”, we all know deep inside that if by some divine miracle Mayo were to play in the All-Ireland final again tomorrow, the county would not be able to resist the temptation of daring to dream just one more time.
We hoped it would be different this time though. The word from home through the channels of Skype and the internet was that there was a relatively calm pre-match build up with none of that intoxicating hype and speculation we had grown accustomed to in previous years. Of course there was excitement, Aer Lingus tickets sales sprung to life, red and green flags began appearing in even the strangest of places and Dublin hotels were bombarded with desperate pleas for reservations but there too was a sense of composure, a feeling inspired by James Horan’s quietly confident demeanour and the sense that maybe this was finally our time.
It was different in the sense that we had one solid functioning unit, not made from any one superstar but featuring the solid contributions of every team member. The players and management spoke of continuous improvement and even after the loss of All-Star forward Andy Moran, it seemed that we were heading in a very positive direction towards finally bridging a 61 year gap.
The media pundits spoke of Donegal as an irresistible, undefeatable outfit with a hunger that would not be matched by any other team in the country, but while these were undoubtedly true sentiments, the only thing that really separated the sides was Mayo’s inability to manage the fundamentals of the game in the opening minutes, and Donegal’s capacity to punish them for it.
Mayo fans watched in every corner of the world, from New York to Melbourne, desperately wishing that somehow their red and green brigade would manage to claw back that early two goal lead. Try they did, and admirably they put up a huge fight, but it was a critical two goal advantage just too big to dismantle and ultimately the catalyst for Sam McGuire’s journey back to Donegal.
The 23rd of September, win or lose is a special day regardless, and while it’s hard as a Mayo person to stomach another All-Ireland final defeat, it’s still an occasion that resurrects the Irishness in your soul and the magic of the GAA. Mc Clean Avenue was like a miniature Drumcondra on Sunday morning awash with jerseys, flags and county colors. All that was missing really was an aul Dublin lady on the corner of Katonah selling hats, scarves and headbands for €2.
Truth be told, the Mayo-Donegal pairing roused a greater sense of endearment from the general public than say a Dublin-Kerry final and it added to the emotion and excitement of the day. In the end it transpired to be a truly epic contest between two genuine football crazy counties. They will be partying hard up the hills of Donegal for the next year and more power to them, they deserve it as much as any. Us Mayo folk will carry on regardless and hope the heartbreak subsides in time for next year’s journey.
To win just once, would definitely be enough.